It happens often as leaders. Someone sits across the table from us, tears puddling in their eyes as they stammer out a heartfelt confession of sin.
Because we are broken people traversing a broken planet, there is no shortage of sin. Sin exists in the lives of every woman, including the ones in our Sunday school classes, in our women’s Bible studies, and on our leadership teams. It is a privilege to hear women confess areas of sin and remind them of the forgiveness Christ freely extends. May we never grow calloused toward it.
But leaders are sinners too. Our need to regularly confess sin and recruit help in running from it is as deep as the need of every woman we’ve ever counseled with the good news of God’s grace.
So leader, allow me to boldly ask: when was the last time you did the confessing?
The Cost of Unconfessed Sin
King David was a leader and a sinner. The big ugly sin that makes all the headlines is his adulterous affair with Bathsheba, followed by the murder of her husband, followed by a cover-up. Yeah, David knew what it was like to sin. I’m confident he wrestled with other, less flashy sins like pride, lying, and gossip just like the rest of us.
David also shows us what it looks like to confess. Listen to this exchange between David (the leader) and Nathan (his spiritual mentor).
David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the LORD.” And Nathan said to David, “The LORD has also put away your sin; you shall not die” (2 Sam. 12:13).
How often have you been in Nathan’s shoes? Preaching the gospel to a woman who knows she has missed God’s standard for holiness?
How often have you been in David’s?
We are both the sinner in need of grace and the saint called to remind others of the truth of the gospel.
So leader, allow me to boldly ask again: when was the last time you did the confessing?
It was because David had both experienced the weight of his own sin, and the levity of confession and forgiveness that he could pen these words:
Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit. (Ps. 32:1–2)
It’s also why he can remember, with tactile clarity, what happens when our sins go unconfessed.
For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up by the heat of summer. (vv. 3–4)
Sin always has a withering effect.
- Hope seems to shrivel.
- Gifts seem to shrink.
- Resolve fades.
- Determination wavers.
- Peace leaves.
We cannot lead well in this withered state.
There is another risk to ignoring our own sin. Listen to Proverbs 28:13.
Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy, . . .
Sin stunts ministry growth. You can plan killer events, host endless Bible studies, have a record number of signups for your next retreat, and if you’re hiding secret sin, the growth will be puny (or non-existent). Circle back and look at what God’s Word records after the comma . . .
. . . but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.
Sin stunts. Confession frees.
We know this. We teach this. We must live this.
Who to Confess To
I acknowledge that confessing our sin as leaders can be tricky. While we should seek to be transparent leaders, some sins, such as attitudes and actions toward other leaders within the church, are not fit for the ears of the flock. And there is a difference between being honest about our sin as leaders and publicly playing the I’m-more-of-a-mess-than-you-are game.
So, how do we confess sin well? I’d suggest three tiers.
1. Confess Privately
Do you have a regular rhythm of going to Jesus in prayer to confess your sin?
Ministry leadership can be our greatest hindrance to personal spiritual discipline. We can busy ourselves with praying for others so much that our hearts never turn toward our own need for grace. When this happens, our tank will run out and we will find ourselves on fumes.
As you begin each new initiative or head into a fresh week of ministry, why not make a habit of praying like this:
Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting! (Ps. 139:23–24)
2. Confess up the Chain
You serve under the headship of a leadership team. That team cannot help you with sin they do not know about. There is a difference between venting or airing dirty laundry and going to those in authority over you with a humble heart, burdened by your sin. I’m not advocating for the first two, but I strongly encourage you to find a way to talk about sin with those you serve under.
Is the pipeline of communication open enough between you and your pastor or elders that you can confess sin when needed? If not, let me lovingly nudge you to go to those in leadership over you and ask how to open the dialogue.
3. Confess to Your Team
I often gather my team in a huddle and ask the Lord to expose anything in our hearts or homes that might stand in the way of His work. I usually say, and deeply mean, a version of “Lord, may you start with me,” because I know, deep down in my guts, that I cannot be an effective leader if I am not serious about my own sin.
Jesus masterfully modeled what it means to be a servant leader. As his sinful image bearers, we can model both service and grief over personal sin, especially among those who we pick to lead alongside us.
God’s Word encourages us to both regularly confess our sin to the Lord (1 John 1:9) and humbly confess our sin to each other (James 5:16). There is no asterisk on either of these passages exempting leaders.
May we be leaders who lead in repentance.
May we be champions who champion confession.
May we be women who talk about grace as ones who know we need it.