A bit of negative confession is a good thing

I just heard that a young businessman—a distant acquaintance of mine—has gone bankrupt. It has caused immense pain to him, his immediate family, and to the kind folk who, too late in the process, parted with money to help him try and avoid bankruptcy.

One telling feature of the story is that the business had been in financial problems for a very long time before he told anyone about it. Why, I ask myself, didn’t he open up at an earlier stage, in which case the worst might well have been avoided?

i-cantPart of the explanation, I’m sure, lies in the fact that he is a committed Christian.

At the start, of course, this was a huge ‘plus factor’ in the situation. His Christian standards ensured that he conducted his business with integrity. Also, it meant that divine help was available, and I don’t doubt that he called on the Lord many a time when things began going wrong.

But being a Christian also brought, I suspect, a ‘minus factor’ to the situation. In certain types of church culture there is strong pressure to be victorious, to be on top of things, to be seen to be the head and not the tail, to win success that will show the world how it’s done, to be people of faith, and generally to be up-beat about everything. And that, alas, makes many a believer reluctant to admit falling short of the ideal. When everybody else is apparently living in victory it’s doubly hard to admit defeat.

Most non-Christians in this young man’s position would probably have been a lot quicker to make the problems known and to seek advice and help early on. Unlike Christians they have no ‘faith culture’ to pressure them, no ‘I’m a winner’ reputation to maintain before their peers.

That’s why I’m all for a modified ‘victory’ culture that leaves room for vulnerability and the admission of failure. Leaders are especially responsible here. If they keep pumping out faith and victory all the time they will actually produce failures more serious than might otherwise have been the case.

Let church leaders, therefore, be judiciously frank about their own weaknesses and difficulties from time to time. A bit of negative confession can do a powerful lot of good.

One Response to A bit of negative confession is a good thing

  1. I quite agree, David. Some more of this common-sense approach a few years back when all the positive-confession malarkey was the rage could have saved some people a lot of stress, anxiety and the expense of negative energy.

    I’m finding that on the broader Christian scene – by which I mean the older traditions as well as charismatic evangelicalism – the caricature we once held that they were all defeatist and negative doesn’t hold true. Ok, so a lot of churches are treading water and many are managing decline rather than growth, but I’m finding that they can handle tragedy (such as bereavement, sudden reverses and unexpected occurrences) and so forth in a much more holistic and healthy way than some of the more full-on outfits.

    That’s not to say that we shouldn’t be upbeat and positive where appropriate, but it seems to me that the scriptural way is much more balance. ‘Weep with those who weep …’ etc.

    I don’t see James’s Epistle, for instance, calling us to act as if everything is hunky-dory all the time.

    There needs to be a long overdue corrective in charismatic circles – and the trick would be to pull this off somehow without losing the impetus and zeal that characterises such groups.

    I’m sure it can be done.


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