Monday, October 31, 2005


When you are in ministry, you get privileged access into the lives of others. Occasionally someone even shares a secret part of their life with you. Perhaps they've committed a crime, or been abused, or are involved in some addictive behavior. Some times I have been the first person with whom they have shared this information. When I’ve asked them why they haven’t told their spouse, or parents, or others close to them, invariably the answer is a variation of this: “I could never tell them. It would be devastating to them.” Often people carrying secrets are convinced (maybe by the enemy) that there are only two options: take the information with them to the grave, or put the information out there and “blow up” everyone around them.

In the interest of seeing them get well (we are as sick as our secrets) I like to unpack a third, middle, option with them: A “controlled detonation” of the information. In a controlled detonation, the information is brought out, but in a structured setting, with resources “standing by.” The information is no less explosive, but the context is structured in a way to absorb the impact.

Here are some ways that controlled detonation could look:

“Set it up” for them. I once went with a man so he could confess to his wife that he had been having an affair. But before he spoke, I did. I told her about how God had done miracles for me and my wife. I talked about how few men are willing to confront their issues directly, and take personal responsibility for them. I cast some vision for the future – for a marriage they had perhaps never experienced. I helped her to know that I was going to be standing with them, no matter what. When the information came out, it was every bit as explosive as it would have been if I had not been there. But by setting the context, the energy was harnessed, and got pointed in the right direction. I remember on another occasion making a phone call on a speaker phone and saying, “Sally, I’m a pastor, and I have Fred here with me. In a second, he is going to share something with you that is very painful for him to share, and will be undoubtedly hard for you to hear, so before he speaks, I would like to lead the three of us in a word of prayer.”

“Coach” them. When people have to disclose something very painful, they are usually at a loss for words. Work with them to write a “script” that they can use in divulging the information. Coach them about setting the right context (kids out of the house, enough time so it’s not rushed, etc.). Prep them for the likely questions they will get. Get them ready for the emotions that will be generated in the discussion. At different times I have role played with them, and let them make the confession to me first. More than once I have worked with someone to actually type up something that they would read out loud in making a confession.

“Resource” them. Once the smoke clears from a controlled detonation, the clean up begins. It is very helpful to have a reconstruction plan in place prior to the detonation. Prior to the plunger being pushed down, I often set up an appointment with a counselor for them. That appointment gives them a short-term focus. I sometimes purchase some books for them to read. When you are in shock, it is hard to think constructively. Laying out the first few steps can be very helpful. One time I actually wrote up a two-year restoration plan for a couple, that laid out goals, objectives, timelines, meeting dates, etc. It was helpful to give them hope for the future.

Coming alongside someone who needs to make a confession balances the two seemingly contradictory statements of Galatians 6: “bear one another’s burdens,” and “each man must bear his own burden.” The burden they must bear is the confession. The burden you can help with is the context.

Short-term: “the truth hurts”

Long-term: “the truth sets you free”

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