Cultivating a Culture of Confession

Q&A with Joe and Becky Dougherty

By Amanda Ashworth

Joe & Becky Dougherty serve together in Heart of the Father Ministries, which focuses on the Unbound Prayer model. Joe was a physics teacher for 41 years and has been a member of the House of God’s Light community in Ardmore since 1978. Becky recently retired from 26 years of teaching young children with special needs and now enjoys working in Early Intervention.

What do the first practical implantable Pacemaker, the Microwave Oven, Penicillin, the Ink-jet Printer, X-ray Images, Post-it Notes, and Potato Chips all have in common?

Give up? The answer is simple. All of these amazing inventions were created out of failure. 

Every scientist, including Thomas Edison, understands that admitting failure is a part of the process of success, but are we as comfortable confessing our own shortcomings and gleaning wisdom from failed attempts in order to modify our course of action? I think not. If that’s an accurate assessment, then we must ask ourselves the following question: why?

Perhaps it’s because most people grew up in risk-averse work environments where employees were penalized for any errors. Today, successful businesses are telling us to help employees learn from their mistakes. From admitting their failures and correcting their methods, many businesses now enjoy financial gains as they mentor their employees through failure, analyzing both profits and losses and the reasons for both.

Perhaps it’s also due to the way we were educated. With the world changing at a rapid pace, educators are now realizing that children will have to fill jobs that don’t yet exist. The question in their mind becomes: how can we prepare children for 162 potential jobs that experts like futurist speaker Thomas Frey claim will suddenly appear? It can’t just be a multiple-choice-with-the-answers-in-the-back-of-the-textbook type of education that we had and still have. No. We need to raise critical thinkers who are honest about their faults and willing to work out new methods in collaboration with others. And that’s just what many educational schools or programs, including our own Innovate Academy, are seeking to do in this very moment.

Or lastly, perhaps it’s because of us and the state of the church. The Barna Group released its 2016 findings a few years back and based on their research they found that: “Americans are attending church less, and more people are experiencing and practicing their faith outside of its four walls. Millennials in particular are coming of age at a time of great skepticism and cynicism toward institutions—particularly the church. Add to this the broader secularizing trend in American culture, and a growing antagonism toward faith claims, and these are uncertain times for the U.S. church.” 

However, some pastors don’t believe the situation is that grim and are excited about doing church in fresh and innovative ways. One such pastor, Francis Chan, while praying about whether or not to proceed with a building campaign, decided instead to focus his mega church on a smaller home group model. While this isn’t the answer for all pastors, Chan believes that this shift allowed all believers to use their spiritual gifts throughout the week in loving community. An article called “Francis Chan: This Is the Kind of Church God Wants” by Bob Ditmer describes his rationale:

“Chan says God’s way forces his people to become leaders. It prevents Christians from attending church only to be fed while taking no responsibility for presenting the gospel or shepherding others. While some might argue that’s not their gift, Chan says those goals are part of the DNA of every believer. Others will say they haven’t been trained to lead or shepherd. Chan’s answer: neither are parents when they bring home their first baby. But he says,‘Don’t worry, you’ll figure it out.’”

“You’ll figure it out.” That’s a great statement—one that puts the focus back on the average church-goer to be actively involved with their faith through service to their local community and church body. And perhaps this is what millennials are craving: a daily adventure within a community of believers who don’t know what to expect format-wise, who don’t know what God is going to do, but who do know that if we show up and seek Him in the ways He defines in His Word (i.e., the spiritual disciplines and gifts) that it will be eternally rewarding. Time will only tell.

This fresh but ancient model of doing life together is invigorating, which is why ccdelco is so passionate about its congregants getting involved in a small group, volunteering, or serving on a missions trip. Jesus himself did life with twelve on a regular basis and ministered to His community—both outside and inside the synagogue walls. If you walk into our lobby, you’ll notice a huge small group map on the wall to help people visualize how they can connect with others in their hometown as well as through serving opportunities like our Sizzlin Summer outreach events and global and local community ministries. And that’s because, as our own Pastor John Clifford likes to say, “Life change happens in circles not rows.” 

Whether that’s in a home group, on the lawn serving, or on a trip to Kenya with us, your life won’t remain the same, and you’ll be forced to “figure it out” with Jesus as you go. Our Kenya team can attest to their own spiritual investment, as they’ve traveled to support Nairobi Chapel and the hundreds of churches that Pastor Oscar Miuru, a modern day apostle, has planted. Similarly to the early church’s vision (the Greek word for church, ecclesia, actually means a governmental body), Oscar’s desire is to not only plant churches in Kenya, but affect the larger culture as well — in their case, the educational system of his country through the literacy program that they’ve created — and our team here couldn’t be more energized to partner with him as culture makers.

As you can see, there is a blessing that comes in both the largeness and smallness of church, but that blessing only comes if we are not afraid. Not afraid to gather together and confess our shortcomings to each other and to God in the age of Pinterest and perfection and a post-modernized mirage of the American Dream. Not afraid of getting messy and letting homeless people into our homes during a snowstorm like a native Chicagoan recently did. And maybe not even being afraid of changing up the format of how we do church if He is calling us to do so.

If God was leading Christians to live in leprosy communities thousands of years ago, we have to ask ourselves hard questions about what church and being a disciple of Christ really means and also if we are still “all in” no matter what the failures, the mess, and the cost.

Because I sincerely believe that the discipline of confession could be a key to the church’s renewal, I was excited when Joe and Becky Dougherty agreed to allow me to interview them. They have been dedicated to prayer and intercession, attending ccdelco’s Thursday night prayer gathering on the deck for the past two years. Serendipitously meeting at a conference, they fell in love and were married only a few years ago. I was blessed to interview them before our dedicated time to prayer on Thursday night and began with the simple question:

Q: What does confession mean to you individually?

Joe: When I think of confession in the context of the prayer model, predominately you come before the Lord and repent. There’s also an element of forgiveness in that act. Forgiveness and repentance go hand in hand. As we are praying with people, we are trying to draw out of them repentance, and we kind of do that by looking at forgiveness. We ask questions like “who do you need to forgive?” 

We then talk about that relationship and ask if there is anything that they need to confess in that relationship. Once people forgive, they are more able to repent. Sometimes, you see tears well up in their eyes as they confess their sins—people who’ve had abortions and didn’t want to talk about it—but at the same time they recognize that there is freedom in bringing it to the light. Airing out your dirty laundry. Whatever phrase you want to use. When they finally get it out, it’s a beautiful thing. The enemy is not holding them captive anymore. You can see that they’re just free.

Becky: I just want to add that it’s such a relief. Psalm 119:26 says that confession is good for the soul, and it truly is. When you have taken responsibility for your junk—not blame—just responsibility—and when the garbage is out, all that is left is a clean house. 

Q: When did you start to explore this discipline?

Joe: As a young boy who grew up in church-related activities, it was natural. As an adult, I was baptized in the Spirit and began to recognize that certain things were not going to be dealt with unless I confessed stuff to the Lord. Confession to others is another story. 

Confession to the Lord is key because He wants to hear your humble heart. He wants to know that you realize He is God and that you’re the dust of the earth. It’s the only way you can humble yourself enough to learn from Him and gain wisdom and intimacy with the Creator.

Also, joining a Christian community made all the difference in the world to me. When I did, it became customary that when you did something that injured someone else you then went to that person and repented and said, “Please, forgive me.” We trained our children to behave in this way too, so you’d see little kids learning that it wasn’t a problem when you offended someone, but it was a problem if you didn’t repent of it. Kids naturally feel comfortable in their skin because they aren’t afraid to make a mistake, which is why God calls us to become like little children. If we are quick to forgive, then we can move on. A lot of times we don’t confess though, and everything stays bound up inside us.

Becky: I first learned about confession naturally. I used to write little notes to my mother as a child saying, “Mom, I’m sorry I did this or that. Love, Becky.” Raised in a church where confession was a sacrament, I also learned about it at a young age. However, it wasn’t until I was much older and went to other churches that I learned how I needed to confess to my friends as well. When I attended a prayer conference though, I really saw life-changing transformation occur through the act of confession. There is a bondage that occurs when you don’t get rid of stuff, and it was a long process for me.

Q: How do you make time in your routine for confessing and do you have boundaries?

Becky: I feel like I’m saying sorry all the time! When you are that close to someone, all your bugs come out. When we go to bed, we pray. And then, when we lay down, we have our own private time with the Lord. Out of the corner of my eye, I see Joe put his hand on his head and go through the act of repentance too. 

Joe: Being in the presence of the Lord is a 24-hour thing though. I laugh when people say they spend time in the morning…

Becky: That’s what I say! I spend time in the morning!

Joe: (Smiles and laughs) I don’t think there should be any boundaries between a husband and a wife. Say I was struggling with pornography. I would be looking at Becky as my help-meet. I should be sharing with her rather than hiding it. The enemy likes to hide things in darkness. But what Jesus says is that you need to expose your
sin to the light so you can be free of it. It’s important in a marriage to not be withholding. But in a community, there are boundaries. 

Becky: For example, Joe has a men’s group, and I have a group I can share with; but we ask each other what is OK to share with these other groups and what isn’t.

Q: When did you decide to help others with this discipline?

Joe: The Lord just started bringing people to us who had needs for healing. We learned that repentance and forgiveness were a part of the healing process in many cases. After I was born again in the Spirit, the Lord quickly placed in me a desire to see people healed. It was in the context of praying for healing for people that it became clearer to me that, in some cases, people needed to be freed from the clutches of the enemy. 

When you pray for healing, the enemy does not like it, and you should expect to see some resistance. You should also recognize that Jesus is Lord of all. That He is the Healer. He is the Deliverer, and we are merely calling on Him to do His work. He blesses us by allowing us to partner with Him as He brings freedom to others.

Becky: I knew the peace I received when I confessed my sins to another, as the Bible says, but there came a time in my life when I needed more. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I just felt stuck. I was born again, reading my Bible daily, praying, involved in Bible studies, serving at church. . .you name it. But I still had areas of my life that just felt empty, stuck, and lacking victory. 

I went to a prayer conference and received one-on-one prayer and had an amazing breakthrough. I saw where the enemy had planted lies in my heart from childhood and how living out of those lies had kept me in those stuck places. When prayer ministers helped me to identify those areas, renounce those lies, and forgive people that I didn’t even know I needed to forgive, it felt like knots were getting untied in me, and I felt lighter. . .freer! I didn’t know that’s what freedom felt like, but wow! 

Q: Can you share a favorite testimony? 

Joe: One of the more interesting experiences we had in praying with people was with a single woman in her late 40s, who had a series of failed relationships with men, as she expressed it. She would always be the one to sabotage the relationship. She wanted freedom from this pattern but was never able to get to the root of the problem. 

In prayer, the Holy Spirit led us to explore events that happened in her childhood. There was one dramatic revelation, where she recalled her father taking her to a movie when she was about five years of age. There was a scene in the movie where a woman was violated. As such a young girl, she was horrified by the image of the woman and made a vow that she would never be like that woman. As a result, she rejected her womanly body and sabotaged all relationships with men. 

As we prayed, she needed to forgive her Dad for taking her to that movie, and she needed to renounce the fear of men. She also needed to renounce the vow that she made. When she did this, she was instantly set free and received the love of God and a love for her own self that she had never known before. It was fantastic!  

introspection    by christine uzele  There are two potential pathways in our brain, but we must choose which one dominates. The first is formed by life-giving thoughts—the other by lies. When we look into ourselves, do we see a reflection of truth and beauty or do we see a mirage of unfulfilled expectations? At times the tangle of deadly branches (lies) looms over our thought life. We can have true freedom when negative thought patterns are broken by following the narrow path of light that illuminates the true, good, and beautiful. It is in this space that we come to understand our true identity and find eternal peace. 

introspection  by christine uzele

There are two potential pathways in our brain, but we must choose which one dominates. The first is formed by life-giving thoughts—the
other by lies. When we look into ourselves, do we see a reflection of truth and beauty or do we see a mirage of unfulfilled expectations?
At times the tangle of deadly branches (lies) looms over our thought life. We can have true freedom when negative thought patterns are
broken by following the narrow path of light that illuminates the true, good, and beautiful. It is in this space that we come to understand
our true identity and find eternal peace.