Corporate Confession and Hope
By Kaylee R. Fisher
“We are a faith family devoted to helping one another love Jesus, grow in Jesus, and make disciples of Jesus in Birmingham and among all nations.” This mission statement, taken from the front page of its website, neatly articulates the goals and central purposes of The Church at Brook Hills. Located in the Brook Highland suburban development near Birmingham, Alabama, Brook Hills is a large Southern Baptist congregation with roughly 4,500 members. While its size may at first be intimidating to guests or those used to a smaller-sized congregation, Brook Hills intentionally welcomes newcomers and employs strategies to make the church feel small. Among some of these approaches are age-group ministries that meet regularly (such as student and college ministries), small group Bible studies, church-wide events, and connection points in the lobby before and after Sunday morning worship gatherings. This local congregation has deep roots in the surrounding communities and exists to care for its members well, welcome guests into a community of faith, and spread the gospel to all who need to hear.
I have been blessed to regularly attend and serve at The Church at Brook Hills for the past twelve years. During this time, I have grown in my understanding of how Brook Hills practically pursues its threefold task of worship, nurture, and mission. While this certainly takes place in the various ministries and outreach programs mentioned above, it starts with intentional planning of main Sunday morning worship gatherings. Every Sunday that I have attended Brook Hills, the gospel message has been clearly articulated. Regardless of the sermon text or emphasis, themes of the character of God, the sinfulness of man, the sufficiency of Christ, the necessity of faith, and the urgency of eternity are emphasized throughout the gathering.
With this pattern in mind, it should come as no surprise that Brook Hills’s Good Friday service on April 7, 2023, also incorporated a strong focus on the gospel message. As an individual who is familiar with the weekly flow of Brook Hills’s gatherings, I was intrigued to observe this service that still held to the church’s core purposes yet differed greatly in its structure and emphasis. Some of these differences included corporate confession and prayer, large sections of responsive readings, and a much larger musical worship portion than normal gatherings have. Despite the unique structure and elements of Brook Hills’s Good Friday gathering, I believe that this service still served as an accurate representation of the church’s regular gatherings while highlighting themes of corporate confession and bringing the cosmic story of the gospel down to a personal level.
Confrontation of Failure
Brook Hills’s Good Friday gathering was divided into the following four sections:
- “He Came to Destroy Our Impulse to Treasure Anything Above God”
- “He Came to Destroy Our Fear that Often Leads to Our Failure”
- “He Came to Destroy Our Disdain and Hostility Towards God”
- “He Came to Destroy Our Doubt that We Can Be Forgiven”
Throughout each section, one of the church’s members (ranging from elders and staff members to female lay persons) would come on stage to read from a passage of scripture that outlined humanity’s failure and sin against Jesus. For example, in the second section (“He Came to Destroy Our Fear that Often Leads to Our Failure”), Peter’s insistence that he would follow Jesus to prison and death was read from Luke 22:31-34, followed by his threefold denial of Jesus in Luke 22:54-62. Zac Condie, one of Brook Hills’s elders, led the reading while the congregation also read selected portions which were underlined on the screen. These included each of Peter’s statements. Following the scripture reading, Condie read a short prayer of confession that included themes from the corresponding scripture passage. Condie then gave a short reflection on these writings. This was followed by a song of response.
The purpose of these scripture readings and prayers was for members of the congregation to place themselves in these narratives and realize and confess that they, too, have failed God. In the same way that Peter denied Jesus, for example, we too may find ourselves overconfident in our ability to walk in obedience, strong in faith one day only to be crushed by our failure the next. The prayer that followed these readings gave the congregation language to further confess and lament these failings, with phrases like “Peter’s denial is a mirror for us,” or “we have an overconfident view of our ability to follow you.” To borrow from Lester Ruth’s classifying language for Protestant churches in North America, these acts of inserting oneself into the narrative of Scripture shift from a cosmic presentation of salvation to a more personal and intimate view of the gospel (2002, 47). Rather than reading scripture as mere lessons or stories, we see ourselves as those who deny Jesus, treasure material possessions over him, and even nailed him to the cross.
Confession Turned to Hope
While a majority of Brook Hills’s Good Friday gathering was focused on corporate confession and lament, emphasis was also placed on themes of hope, mercy, and forgiveness. In every prayer, acknowledgment of failure was followed by reminders of God’s character, gospel truths, and pleas for these truths to take deep root in our souls. In the case of the section on Peter’s denial, the corresponding prayer included phrases such as “your perfect love casts out all fear,” and “lift our eyes from our collapsing failure to the cross of Christ, where we will never hear ‘try harder’ but only, ‘it is finished.’” These phrases served as a reminder of the beauty of confession: when we keenly feel our brokenness and need for a Savior, we can rejoice all the more at Christ who perfectly meets our need. In addition to these portions in the prayers, the songs of response that followed each section gave the congregation further language to acknowledge the gravity of sin and the good news that Christ has paid its penalty for all who trust in him.
Connection to Sunday Gatherings
While Brook Hills’s Good Friday gathering had a vastly different format and emphases from its typical Sunday morning worship service, the church’s core pursuits of worship, nurture, and mission were still accomplished. Whereas regular worship services tend to highlight a cosmic presentation of the gospel and focus on a singular scripture passage, the Good Friday service included many different passages and a more personal application of the gospel through corporate confession and assurance. I believe that this was a valuable shift that still allowed the congregation to feel the weight of sin and the truth that forgiveness and hope can only be found through Christ. As in every worship service, Brook Hills’s congregation was challenged, encouraged, and ultimately shaped by the truths presented in song, prayer, and teaching.
The Church at Brook Hills
Address: 3145 Brook Highland Pkwy, Birmingham, AL 35242
Services Observed: Good Friday Service on April 7, 2023, and 9 AM morning services on February 12, 19, 26, 2023
Video Archives: The Church at Brook Hills. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/@thechurchatbrookhills
Ruth, Lester. 2002. “A Rose by Any Other Name: Attempts at Classifying North American Protestant Worship.” The Conviction of Things Not Seen: Worship and Ministry in the Twenty-First Century: 46-51. Ed. Todd E. Johnson. Grand Rapids: Brazos.
The Church at Brook Hills. 2023. “Priorities, Purpose, Pursuits.” Accessed April 15, 2023. https://www.brookhills.org/about/who-we-are/priority-purpose-pursuit.
Kaylee Fisher ’25 was a student in Christian Worship: History and Theology in Samford University’s Department of Biblical and Religious Studies in spring 2023.
Published April 29, 2023