We have a woman who has returned to attending services after not attending for several years. I'm at a lost as to how to encourage her to repent -- specifically whether it needs to be done publically or privately. Even though she assembles with the saints once again, she is only coming on Sunday mornings. We have talked about the importance of attendance, but I'm wondering what more I can do to encourage her to come to all the services.
Though I know you understand this, let us start with a minor point that might clarify matters a bit. The Bible speaks of repentance as a change in life. "Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that your sorrow led to repentance. For you were made sorry in a godly manner, that you might suffer loss from us in nothing. For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death. For observe this very thing, that you sorrowed in a godly manner: What diligence it produced in you, what clearing of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what vehement desire, what zeal, what vindication! In all things you proved yourselves to be clear in this matter" (II Corinthians 7:9-11). By returning to worship, this woman has shown repentance because she has changed her life.
Perhaps, what is missing is not the change in action, but the fire that you would have expected to accompany that change. Paul speaks of repentance resulting from a sorrow for past wrongs an a vehement desire to clear oneself of the taint of wrong. But such zeal is only shown when matched by a strong conviction that a past action was wrong and the knowledge that it can be changed. For some it will come as an abrupt change, but for others it will be a gradual shift in attitude. Remember that as a preacher of God's word, you can point people in the way they ought to go, but the conviction must come from within themselves (II Timothy 4:1-2; I Corinthians 3:1-7). Be happy when people move in the right direction, even if they don't hurry as fast as you would like them to go.
The question then is whether a public confession of wrong is required. Generally the Bible speaks of confession being made to the one who has been harmed by our sin. Since all sin is against God, we must go to him to admit our fault. "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (I John 1:8-9). Hence, when David was convicted of his adultery, he confessed that he had sinned against God. "Have mercy upon me, O God, according to Your lovingkindness; according to the multitude of Your tender mercies, blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against You, You only, have I sinned, and done this evil in Your sight - that You may be found just when You speak, and blameless when You judge" (Psalm 51:1-4). Confession is more than a mere admission of guilt. It is closely tied with repentance. We can see this in Simon's sin and restoration. "And when Simon saw that through the laying on of the apostles' hands the Holy Spirit was given, he offered them money, saying, "Give me this power also, that anyone on whom I lay hands may receive the Holy Spirit." But Peter said to him, "Your money perish with you, because you thought that the gift of God could be purchased with money! You have neither part nor portion in this matter, for your heart is not right in the sight of God. Repent therefore of this your wickedness, and pray God if perhaps the thought of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see that you are poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity." Then Simon answered and said, "Pray to the Lord for me, that none of the things which you have spoken may come upon me."" (Acts 8:18-22).
Yet, often when we sin, we impact the lives of other people causing them harm. In straightening out past wrongs, we need to settle matters with those we harm. "Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift" (Matthew 5:23-24). This is why James tells us, "Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed" (James 5:16).
When a brother asks us to forgive him of the harm he has done to us, we are required to forgive him. "Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you" (Ephesians 4:31-32). "Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do" (Colossians 3:12-13). Confession to our harmed brother must be more than mere words. If we truly have repented, it will be accompanied by a change in action and a desire to correct the wrong that we have committed.
Our sins may have a greater impact on those around us than we might realize. Each of us as Christians represent Christ and His church to the community around us. "You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven" (Matthew 5:14-16). When we sin, we degrade the very standards the church is supposed to uphold. When I lie to someone, it shows a lack of moral character on my part, but it also implies that those who accept me tolerate my misbehavior. It gives the impression they approve of my wrong doing (Romans 1:32). When my sin harms the reputation of my brethren, I should seek their forgiveness for the harm that I caused. This is why the brother who committed fornication in Corinth, who was withdrawn from by the church, when he turned from his sin was to be forgiven by the church. He had caused them harm by his sin. "But if anyone has caused grief, he has not grieved me, but all of you to some extent -- not to be too severe. This punishment which was inflicted by the majority is sufficient for such a man, so that, on the contrary, you ought rather to forgive and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one be swallowed up with too much sorrow. Therefore I urge you to reaffirm your love to him" (II Corinthians 2:5-8).
When we are unwilling to admit our sin, the knowledge of our fault destroys us internally. "When I kept silent, my bones grew old through my groaning all the day long. For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; my vitality was turned into the drought of summer. I acknowledged my sin to You, and my iniquity I have not hidden. I said, "I will confess my transgressions to the LORD," and You forgave the iniquity of my sin" (Psalm 32:3-5). The fact is that when we do not confess our sins, we are living a lie. "Blessed is the man to whom the LORD does not impute iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit" (Psalm 32:2). "He who covers his sins will not prosper, but whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy" (Proverbs 28:13).
When a person who has forsaken his brethren comes back, he may not realize that his lack of attendance hurt those he had left behind. To give guidance in how to repair the breach would smooth out the transition.
In regards to attending only on Sunday morning, it is unfortunately a common problem that many of us struggle within our congregations. The root problem is a lack of motivation. Instead of viewing worship and study times as opportunities to serve God and personally grow, these gatherings are seen as chores to be fulfill. What is needed is a way to light the fire of enthusiasm within. Be encouraging. Let them know what they missed by not being there. Help them see that attending is not a chore but a blessing to their daily life.