Repentance is likely something you are used to suggesting to someone in your church or something you typically do after a fight with your spouse or impatience with your children.
Have you ever repented of the darkness in your leadership? How have you been impatient? How have you sought models as saviors? How have you sought to be other people’s savior? How have you controlled, manipulated, or shamed your congregation into building your kingdom? How have you sought to gain significance from leadership? How have you made mission your idol?
Several years ago, our leadership team realized many of our missional community leaders were burning out—flaming out, really. Our leaders were limping, and we didn’t know why. We sought help of a social worker in our church to do an evaluation on our our leaders. Her report back to us was devastating. It was a mirror to our leadership souls. Leaders were carrying the burdens of our drive, our lust to be a ‘significant’ church, and the untold expectations of activity. It also highlighted our distractions, disillusionment, and discouragement. We hadn’t cared for the leaders as people, as followers of Jesus, as husbands and wives, and fathers and mothers. The phrase that kept coming up was “we had become missional legalists.” We were the pharisees that burdened people with additional law aimed at helping people keep the laws.
While we instantly knew we had to do a better job communicating, training, and supporting leaders, we also knew the burnout was partly rooted in our sin. God was graciously interrupting our idolatry. His kindness led us to repentance. This was a watershed moment for our church. We found ourselves pouring over the gospel proclamations of Jesus. We realized we hadn’t applied his message to our leadership, and we knew his message was to us: Repent and believe in the gospel.
“Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” —Mark 1:14–15
In all these areas of lies, idols, and sins of leadership, Jesus comes to us and graciously says, “I’m here. The time is now. I will build my kingdom and my church. Repent and believe.” When Jesus preached the gospel, he demanded a response, especially the religious—repent and believe. Many people hear “repent,” and they think it means to say sorry, feel bad about sin, and ask God for forgiveness. Many people hear “believe,” and they think it means to agree with the fact that Jesus died for their sins and rose again. Both of these definitions are incomplete at best.
When Jesus said “repent,” He was saying to turn away not only from sin, but to turn from the lies that sin deceives us with and to turn toward something truer and better, to turn to Jesus and his true promises. We are, therefore, encouraged to “believe” in Jesus, to cling to His promises, to put our hope, trust, and faith in Him. Repentance cannot be separated from belief.
In our story, we have believed the seductive promise of ambition. Ambition says, “If you can do or accomplish enough, you will be significant.” However, the gospel says, “Instead of seeking to build significance, believe in Christ’s approval and joy in your salvation.” We had to stop believing our worth came from what we did and what we were able to get others to do. We began to believe our worth came from God’s love for us, poured out and most visible in Jesus’ death and resurrection.
We began leading in this repentance. We met with each leader individually. We described our hearts, and we asked how that had impacted them. We sought their forgiveness boldly confident of Christ’s approval for us and His ability to build His kingdom. This leadership posture helped our church grow in trust, obedience, repentance, and faith. We learned repentance and faith is leadership.
In this series, we’ve focused on the lies and sins that rob our leadership of joy and fruit. However, we’ve most readily described the true and better way: the gospel.
What lies and idols do you need to turn from? What aspect of the gospel do you need to believe? What practices remind you of that truth?
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