Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Genuine Leaders have learned the importance of Repentance

It was just after a rousing evening service in 2006 where the worship was powerful and the sermon was stirring. A pastor is accused of soliciting drugs, and for that and the allegation of homosexuality, he would soon be let go by the board. The pastor had lived a double life, and religious postures and eloquent words were not a substitute for unresolved inner inconsistencies. All during the wonderful worship and challenging sermons, something was out of place.

"Although they fast, I will not listen to their cry; though they offer burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Instead, I will destroy them ..." (Jeremiah 14:12)

As leaders, we are good at leading services, emceeing programs, and making speeches that can motivate people. We can arrange activities for small groups, all night prayer meetings, and all congregational fasting. We put together mission programs and preach moving sermons, as the church would require.

But what does God require more than these? The prophet Micah in 6:8 tells us:

"The LORD has told us what is good. What he requires of us is this: to do what is just, to show constant love, and to live in humble fellowship with our God."

1. Who I am in the shadows rather than in the footlights is what God measures.

Israel and Judah had fallen away from God, and when God asked them to repent, they chose not to. After a refusal to repent, the next step is not going to be absolution. The next step is consequences; for Judah, it would extend over the next seventy years. The defining moment of repentance either opens the door, or closes it, to God's healing and restoration. Hudson Taylor, the great missionary to China, used to greet his friends with these words, "Have you repented yet today?"

I guess he knew the power of repentance, for

2. A repenting leader is a growing leader; a repenting church is a healthy church.

I have noticed that the leaders that God has used in mighty ways in the past have been adept in repentance! In Numbers 14:5, we find these words: "Then Moses and Aaron fell on their faces in the presence of all the assembly of the congregation of the sons of Israel." It seemed as if they were always the first ones to repent because they understood the power of repentance and that following repentance is always grace and wisdom. But with the refusal to repent, the next step is always consequence.

3. Genuine leaders are good at repentance!

We often have the wrong definition of repentance. We have been raised to believe that if we repent, it is a value statement meaning that we are weak. It makes us vulnerable and somehow we think it relegates us to the consolation bracket in ministry and life. Shame teaches us that humiliation before our peers has to be the worst thing in life. But in actuality, repentance is making the switch to realizing that looking good before God is far more important than looking good before people.

And let's be reminded that

4. The result of repentance is not looking bad in front of people. It is healing, restoration, and wisdom.

However, the next step after a refusal to repent is consequences, and for Israel, it was seventy years of consequences in Babylon.

Allow me to repeat: "Repentance is making the switch of realizing that looking good before God is more important than looking good before people."

This has to be one of the most crucial realizations I can make in my lifetime.

So, repentance is what I choose. I will be quick to repent. I will even practice it today. I am good at giving eloquent reasonings, but not as good at repentance. I need practice.

5. Repentance keeps me from becoming "stagnant in spirit."

You communicate in three ways: through your words, your gestures, and through your spirit. Which do you think is most important?

I bet you guessed it. Not through our words, but the spirit with which we speak those words. That is what gives our words meaning, depth, credence.

But our spirit can flag. We become fatigued with the daily-ness of leading, and we end up still doing the deeds but they are done "absent of spirit." Zephaniah teaches us a leadership lesson that would do us well to heed:

"It will come about at that time that I will search Jerusalem with lamps, and I will punish the men who are stagnant in spirit ... (Zeph 1:12)

"Stagnant in spirit."

What a graphic picture. A spirit that is putrid, rotting, decaying, and rancid. Not a pretty sight. But it's a reality and a fact of life. Zephaniah tells us that our spirit is prone to getting rancid and stale. Without intentional maintenance, our hearts go bad, like the moldy fruit in the icebox that we forgot was there since last summer.

The people of Judah had let their spirits go beyond their expiration date without renewing it. It was now musty and the sell-by date had outlived its freshness label, and now it was decomposing rapidly.

Our spirit has an expiration date ... I think its "every morning." Every morning, each day it has to be refreshed and updated. That's how God made us. Like farm fresh produce, if it's last week's harvest, it's too old.

I need to stay current with the Holy Spirit as He renews my spirit every morning ... for my family, my ministry, my physical health, my speaking and teaching. They will all go stale if I do not renew my spirit. Otherwise, I will go "stagnant in spirit" and I become dull to God.

Judah did. So can we.

That is why my time in the Word each morning is a non negotiable. I must renew my spirit for what is before me.

For today. For this weekend. For life.

6. Repentance helps me to fight for UNITY in my church and on our TEAM

It is your job to protect the unity of your church!

Unity is the soul of fellowship. Destroy it, and you rip the heart out of Christ's Body. It is the essence, the core, of how God intends for us to experience life together in his church.

In his final moments before being arrested, Jesus prayed passionately for our unity. It was our unity that was uppermost in his mind during those agonizing hours. That shows how significant this subject is. Nothing on earth is more valuable to God than his church. He paid the highest price for it, and he wants it protected, especially from the devastating damage that is caused by division, conflict, and disharmony.

"Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace." Ephesians 4:3 (NIV)

How are we to do this? The Bible gives us practical advice:

- Focus on what we have in common, not our differences.
- Be realistic in your expectations. Choose to encourage rather than criticize.
- Refuse to listen to gossip.
- Practice God's method for conflict resolution.
- And most importantly, support your pastor and leaders.

What are you doing personally to make your church family more warm and loving? There are many people in your community who are looking for love and a place to belong. The truth is, everyone needs and wants to be loved, and when people find a church where members genuinely love and care for each other, you would have to lock the doors to keep them away. Blessings!

Pastor Rusty