If you want to plant a church, you really must plant repentance. Your aim needs to be to cultivate an environment in which repentance happens more and more naturally. When people see this, they’ll see Jesus at work, and it’ll be freaky-compelling. Planting repentance goes hand-in-hand with planting the gospel, and is prerequisite to planting a true church. To be the Lead Pastor and Planter, you’re going to need to be the Lead Repenter.
Hide your face from my sins,
and blot out all my iniquities.
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me…
Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners will return to you.
Deliver me from bloodguiltiness …
and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness. (Psalm 51)
David realizes that it’s his obligation as the Gospel Planter of Israel that he also must be the Lead Repenter. He’s not going to “waste his sin”. He wants the rest of the nation to see God’s grace trump his sin.
Paul sees this same thing happening with his sin. “Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life” (1 Tim 1:15-16). You are a walking, sinful billboard advertising the grace of Jesus. If you don’t like that role, don’t plant a church.
1. Repent in public worship. We try to include a time for confession of sin and an application of the gospel in each service. The leader has an opportunity to model what contrition looks and feels like. This is a “we” repentance time. Don’t say “I confess that I …”. Instead, lead the worshippers to confess individually and corporately. Don’t be formulaic. From week to week, cover lots of areas of sin. Describe lots of subtle ways it tends to entangle us. Get down into the heart motivations, but don’t fail to be concrete, too. Confess both sinfulness and particular sins.
2. Repent in community groups. Have you screwed up? Said something that was rude or ill-advised? Dropped the ball on something you vowed to do? Take 45 seconds before your group study begins just to say that you’re sorry. Don’t make mountains out of mole hills. Simply show people that God’s word is searching your heart, and covering your sin with Jesus’ grace. They will see that this is happening because you’ve become free to be honest about the ways you’ve been unlike Jesus. And they’ll imitate you.
3. Repent in an accountability cluster. If you’re a church planter, you should gather with 1 or 2 other men each week for an hour. These men should probably be ministry colleagues who know the occupational hazards. Investigate with them the way that you’ve given sin a foothold in your life. Ask for, and receive, practical counsel in how to get un-tangled. And especially ask your brothers to tell you the good news of the gospel. These gentlemen will themselves come around to repenting, and then you’ll have a chance to apply the gospel to them. Then you can encourage the women and men in your congregation to develop similar gospel-centered, repentance-cultivating accountability clusters.
4. Repent first. Determine that you will be the first to repent. Don’t even enter into a reconciliation-seeking discussion until you’ve asked God to search your heart. He’ll find something for you to confess—don’t worry. Then lead off the conversation with a genuine, non-manipulative confession. Even if it’s incredibly minor compared to the major way the other person has hurt you, be the Lead Repenter. Just recently I did this, and the person I was reconciling with teared up and said “what a wonderful way to start this conversation!” Jesus breaks up the hard soil in your heart, and when you put his grace on display like this, you’ll usually be able to see Jesus tilling the soil in your brother or sister’s heart.
5. Repent to your children. The best practice for Lead Repenting in public is to do some serious Lead Repenting in your home, and specifically with your kids. In fact, it’s not practice–it’s the real thing, and ultimately its the most important context in which to be a Repenter. If you can be humble enough to confess when you’re a jerk-face to your kids, your Lead Repenting in public contexts will come more naturally. Go. Practice. Right now.
6. Repent to Jesus first. None of this really gets going until you’ve learned to really come clean with Jesus. Read your Bible. Mull over a passage. Don’t put it down until you’ve discovered something about yourself that doesn’t fit with your profession of faith. Confess. Ask for change. Work for change. If you realize you need to go confess to someone, do it. Jesus is not a theoretical Redeemer. Communion with Jesus is not a “spiritual exercise”, cloistered off from the rest of your life. Expect conviction when you begin reading. And expect gospel goodness before you begin reading, too. Apply the gospel to your sin until your heart sings. Then take the song out of your quiet corner and into your family, your discipleship cluster, your community group, your working environment, and your public worship leading.
Want to be a Lead Pastor? A Lead Planter? Plant repentance. Be the Lead Repenter.