Positive Models of Repentance

In Uncategorized on July 4, 2011 at 6:22 pm

Submitted By: Gentry

Prompted by the reminders of the Pixie, who regularly challenges me to move from deconstruction to construction, as well as the recent Homebrewed Podcast with Mark Scandrette where he challenges folks in the emergent conversation to identify and live positive spiritual practices rather than simply critiquing the practices of the past – such as rededication – I would like to identify a few positive models of repentance I have stumbled across.

The first is the culture of “push-back” that I have heard of and occasionally seen modeled by friends in the New Thing Network. The pastors and leaders of these churches constantly collaborate on their sermons, social justice and outreach initiatives. One of the ways that these leaders ensure excellence in their activities is by welcoming and providing critique, challenge, and questions. If your mission is important enough – such as “helping people find their way back to God” – then critique is not a hindrance or personal offense, but fuel that helps effectively address barriers and pursue the work you were called to do. For my part, I’ve often provided far more push-back than commendation of my dear friends – I’m looking at you Jackaway and Montsie – who are a part of New Thing. I appreciate their openness to my critiques – eagerly welcome theirs – and would like to publicly affirm the vitality and beauty of their ministries at Restore Christian Church and IKON.

The second model for repentance that I’ve stumbled across is in Doug Hall’s remarkable new book The Cat and the Toaster. For over 40 years Doug and his wife Judy have helped lead the Emanuel Gospel Center in Boston’s South End. In the midst of his ministry Doug encountered the social science discipline of systems thinking that was initiated by thinkers like Jay W. Forrester and Peter Senge at M.I.T. As Doug began to look at his South End neighborhood as an organic system, tracing the inputs, outputs, and interrelated factors in his local culture, he realized that many Christian initiatives for church renewal or social justice ended up having unintended negative consequences* that far exceeded the growth or progress that was initially sought.

In the midst of his introduction to living systems ministry in the church, Doug challenges church leaders to not only realize the unintended negative consequences of their well-intentioned actions, but to also “confess and repent from the wrong thinking that got us there” (137). By confessing the wrong thinking that often derails well-intentioned action – such as how I often spent so much time studying and pondering the interrelation of Greek words in the text that I had little time/cognitive space for listening to the stories of fellow believers so that I could identify the revelatory intersection between biblical truth and their lives; or when I assumed that I knew the nature of pastoral support people needed instead of simply asking them what kind of friendship, accompaniment or accountability would be helpful – we can receive the forgiveness of God for our failures and address our ineffectiveness at the root instead of vainly trying to identify the healthy flesh remaining on an almost completely rotten fruit.

Since reading Doug’s words I’ve been trying to identify my incorrect or unhealthy thinking – which he says AA calls “stinkin’ thinkin” – by journaling, discussion, and prayer, so that I can be a more effective reconciler and individually and communally live in a more full sense of God’s peace.

The third model that has inspired me was the Epic Fail Church Planting Conference that was held last April in the Walnut Bar & Grill in Lansdale, Pennsylvania.** I haven’t attended a Christian conference since Theooze’s Soularize in 2001, but if I had the time and the cash I definitely would have crashed this gathering. Instead of elevating model after model of church planting success – which can rarely be replicated by the eager and/or desperate pastors in attendance – this conference had the potential to be the ultimate laboratory for diagnosing incorrect thinking, confessing the unintended consequences of well-intentioned actions, and joining with like-minded strugglers to confess failure, repent of ineffective approaches and prayerfully await what the Spirit would do next. If they have this conference again next year, I’ll have a tough time deciding whether to attend it or the Wild Goose Festival.

There’s probably more to be said about these models of repentance, but I’ve got to get off my ass and act like a parent. I’d love to hear about practices that you’ve found helpful or reflections you have about the models above.

* I was first introduced to the idea of unintended social consequences by Rick Bennett, who I suspect learned the term, or at least developed an enhanced understanding of this reality, at the foot of Doug Hall.

** Maybe they can have next year’s conference in the soon to be foreclosed upon Crystal Cathedral in California.

  1. I am sorely tempted by the Wild Goose Festival as well.

    However the point of your post abut examining our failures is a good one. Isn’t that one of Jesus’ core teachings? Look at the log in our own eyes,etc? St. Ignatius encourages us to examine our lives every day, at the end of the day. To see where we have failed, and this is a very good post, examining failures on a more corporate level.

  2. Thanks for the comment! If memory serves, St. Ignatius also wants us to meditate on hell regularly. Tough stuff.

    Maybe you and Slowfo should head to Wild Goose from OK next year and some of us could head from MA as well.

  3. Gentry, I have always appreciated your “push-back” it has always been encouraging and thought-provoking–often times sending me in a really good direction. I would say that the only way that a culture of “push-back” is really possible, not getting derailed by the feelings of personal attack, is when there is an undergirded culture of love and care. Push-back is only possible when people speak the truth in love… something you have always done so well with me. And honestly, isn’t that what makes all collaboration possible?

  4. aaron, you’re too kind. i’m honored to count you as a friend.

    in other news, do you think it is safe enough to write the story of crazy frontier city church and post it on my blog? or develop it into a screenplay!? that story deserves a wider audience.

  5. the story of the crazy frontier city church… wow… i think i may be ready for such an unveiling. i just don’t know if the world is ready for that nonsense!

  6. oh, i think the world needs to hear. it must! you can publish it under a pseudonym if you want to protect the guilty.

  7. crazy frontier city church?

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