I was struck by a recent article in Leadership Journal called A Repenting Church. The author, Pastor Doug Tegner, chronicles the story of his large successful evangelical church entering a season of confession and repentance. Redwood Chapel is a 53-year old church with a “glorious past.” In the 1960’s this church hosted the Bay Area Sunday School Convention (a big deal) and was one of the first churches to broadcast services on radio. In the 1970s and 1980s Redwood planted other churches, was known for its strong missions program, and had an “exemplary educational program.” Two difficult pastoral transitions and a host of other factors (some still not identified) led a season of decline in which hundreds of church members drifted to other congregations.
Recently, church leaders were called to special retreat where a consultant facilitated the conversation. They recounted the highs and lows, joys and defeats of each year in their history. They listed the major breakthroughs, the launching of new ministries, and the attendance spikes. They also listed the conflicts, tensions, and awkward departures.
Tegner describes what happened at the end of their retreat:
After a half day together, all 25 current and former leaders ended up on our knees, many with face in hands, some quietly weeping. We saw ourselves clearly: joys and defeats that cycled and recycled through our half-century history. We had been humbled together. Recurring negative patterns had become obvious and systemic. Most importantly, we called these patterned what they were – sin. It was obvious that we had become practitioners of some “worst practices.” Instead of bringing glory to God, we had repeatedly shamed the reputation of Christ, skirted over touchy issues, or attacked the reputation of other local churches.
The group identified four sins that ebbed and flowed through the church in recent decades:
- Arrogance, boastfulness, and pride;
- Hydroplaning over issues; sending them underground;
To see what the church leaders did next, read the whole article at: (http://www.christianitytoday.com/le/communitylife/discipleship/repentingchurch.html).
What “recurring negative patterns” (sin) have ebbed and flowed through our church in the last decade? What corporate sins need to be confessed? How is Ward’s story similar to or different from Redwood Chapel’s story? Is Ward Church healed? Should we move forward, no looking back? Or is there a need for further reflection (and maybe even some confession) before we can move forward well?
I would love to hear your thoughts.
I am continually amazed by God’s timing and laser focus on issues that need to be addressed. Though I still need to read the full article, your summary demonstrates some striking similarities between Ward and Redwood Chapel. I think confession and repentance is healthy, good and necessary. We have come through a tremendous season of healing and, though many of us may have the discipline of seeking God’s grace and forgiveness, I could see us entering a time of asking God to make clear any areas where we remain blind, or afraid to go – that we might confess any sin and move forward boldly as dearly loved children and heirs of the kingdom. If we glaze over this, I think we could be certain that “Huston, we have a problem.”
I think repentance is key, and still needs to be addressed at Ward. And not just once, but as the author stated, “Repentance is an ongoing process, it is not an event. We need to re-learn how we live and how we think; we need to repent from top to bottom and vigilantly watch out for the reoccurrence of these attitudes or habits.”
I also thought ther plan for defining relationships was good: “Since 2006, we have written clear, biblically informed covenants for elder-to-elder relationships, senior-pastor-to-elder relationships, and elders-to-congregation relationships. Each includes clarity about how we will live together in truth, transparency, grace, love, honesty, and humility. We review each of them at the start of a new ministry year.” I can’t count the times I knew something was wrong at Ward, but didn’t know how and where to take it where there was some assurance it’d be addressed in a biblical way. Although I prayed, I was real good at burying and I regret that.
I am grateful that God does not leave us in the desert, that He is rich in mercy, His love is boundless and His grace transforms. I look forward to seeing how you will take us further with this, Scott.
Great thoughts, Jill. What would it look like to make repentance an ongoing process? The “ongoing” part seems to me to be necessary for genuine repentance. The idea of written covenants to guide relationships is a new idea that I want to think about some more. Praise God for His mercy!
It seems that multitudes of “recurring negative patterns of sin” have morphed into acceptable practices. Right and wrong in today’s culture have become blurred, as facts are reorganized and words redefined so as to favor particular points of view or popular trends. The devil, the father of all lies, loves to cause confusion in this area. I know I need to confess my own lack of discernment in separating the lies from the truth, and I think Ward struggles with this problem also.
Should we look back again? I assume we have looked back already, once, but…what were the results? Was Godly sorrow over the lies we believed accompanied by repentance demonstrated through heartfelt apologies to those discerning folks whose reputations suffered greatly as they stood for the truth (a few years ago?) Today, are we open to and appreciative of input from discerning Ward members, leaders and staff that might be contrary to the party line? Do we understand what happened to us when we rejected past prophetic utterances? Positive change comes from looking back with “ears to hear.”
People choose to heal; however, they need an atmosphere conducive to healing. If we “produce fruits in keeping with repentance,” we will naturally go forward guided by the Holy Spirit. We will seek the Lord’s will for Ward church because we understand that He is Boss and we are not. We will engage in open, honest, polite, clear, constructive and respectful communication with each other. We will work with all our hearts, excellently as unto the Lord, and co-operate with and encourage one another with charitable and non-competitive spirits. We will not favor one person over another. We will be kind. Godly sorrow and true repentance will give the Holy Spirit the opportunity to create in us a sensitivity to others that will not only encourage the healing process within our congregation but also remove the fear of future wounding.
Amen, Laurie! Your eloguent appeal for spiritual transparency and genuine humility is refreshing! Spiritual discernment is not learned in seminary, nor crafted by man, but is a gift of God. It upholds His truth, and seeks to glorify Him alone. It is a wise leader who recognizes it, and considers it a treasure!