9 Practical Lessons on Repentance & Forgiveness: Leadership Culture (Pt. 2)

Editor's Note: Sutton Turner was the executive pastor and an executive elder of Mars Hill Church in Seattle. He spent several years in the business world, working in Texas and the Middle East before God called him to serve at Mars Hill. Turner oversaw the church's central operations and business functions, including finance, property, media and communications, and technology. He trained and mentored the executive pastors and deacons across all Mars Hill Church locations.

I am sure that most of you reading the previous blog on repentance and forgiveness already knew much of what I wrote and explained. You have likely read these verses a hundred times over. You probably even committed some of the verses to memory. However, I want to challenge you to put the words of Scripture to the pavement of our lives and walk them out. We know we should forgive but we often fall short in obeying. We aren't diligent to take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Cor. 10:5), and it is easy to allow anger, resentment, and bitterness to take root. Likewise, we know we should keep a short account of offenses with the Lord and with others and pursue reconciliation as soon as the Holy Spirit convicts. Yet, we allow pride or other logistical circumstances to stand in the way. Remember, your greatest privilege as a regenerated believer in Jesus Christ is to repent — don't miss out on the joy and growth of restoration.

Here are a few lessons that I have learned in my past relationships that might benefit other leaders concerning repentance and forgiveness:

The Lessons of Mars Hill's Fall

Meditate on Philippians 2:5-11.
All believers are called to deny self and take up their cross daily (Matthew 16:24-26). This may seem like an odd point to make but hear me out. We must continue to humble ourselves, not think of ourselves more highly than we ought, and put others' needs above our own. In this, I believe, offenses will not penetrate as harmfully as they have in the past. Christ's words offering forgiveness from the cross are the ultimate example of humility and selflessness. May our prayer always be to look like our Savior.

In humbling ourselves as a leader, we are in a better place for servant leadership. Jesus said that he did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). As a leader we need to die to self and serve others. For people like me who have come from the business world, this is probably one of the toughest lessons to learn. I'll say it again and again: the church is not a business, and you can not lead a church with business relationships. You are a pastor who wants each person to receive more and more sanctification from the Lord. When God graciously calls you to walk alongside others in that process, it requires selflessness, sacrifice, and perseverance. Dying to yourself includes putting other's needs, wants, hurts, desires, even their success, above yours. According to Jesus, these are the two greatest commandments: "[Y]ou shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength" and "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Mark 12:30-31).

As I discussed above, repentance is continuous for the Christian, and a Christian leader is certainly no different. As a church leader, you will make more decisions than those you lead. With these decisions come more mistakes simply because you're making more decisions. I have learned the hard way that this increased number of mistakes increases your opportunities to repent to your fellow brothers and sisters. No one expects you to be a perfect leader, just a repentant leader. So you need to have an open door that allows people to tell you how your decisions were wrong, sinful, hurtful, or unloving. Because in a church, you will find many declarations of "sin" and things of which need to be repented, you need to have an open door for discussion as a leader. (I will more fully discuss definitions of words like sin in my next blog post.)

Bottom line here is, this is your greatest (and most difficult) opportunity for growth as a leader: repentance. You make more mistakes, you have more eyes on you, and you are biblically held to a higher standard. These are great opportunities as a leader to humbly allow other brothers and sisters to help us grow.

Over the past couple of months, a former Mars Hill elder has practically walked this principle out with me. He had the best intentions in trying to help me see things that I had done that were not in the best interests of others. However, it was not until after I left Mars Hill that I really listened to him and then prayed about some of the things he was saying. Initially (and at a critical point), I was not receptive to his efforts, but now, I am able to grow in my former "blindspot" areas. I am thankful for my brother's persistence and love.

As leaders, we must see things from other people's perspectives and feel what they feel. In order to care for them well, we must take the time to listen to their feelings, fears, and concerns. We must love our brothers and sisters and care for them in this practical way.

In the past, I have used the justification of my actions and lack of time to not have great empathy for the people whom Jesus gave me to shepherd. As a leader and pastor, I implore you to slow down, take time to meet with people, listen to them, and communicate your feelings and understanding to them.

One important thing that I have learned over the last couple of years, is that as a leader many decisions or actions that you make affect a lot of people. There are things you do that might not be classified as "sin" but they still hurt people. It is important to sit down with the people with whom you had direct contact and talk through the hurt they feel. In situations where sin has been committed, repent. Where there is no sin, but something regrettable, you need to own that with the affected party. If there is something that seems harmless in your opinion, hear their pain and hurt regardless of your perspective, put yourself in their shoes, and ask the Lord to help you understand how their lives were affected by your actions. This is your brother or your sister — love them.

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