By Mark Dance
I left a meeting on the far south side of Nashville with barely enough time to make another meeting on the opposite side of town.
My phone rang just as I pulled onto the interstate, and, before I realized it, I drove 30 minutes in the wrong direction!
Repentance is ultimately a spiritual U-turn, which stands at the heart of the Gospel. Repentance isn’t only necessary for our salvation but also for our sanctification and maturity.
Repentance should be a normal part of the Christian life. But why is repentance so painful for some pastors and church leaders? Here are three suggestions:
Repentance is painful when it leads only to shame.
The meeting I missed was with Robby Gallaty. As my accountability partner, friend, and pastor, he did what I would’ve done to him: laughed.
Mistakes are embarrassing but laughable. Unconfessed, unrepentant sin, however, is grave and dangerous.
Godly repentance isn’t an exercise in shame for sin. Instead, it’s a redemptive step away from sin.
We must distinguish repentance from shame, which is a sinister scheme of the devil who desires only to steal, kill, and destroy you (John 10:10).
“Godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret” (2 Corinthians 7:10).
Grace, not shame, is God’s plan for any person created in His image, including fallen pastors.
Repentance is painful when it hurts those you love.
Pastoral ministry is a call to public leadership, which means our failures get more attention and hurt more people than most.
“Not many should become teachers, my brothers, because you know that we will receive a stricter judgment” (James 3:1).
Public sin often calls for public repentance, which has a painful impact on the pastor’s family and church.
“Pay close attention to your life … for in doing this you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Timothy 4:16).
Many pastors guard their private lives because they fear being exposed. The upside of a pastoral U-turn is the collateral effect of helping others to find a course correction as well.
Repentance is painful when it is half-hearted.
Can you imagine being the pastor of Ephesus, a church that Paul and Timothy formerly pastored?
Not only did this guy have to walk in their sizable shoes, but he also got called out in the book of Revelation:
Write to the angel (messenger/pastor) of the church in Ephesus … I know that you have persevered and endured hardships for the sake of my name, and have not grown weary. But I have this against you: you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember then how far you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. Otherwise, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent” (Revelation 2:3-5).
We don’t know the end of this Ephesian pastor’s story, but if he refused to repent, God would certainly remove both him and the church (angel and lampstand).
Pastors, planters, and missionaries are no more immune to private or public sin than any of our other sacred siblings. If anything, we’re always in Satan’s crosshairs.
Are you headed in the wrong direction right now, and in need of a U-turn? Let me remind you of what you already know to do: “repent, and do the works you did at first.”
- Confess specific sins to the Lord every day.
- Give someone permission to call you out consistently.
- Save some of the grace you preach about to others for yourself.
“Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed” (James 5:16).
MARK DANCE (@markdance) speaks at churches, conferences, and retreats—often with his wife Janet. Mark has contributed to several books and offers weekly encouragement at MarkDance.net. He’s currently serving as director of pastoral development for the Oklahoma Baptist Convention.