If the subject of repentance surfaces, speak about it in the first person
Most of my speaking engagements are very peaceable, which is exceptional given that I speak about very hotly contested issues. However, one Sunday morning I was speaking specifically about walking with those that are openly gay (and believe that God blesses same sex relationships) and also have a relationship with Christ. As I was choosing my words carefully, a man blurted out in a crowd of 400+, “What about repentance?!”. I was somewhat shocked, then addressed the ill-timed but legitimate question, and then moved on.
I reflected later on what must be going on inside of this man for him to press past several social norms for what is acceptable in this type of setting and demand that his question be answered right then and there. I realized how uncomfortable it is for the Christian community to stay present in someone’s life and journey; especially when they’re not getting it, don’t feel conviction, don’t yield their lives in repentance, or just simply see things differently. We may feel that Christianity isn’t working and the Holy Spirit is slacking.
We sometimes lack the ability to give people space to wrestle with God. I’ve noticed that this creates tension IN US as we are attempting to minister to others, so we up the ante, give people direct advice, or even ultimatums – “change this behavior or else!”. Someone repenting, or simply turning from sin, becomes more about us (and our comfort) than it is about them.
It’s important to remember that when the subject of repentance comes up, I want to help facilitate, shepherd, and steward this mentality & atmosphere. I hope this paints a picture marked by gentleness & patience rather than the “turn or burn” mentality that historic, American Christianity has been shaped by. I remember in those moments my experience with the invitational way that God has called me to repentance, rather than His demand for obedience. Of all people, God alone has the right to demand our repentance, and yet He has a very long history of rolling with humanity’s quite miraculous ability to resist the only thing that has ever been completely perfect, holy, and about their good. I also remember that repentance is a gift to be received and responded to more than it is a work to be achieved, or a command to be obeyed.
One of the ways we get in the way of the Holy Spirit and hinder spiritual growth is when we focus on someone else’s need for repentance rather than our own. So I make it a practice to vocalize the times where God has lovingly corrected, convicted, and invited me to turn from what I knew and what I felt was natural. I do this because it’s part of my story and when we tell our stories it takes pressure off of people to modify behavior and allows the Spirit to deal with the heart. It’s a practice in humility that eliminates any power dynamic between people and allows the other to see me as an imperfect equal. And when a person feels the freedom to explore their own imperfections and broken humanity, they more accurately hear the voice of God inviting them to repentance (and consequently a life more in step with Him). Our own stories of repentance are some of the most powerful ways that God holds a mirror up to the lives of other people and allows for gentle confrontation that leads to lasting life change.
Lastly, I make repentance personal and public because I also want those to whom I minister to know that I’m adhering to a set of ethics, sexual & otherwise, that I have fully bought into and have cost me something. It allows for others to take me seriously knowing that I’m not asking them to do something I haven’t done already.
So if repentance surfaces as a topic, don’t use it as an opportunity to tell others where they should be; use it as an opportunity to share your own experience of repentance and your personal journey of going from death to life.
This blog is one in a series of 30+ tips for relational effectiveness with LGBT people. Find the condensed list HERE. These relational tips are from a handout acquired from “Lead Them Home”, a Boston based ministry that equips the church on LGBT issues. These blogs have been expounded upon with permission.
These tips, along with numerous other insights, are found in an excellent resource called “Guiding Families” available HERE.