Have you ever witnessed a reaction when you use the word “repent”? A powerful tool in the Mike Breen’s Life Shapes is the “Learning Circle.” I was introduced to it about a year ago and have used it and taught it many times. Like any tool, the more I use it, the more useful I find it. I have found some folks react to it negatively when we get to a very important word, “repent.” I’ve found a helpful way to work through that.
Quick summary: It’s built from Mark 1:15 where Jesus says, “The time (kairos) has come. The Kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news of the Gospel.” I love that. Key words for the learning circle are kairos (the little x), repent, and believe.
A kairos is a God moment. When you have an encounter with God, when “the Kingdom of God is near”, you can ignore it and keep going like nothing ever happened (take the straight line), or you can “repent” and “believe”, take the circle. Growth as a disciple is impossible unless we pay attention to those God moments (kairos), turn (repent) and apply (believe).
The word that some people get stuck on is “repent.” But what does it mean to repent? In my context – the Southern U.S. – many people can still remember preachers exhorting their listeners with the phrase, “Repent, you sinners.” I went to college at Auburn in Alabama. I still remember visiting preachers on the maul telling us what sinners we were and that we needed to repent – which seemed to mean a major rejection of everything we were doing in order to adopt a weird radical religious position. I grew up southern Presbyterian. Some people in the south came to Presbyterian churches, I think, to avoid preachers who used the word “repent” too much. Those preachers tended to make everyone feel bad about everything that seemed fun and lively.
But to repent simply means to turn. The Greek word is metanoia – it means to redirect or to “reorient” our lives toward God. And that is not rejecting what is lively and fun. Turning toward Jesus is an invitation to a life better than another – a life of purpose, community, joy, and life. There’s plenty of laughter, good food, deep friendship, and celebration. Of course there’s sacrifice and even suffering – but with and for people you love. (Sacrifice and suffering are realities for everyone in the world. Reorienting ourselves to Jesus redeems hardship with purpose and hope.)
I find that if I only use the word repent – in my context, anyway – people dismiss the learning circle. So, I use the word “reorient” a lot at first and explain that some people react to the word “repent.” As I continue to teach, I use the word repent and reorient interchangeably, explaining as often as seems necessary to make sure there’s no misunderstanding. That approach seems to work well to get past reaction to understanding.
Last thing, laughter helps – so here is a corny joke on the word “repent.”
A local church hired a painter to paint their steeple. The paint had gotten dark and patchy. So he climbed up on the steeple and went to work. But he was a little short on paint, a little lazy, and a little dishonest. To complete the job, he kept thinning the paint with paint thinner. Just as he finished, lightning struck him. He was thrown down from steeple. But he was astonished to find that he was not harmed. But the steeple, it was dark and patchy again, exactly like it was before he went to work. Then he heard a voice from heaven say, “Repaint! Repaint, and thin no more.”