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This article is from the EMU News Archive. The approximate date of publication was in January 2006. Current EMU news is available at www.emu.edu/news

School for Leadership Training 2006

A Message of Repentance

Cheryl SandersCheryl Sanders
We begin at the wrong place - with Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream rather than with his call to repent and to be reconciled to God and each other, said the keynote speaker Jan. 16 at the opening session of the annual School for Leadership Training at Eastern Mennonite Seminary.

Dr. King's primary message "was more about repentance and reconciliation than about a dream," declared Cheryl Sanders, senior pastor of the Third Street Church of God in Washington D.C., and professor of Christian ethics at Howard University School of Divinity.

Dr. Sanders based her message on II Corinthians 5:17-21, in which the Apostle Paul calls persons to be reconciled to God and to become a new creation in Christ and with each other.

However, reconciliation cannot happen without repentance first," she declared. "Otherwise, it becomes a case of people apologizing only to make the other person feel better, and not owning up to one?s own failings."

To repent is to begin with 'I'm sorry. I was wrong and I'm determined to do better,'" she said.

Once that happens, again citing Paul, Sanders said that people can become ambassadors of Christ.

King was such an ambassador, she said. But as the U.S. celebrated what would have been his 77th birthday, people have focused on the wrong part of his message.

"We need to retrieve the call to repentance from Dr. King?s speech. We give so much emphasis now to the 'I have dream,'" Sanders said, reminding her audience that earlier in that same speech, he talked about calling America to accountability.

"He called for America to repent first, and then dream. But in our ? celebrations of the holiday, we lift up the dream, and we conveniently forget about the call to repentance. The dream alone will not reconcile us," she said.

"God longs for a church with courage to embody God's brokenness as symbolized by the cross," Sanders said. "He has given us the ministry and the method to be reconciled to God and to each other."

"Sons of the Day," a local a cappella group, provided special music at the service.

SLT speaker Duane BeckSLT speaker Duane Beck stresses the need for practicing spiritual disciplines as a vehicle for transformation in pastoral ministry.
Photo by Jim Bishop

It sounds so obvious and necessary, but so difficult to achieve.

The need to spend regular time in contemplation, reflection, rest and communing with God amid busy schedules was underscored repeatedly at the annual School for Leadership Training held Jan. 16-19 at Eastern Mennonite Seminary.

Some 250 pastors, lay leaders and seminary students attended corporate sessions and classes around the theme, "Embodying God's Wholeness in a Frenzied World," based on texts from the gospel of John.

In three messages, principal speaker Duane Beck, pastor of the Raleigh (N.C.) Mennonite Church, reflected on differences between "being busy and being fruitful" in pastoral ministry.

Beck, former lead pastor of the Belmont Mennonite Church in Elkhart, Ind., for 21 years, opened each session with corporate "stretching exercises" aimed at helping participants reach toward and bless God, Jesus and Holy Spirit and bring fresh awareness of their empowering presence.

"What do we do when things become frantic in our lives"" Beck asked. "Those things that can help us change for the better - quiet reflection, contemplation and communion with God - fall by the wayside."

The speaker stressed the need for persons to undergo "pruning processes" in order to become more productive and fruitful, noting that "the more we deal with the unredeemed areas of our lives the more we can experience God's healing and grace in our lives."

Beck quoted author Leslie Newbigin: "The minister's leadership of the congregation in its mission to the world will be first and foremost in the area of his or her own discipleship, in that life of prayer and daily consecration . . . is the place where the essential battles are either won or lost."

"Pay attention to [what's happening] in your daily lives," he advised. "Let your bodies catch up with your souls in order to embody God."

"Our inner lives need to dwell where Jesus dwells. Staying near God's heart shapes and transforms us as ministers," Beck said, adding: "Go back to your baptismal call and receive it anew. Know that God loves you and reflect on the awareness that 'you are My beloved child.'"

Beck recommended developing a personal call and mission statement to provide a framework for practicing regular spiritual disciplines that include meditation on scripture, prayer and a regular period of retreat and acquiring a spiritual director/mentor.

Finding a balance between ministry and relationships was echoed in a class on "Finding a Wholeness Balance" led by Lonnie D. Yoder, professor of pastoral care and counseling at the seminary.

"Discern your passions, what you feel God is calling you to. Having a written life purpose statement is one key to this process," Dr Yoder said.

Knowing how and when to say 'yes' and 'no' to requests and demands is critical, but having clear priorities for ministry will provide a clue in responding, Yoder told the class.

The opening corporate session Monday night, Jan. 16, combined worship with a celebration of the life and legacy of the late civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., led by Cheryl Sanders, senior pastor of the Third Street Church of God in Washington, D.C. (see sidebar).

At a "Pre-SLT" seminar held Monday afternoon, Jan. 16, Ingrid Friesen Moser, stewardship of health manager at Mennonite Mutual Aid, Goshen, Ind., helped persons take a second look at understanding attitudes toward "glorifying God with our bodies," including changing the ways one shops, talks and walks.

Participants were able to select four of 16 special interest classes during the week on topics ranging from "young adults' views of the church" and "the peace position in time of war" to "sermon preparation" and "creating a healthy rhythm with food."

Tuesday evening, Jan. 17, persons could select recreational activities from country-western line dancing to climbing a wall in the University Commons to a Rook card tournament.

School for Leadership Training participants
begin each corporate session with a series of
exercisesSchool for Leadership Training participants begin each corporate session with a series of exercises aimed at heightening their awareness of the empowering presence of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Photo by Jim Bishop

Judy Zook, pastor of New Holland (Pa.) Mennonite Church, affirmed the conference emphasis on "abiding in Jesus," noting that "ministry flows from establishing boundaries of quiet space with God that empower us to live in a frenzied world with the peace and joy of God's holy presence in our lives."

"I was renewed and energized to continue being an ambassador of the gospel of Christ by the profound reminder that in my baptism, God's Spirit came upon me and I was named God's beloved," said Sam Thomas, pastor of Landisville (Pa.) Mennonite Church. "Renewed in God's love for me, I've been renewed to embody that love to others."

Audio and video tapes of keynote sessions and opening worship are available by contacting EMU learning resources, 540-432-4231; e-mail: kingmg@emu.edu.