For some leaders, apologies seem to come reluctantly if they come at all. Perhaps a mea culpa seems like an indication of weakness. Perhaps the leader’s ego is too fragile to admit that he or she is wrong. Perhaps some leaders really don’t believe they are ever wrong.
There are certain facts upon which most of us can agree. First, all people make mistakes, including leaders. Second, some of those mistakes will rise to the level of needing an apology. Third, a sincere apology is usually received well.
Here are some miscellaneous notes I have gathered as I have observed apologies or lack of apologies by leaders:
- Many apologies begin with “If I have offended anyone . . .” That is a non-apology apology. Leaders need not apologize if they don’t know whom they have offended. It’s a cop-out apology.
- A good apology states the nature of the offense: “I was wrong when I said you are a jerk.” The apology does not sidestep the issue, but confronts it head-on.
- One of the roles of good leaders is to build strong relationships. All leaders mess up relationally at times. The organization needs leaders who are willing to apologize not only to heal a relationship, but for the health of the organization.
- Apologies defuse antagonism in the organization. Antagonism can seriously harm the health of the organization.
- Apologies should be a part of a leader’s life on both a professional and personal level. It takes both humility and integrity to admit fault and to apologize for it. But most recipients of our apologies are grateful beyond measure that we are willing to do so, whether they or a co-worker, a spouse, or a friend.
Allow me to speak directly on this matter to fellow Christians. I recently spoke with a young man I befriended on a trip. He is not a Christian, but he is a seeker in the true sense of the word. He also seems to be very smart and informed. “Thom,” he began, “I read a lot of interactions among Christians online. I really am interested in learning from them.” He paused for a moment, and continued, “Why is it that you Christians fight so much? Why are you so antagonistic toward each other?”
My purpose in providing that true story is not to tell you how I responded. My greater purpose is to remind ourselves that the world is watching. We will certainly make mistakes and say things we regret. But we can always apologize. If we are wrong, we should always apologize.
Real leaders apologize.
Real Christian leaders apologize.
In Luke 7.36-50 we read the story of a Pharisee opening his home to entertain Jesus for dinner. When a certain sinful woman in the town learns that Jesus is in the house, she approaches Him with an alabaster box. She opens the box and anoints Jesus’ feet with the costly perfume. You can easily imagine the aroma of her worship filling the entire home. She was forgiven by Jesus and wanted to express her undying love and gratitude for the grace He had shown her.
Tomorrow as we gather together in churches all around the globe, I pray the beautiful aroma of worship which rises from our hearts will fill all of Heaven. I pray our ascending love and gratitude for His grace and forgiveness is well pleasing to God—”the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God…” and that to Him “…be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen” (1 Timothy 1.17).
“Alabaster Box” by Cece Winans has been one of my favorite worship songs for many years. I hope it adds to your Lord’s Day of Worship.
Words are more interesting than any puzzle. Sometimes the history of a word opens up a window on the habits and customs of a past generation. The common english word “butcher,” for example, takes us back through the French “boucher,” when “bouc” or goat meat was the chief meat on the diet.
Few words, however, have a more interesting lineage than the word “sincere.” Among the theories advanced to explain this word is the one that sees its derivation from “sine”—without, and “cera”—wax. In the ancient Roman world a sculptor sometimes chipped off too large a piece from the marble. Rather than begin his work over again, he used wax to fasten the piece back onto the image. This would stand the temporary test and the sale would be made, but soon the fraud would show up. It became necessary, in drawing up contracts with sculptors, to insert the word “sinecera”—without wax.
The Greek word used in the classics and in the New Testament to express the idea of sincerity comes from the word meaning “sunlight” and to “unfold.” When a product was examined in the clear light of the sun and found to be pure and unsullied, it was “sincere.”
In the light of these meanings, what vigor is to be found in Paul’s prayer for the Philippians. “That ye may approve things that are excellent, that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Jesus Christ”—that ye may be without fraud, unfolded in the sunlight.
The natural man loves darkness rather than light—loves his own opinions rather than God’s revelation (John 3:19). David Nelson indicated, a century ago, that one small, cunningly-devised falsehood will influence the natural man more than one hundred plain and forcible arguments in favor of revelation. It is when a man is born again that he loves light and truth rather than darkness, and can live in a sincere way, that is, without fraud, and unfolded in God’s sunlight. (Donald Grey Barnhouse)
Over the years I have heard many different illustrations on being a good leader. Using examples from everyday life helps to clarify the role of a leader. I think “Five Leadership Insights from a Firefighter” by Chuck Lawless is a perfect example of taking a real-life experience and applying spiritual truths. His example emphasizes the importance of a unified team.
A leader may have different responsibility than those serving with him; however, they are each an equal part of one team. They are connected like fingers to a hand and must recognize the importance and necessity of the other if they are to succeed. Often times the leader of the group gets the most recognition; nevertheless, a great leader knows how react to praise in such a way that no one on the team is jealous or feels slighted.
I have had several friends who were firefighters, and I think Dr. Lawless does a fantastic job of describing the relationship between firefighters. He also challenges church leaders to create a team of many members who form one cohesive unit working together to accomplish one purpose—making disciples.
My father was a volunteer fireman when I was a boy, and I have vivid memories of his responding to emergencies when the signal sounded. On several Halloweens I dressed as a fireman. In a somewhat odd scene, our family sometimes shared lunch at the scene of a “practice” fire when the fire department burned down dilapidated buildings.
Following in my dad’s firefighting boots, I became a volunteer firefighter in my late 40s. Little did I realize how much I would learn about church leadership by serving with that team of first responders. Here are just a few of those insights.
1. Firefighters recognize the urgency of their role. The signal sounds, the details are given, and the firefighter springs into action. He must be focused on the task at hand, for a distracted firefighter is a dangerous one. In fact, everything else stops until he returns from dealing with the emergency.
I wish that were the case with all church leaders. We have the life-giving message of Christ to proclaim to the world. The signal has already sounded, and we know the details of the emergency—millions die every year without Christ. What would happen if we really recognize the emergency and prioritize evangelism again?
2. Firefighters understand the value of teamwork. From the truck driver to the pump operator to the Rapid Intervention Team (ready at any moment to rescue a fallen firefighter), every firefighter is critical to the team. More importantly, the other firefighters recognize that fact. They are trained to watch each other’s back, seldom if ever facing a raging fire alone. The best firefighters, in fact, are those that are both trained and trusted like brothers.
Church leaders, on the other hand, tend to be lone rangers. Not only are we not trained to be team players, but we also often don’t even trust one another enough to work together. Sometimes we’re simply too arrogant to ask for help. The danger is clear: church leaders who work alone are the most liable to being shot down in the spiritual battle that ministry entails.
3. Firefighters are well trained. Firefighters are required to complete training that includes book knowledge and practical training. Only when the recruit firefighter gives evidence of his ability is he granted permission to be an official firefighter. Even then, he is expected to complete additional practical education courses in order to stay current in his profession. Veteran firefighters walk alongside new firefighters, teaching them even as they together fight a fire.
I am a seminary professor, but training future ministers requires the support of the local church. We can provide head knowledge, but we can’t offer needed practical training apart from a church where praxis occurs under the care of a veteran pastor. Yet, church leaders are seemingly so busy that they have little time for this task.
4. Firefighters love what they do. Firefighters love the exhilaration of tackling and defeating a fire. Actually, they love the fire station, the fire trucks, the fire equipment, the firefighter uniform, their firefighting squad – almost everything associated with their task. They risk their lives every time the signal sounds, but they do so because they believe in what they are doing. They know that lives depend on them.
Perhaps here is where I am most concerned about young church leaders. Young leaders recognize that the North American church is in need of much reformation. We are reaching few non-believers, and church members sometimes live so much like the world that non-believers see the church as irrelevant. Some young leaders view the church in such a negative light that they find themselves trying to change a church they don’t love. That kind of leadership is quickly draining.
5. Firefighters serve proactively. Their role is to respond to fires, but that’s not the entirety of their role. Firefighters also educate the public on fire prevention. They visit local schools to teach children about fire safety. They enforce local codes to prevent open flames. In general, firefighters are always leading proactively so they won’t have fires to put out.
Good church leaders lead that way, too. They cast vision and build teams. They proactively make disciples. They know that if their leadership is only reactionary, the church will not move forward. In fact, they know that kind of leadership is not leadership at all.
Have you ever been caught out in a severe thunder-storm? The rain was coming down so hard that you couldn’t see five feet in front of you? You are trying to run toward cover, but because of the high winds and massive amount of rain you can’t see anything? You know that if you just keep moving forward, eventually you’ll find shelter and relief from the deluge.
After you’ve been running awhile, you begin to wonder why you haven’t reached shelter. You ask yourself, “Did I go in the wrong direction? It is raining so hard that I couldn’t actually see the shelter, so I just started running in the general direction? Maybe I went the wrong way, maybe I passed it, maybe it is not really in front of me, maybe—maybe I’m lost and out on my own.”
As you continue questioning your hope of finding shelter, panic begins to well up within your heart. “I’m cold, wet, and tired from running. Maybe I should stop and wait for the storm to pass. Maybe I should go back the other direction.” Just as you’re about to give up, something within pushes you on. The voice says, “Don’t give up, just keep trusting what you know to be true.” So, you press on finding greater confidence with each and every step. “I’ve jogged in this park for years, and I know for certain that shelter is just a little bit further ahead.”
Suddenly, through the rain you see a dark shadow just a few yards ahead. You begin to run faster as you realize it is the long-awaited shelter right where you knew it would be. Entering the shelter you double over to catch your breath, and after a few minutes something incredible happens. You look outside the shelter at the overwhelming downpour that had left you blind, helpless, and confused, and you begin to see the beauty of the storm from within the shelter. Outside the shelter you could only see a few feet, but now you can see up and down the trails, and behold the beauty of the falling rain. You now realize the only way to go through a storm is under the safety of the shelter. After all, you’re still in the middle of the storm—the wind is blowing, rain falling, lightning flashing, and thunder crashing; nevertheless you are protected within this old, trusted safe haven.
I have found myself many times over the last forty-eight years being battered about by the storms of life. I was tired, cold, and weary. I kept calling out to God for help, but He never seemed to come and rescue me from the terrifying tempest. Continuing on, blinded by the wind and rain, soaking wet, and shivering, I just couldn’t understand why God wouldn’t point me in the right direction, why He wouldn’t stop the rain—I couldn’t comprehend how leaving me lost in this storm could possibly bring Him glory.
But then I remember, I had gone out into the storm on my own. I had chosen my own direction and took off running thinking that I could withstand the beating long enough to find shelter. What I needed to do was stop running away from God, remember the shelter of God’s presence, peace, and protection, and begin running to where He had always been. Sure enough, when I quit struggling, trying to get through the storm in my own strength, and relied on God it happened. My eyes were opened to see His shelter, and from there I was able to see the beauty of the storm and understand that He is glorified most when I find my strength, safety, and satisfaction in Him regardless of the circumstances.
God has never left you to fight alone, but He will freely let you go out and try it all alone. There has never been a moment when He wasn’t patiently waiting for you to stop thrashing about in your sea of self-determination and cry out to Him, “God, I CAN’T DO THIS!” Nope, not for a moment has He ever forsaken you! All you have to do is open your eyes to see Him, run to His shelter, and then find your rest in Him!
If you find yourself in the middle of a raging storm, you don’t know where to turn, and you are thinking of giving up, then you need Jesus. He is as close as your next breath and is waiting on you to cry out to Him. If you need help finding your way to Him, email me at email@example.com, and I’ll help you find your way to His shelter.
Here is a beautiful song by Meredith Andrews, “Not for a Moment.”
I absolutely love being a pastor and getting to studying God’s Word in preparation to share it with my church family each Sunday. There is a satisfaction beyond description from seeing someone move from casual attender, to consistent attender, to serving, to leading, and finally becoming a disciple-maker. Watching members grow in their faith and service often brings me to tears. I cannot tell you how much I enjoy and long to be around my brothers and sisters in Christ.
I once heard a wise statement about being a great pastor, “If you’re going to be a shepherd, you have to smell like the sheep.” A shepherd lived with, protected, fed, and led the sheep. They knew him, trusted him, and followed him without reservation. The pastor’s first responsibility is to be a shepherd to the people. Shepherding should be a task the pastor loves. If a pastor doesn’t like being with the people then you have to ask why is he a pastor to begin with.
This morning I read a great post by John MacArthur on “Every Pastor’s Job Description.” It was refreshing to hear such a great leader of a mega-church describe a pastor’s greatest responsibility.
Many of my favorite people are pastors. I grew up the son of a pastor and the grandson of a pastor. And after more than four decades of my own pastoral ministry, and many years of training young men for their own, I think I have a good understanding of a pastor’s heart—both his joys and his struggles.
These days, my heart aches for pastors.
It aches because today their job is as difficult as it has ever been. We live in an anti-authority culture—one that has lost all respect for people in positions of authority and influence. The modern mindset is to tear down everybody and everything. It’s a destructive culture, driven by fierce pride and runaway self-esteem. It seems very few pastors are run out of their churches over bad sermons or ineffective ministry—usually, they’re run out by a person or a group contending for power and authority.
That difficulty is compounded by the intimidation of massive media ministries and celebrity preachers on TV, the Internet, and in flat-screen churches all over the country. Pastors today are told they need to embody an entrepreneurial spirit—that they need to grow their churches the way you would grow a business. They hear a lot about needing to impact the culture and engage the community, and they get all kinds of pragmatic advice on how to accomplish that. They’re told they need to reach beyond the church and revolutionize society. In fact, it seems much of the modern pastor’s work is supposed to take place outside the church.
That’s a discouraging, disheartening message for men who love the church and have given their lives in service to God’s people. It’s also unbiblical. Pastors have one job. They’re not called to be cultural evangelists, entrepreneurs, or revolutionaries. They’re called to faithfully feed the flock of God. They’re called to be shepherds.
Consider the apostle Peter’s instruction to church leaders in 1 Peter 5:1-2.
Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness.
The solemn duty of every pastor is to feed God’s sheep. And as a pastor, the day you let your eyes move beyond the people sitting in your church is the day you’ve lost your purpose.
The focus of pastoral ministry is not the people outside the church, and it’s not drawing unbelievers to the church. The focus is on the people inside the church—the flock the Lord has sovereignly drawn together and entrusted into the care of a shepherd. The pastor has been set apart, as the apostle Paul put it, “for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12-13).
Pastors are not called to the culture, and we’re not called to the unconverted. We have been mandated to feed our flocks so they can grow spiritually. We’re called to serve the redeemed people of God as an agent of sanctification and protection. The measure of a man’s effectiveness in ministry is not the number of people in his congregation every week—it’s the Christlikeness of his congregation.
Source: Every Pastor’s Job Description