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.