CHAPTER 14: A LEADER KNOWS HOW TO APOLOGIZE
One day, I was counseling a member of our church who I have helped several times before. We have been together in the church for more than 20 years. The counseling was not going well as I detected a rebellious attitude in the person. At some point, he charged me with some offense that I committed against him through my words. I struggled in keeping an objective view of things as I try to remember whether I have said what he was claiming I did. Part of my struggle was the possibility that I may have to apologize to him.
One of the most challenging things for a leader to say is, “I was wrong, and I apologize”. This difficulty is especially real for someone who thinks that apologizing is a sign of weakness. If there is no real offense committed, then yes, apologizing could be a sign of weakness. But if one has genuinely sinned against another, then an apology is called for.
At its heart, leaders who do not apologize give in to their prideful spirit. A genuinely humble Christian does not shrink from asking forgiveness if he has offended someone, even if that person has a much lower position in the organization.
When confronted with a mistake, a leader usually goes on a defensive mode. She may try to defend or rationalize her actions. It is common to pass the blame on others, even to the extent of blaming the offended person (which adds insult to injury).
What is the leader to do when he commits an offense against another person? First, you must seek the forgiveness of God. All sins are ultimately against God. Take the case of King David. After his grievous sin against Uriah and Bathsheba, he cried out to Yahweh, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight” (Psalm 51:4a). It may come as a surprise that David said his sin is against God only. Imagine how the relatives and friends of Uriah would react to that. Surely David sinned against Uriah by having him killed and for ruining his family. But what David recognized was that sin is primarily a rebellion against God.
Second, you must ask the forgiveness of the person you offended. It is not enough to confess your sins to God. Some think that doing so is sufficient to absolve them of their responsibilities to others. However, the Bible is unambiguous that we have to confess our sin to the person sinned against. Third, you must try to make restitution, if at all possible. You must seek all possible avenues to address any damage your sin has caused.
At the same time, a Christian leader should cultivate a forgiving spirit. You must resist the temptation of using your position to exact revenge on people who commit mistakes against you. It is quite interesting that the Bible seems to emphasize more the need to forgive others than seeking the forgiveness of others (see, for example, Colossians 3:12-13).
A pastor needs to have a reservoir of a forgiving spirit. How many times have we preached our hearts out against certain sins or bad habits and then see members of our congregation do the very things we warned against just minutes earlier?
In one of the most striking parables of the Lord Jesus, He told the story of a man who has been forgiven of his massive debt by his master. However, that same person did not forgive someone who owed him a much less amount. When his master heard what he did, he was naturally incensed. “Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt.” (Matthew 18:32-34).
Again, a spirit who seeks forgiveness and is ready to forgive is consistent with the logos of the Christian leader. Jesus commands us to pray, “and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12). We daily need God’s forgiveness, and so we must also be ready to forgive the much lesser sins of others against us.
1. When was the last time you apologized to another person in your organization?
2. Assess how you typically respond to criticisms.
3. Identify the ways you can respond constructively to comments about you as a leader.