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Wednesday, September 7, 2011

What to Do When You Really Mess Up

Try as we might, even with good intentions, we will all make mistakes in the ministry leadership. We all have “clay feet”, we’re a part of Adam’s race and on this side of heaven we will on occasions make wrong decisions, say something that offends, or do something that we should not have done. Obviously, some of these things are more serious than others, such as moral failure or unethical behavior, but right now I’m not thinking about those.

When [not if] we say or do something that brings offense there are some things we must do if we are to be obedient to God’s calling on our lives. These are true for all believers, but especially for those in leadership positions, as James 3:1 says about those who would teach are under a “stricter judgement.” Allow me to suggest some things that will help:

(1) Realize that you are not perfect, that you will make mistakes, and even though they might not have been intentional, they can and do cause offense. There has only been one person who ever walked on this earth that did not sin and that was Jesus Christ. Outside of Christ, everyone has and will sin. This is not an excuse to ignore the feelings of others by hurting someone’s feelings and then brushing it off as if it did not matter saying, “well, no one’s perfect.” Such an attitude is contrary to the commandment of love we are to have for one another. At the same time we are not to pretend that as a leader in worship we are exempt from the commands of our Lord to forgive, and seek forgiveness just because of our position. Most of the time the wrong is not one-sided, that is, the other person or persons share in the responsibility of the error, but that does not negate the obligation we have to make right our part of it.

(2) Few things reveal poor leadership quicker than the inability to admit wrong and unwillingness to take the initiative to make things right. This inability sometimes stems from feelings of inadequacy, and pretending that we’re something that we are not. Pride is also an issue, for in admitting wrong we believe that our self image is threatened. However, biblically, our self image comes from what Christ has done for us, not what we can do for ourselves. If we build our self image based on what we can do or on our natural ability and talents [even though it was God that gave those as well], we will feel threatened every time someone questions what we do or say. Freedom comes from realizing and accepting that our worth comes from Jesus Christ and what He has done for us.

(3) There is a difference between forgiveness and reconciliation. [I’m sorry I can’t remember exactly where I heard this the first time, but I will share it since it has been helpful to me.] God offers forgiveness to all; what Jesus did was open to all. In forgiveness, God releases us from the punishment our sins deserve; Christ paid those on the cross. As we forgive others, we release to God the right to punish others for what they have done to us. For us to be reconciled to God, we must accept His forgiveness and repent of our sins, that is, admit to God that what we have done is wrong and ask His forgiveness. In our relationships, we can forgive, that is, we can release the deserved punishment to God, but reconciliation can only happen when the person who caused the offense admits wrong and asks forgiveness. Part of asking forgiveness must include a change of behavior, and even restitution if need be. Until then, there is no safety in the relationship and reconciliation is not possible.

When we offend, we must realize that though our brothers and sisters in Christ may forgive us, even without our asking, there will not be reconciliation until we do our part and admit wrong and ask for forgiveness. Forgiveness may be granted, but it will take time to rebuild trust. Trust is earned. Trust can only come when the offended party feels safe.

(4) We can be right and still do things in the wrong way. You might have had the experience of trying to put the wrong key in a lock. But you can also have trouble when you even have the right key, but try to force it beyond its limits and it breaks. Sometimes from inexperience we attempt things and everything just seems to go wrong. At those moments we need to ask ourselves some questions like, “Is this the right thing to do, but the wrong time to try to implement?” “Am I saying the right things, but with an attitude that is arrogant, or prideful?” Lack of sensitivity to timing and tone of voice can cause even something that may be “right” to come across “wrong.”

(5) We must be willing to listen to those with different opinions.
Solomon was the wisest man of his day, if not of all time, yet, even he had advisors. We know that from the error his son, Rehoboam made by not listening to them when this descendent was to take over after Solomon’s death. Which begs the question, “If the wisest man in the world needed and used counselors and advisors, shouldn’t I seek counsel as well?” The temptation is to seek out only those who echo your own personal preferences. Another sign of weak leadership is the failure to hear from differing viewpoints that might reveal potential problems that “yes men” would avoid sharing. Only a foolish person would believe that they might foresee all possible issues of a given situation. Willingness to listen and accept opposing ideas not only shows true humility, but can also help you as a worship leader to avoid future failures from insisting on a given direction without full counsel.

We will all make mistakes, some bigger than others, but here are some considerations to help overcome them so you can continue to have an effective ministry.

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