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An Apology


I have been awake during the night, struggling with something that all parents, teachers, and leaders who have any feeling for the people they lead, must go through over and over again.

I have been reminded of the many times during my life, both as a parent and as a leader of a Christian community, that I have been guilty of impatience (along with a lot of other faults). There are so many things I have done and said, as well as a lot of nice things that I have not done or said, which have made it difficult for people to accept my leadership.

If there were some major deliberate sin on my part, I could confess it specifically, and ask forgiveness. In fact, there have been more than a few times when that has happened, and I thank people for their forgiveness. There have also been a few times when people have taken grievances against me on the basis of specific sins which I personally had not acknowledged. On two occasions (once for saying "Shut up!" to Cherry, and once for calling a trouble-making visitor an "arsehole") the community actually kicked me out until I was prepared to apologise for those misdeeds.

But apart from those major indiscretions, there has hardly been a day that has gone by when I have not done or said something (or failed to do or say something) that has caused hurt to others working under my influence.

Those who have known me for many years say that I have improved over the years. Thank God for that! But it does not mean that I have arrived at some state of sinless perfection. In fact, considering how totally unprepared I was for leadership when I first became a parent and when I first became a leader of a Christian community, there is room for a LOT of improvement that still has not been achieved.

What would be nice would be to just be able to issue a blanket and public apology for all the sins I have ever committed and all the sins I will ever commit, and then console myself that I have covered my tracks. In fact, this article is called "An Apology" because it IS an attempt to do something along those lines. I am very sorry (and I have been sorry for many years) for the times when I have made a poor choice of words in criticising someone, when I have overlooked positive achievements by people, when I have exaggerated faults in people, when I have laughed at mistakes, when I have spoken critically of people in front of others rather than taking the time to speak with them privately, when I have been too busy to listen to people, when I have been impatient, lazy, selfish, proud, insensitive, etc. Please forgive me.

But, of course, that will not erase all of the hurts. And it is no guarantee that the hurts will not continue. I know from experience that problems will still arise. And I also know that some of the sins which I have been most aware of have been missed by others, while others have felt that my faults were in areas where I STILL cannot see that I was in the wrong. In other words, no attempt to clear up every speck of disagreement is ever going to work. The disagreements and hurts will continue.

As I have thought about writing this article this morning, I found it impossible to keep from adding the word "but" to almost everything that I would like to say to clear up the hurts that I have inflicted on others. And I know that the people I have hurt do not want to hear the buts. They want a complete and unreserved apology. Yet the reservations are unavoidable in a position of leadership, and I will try to explain why. If this upsets the people who have been hurt by my leadership or by the leadership of others, perhaps it will, at least, give some consolation to a few sincere leaders who have experienced the same regrets.

The reservations I am going to list go with the need for leaders to ultimately lead. We have to do it despite our imperfections. We often have to make hard decisions, and there are always people who will not be happy with the decisions. I cannot help but feel that it is also my responsibility as a leader to instruct those people who feel they have not been treated fairly. As well as trying to be humble and unselfish myself, I need to teach them something about unselfishness and humility, so that they will not be so easily offended by perceived injustices. The moment I say, "Think of others, and their needs, and not your own," they can throw that back in my face and say that I have not given sufficient consideration to them and how they feel.

In other words, from their perspective, I am the one who is being inconsiderate, and I do not deserve to be telling them to change. But from my perspective, I am the one who has been landed with the job of looking after the needs of the whole group, and so I have to say so when I think that someone is behaving in a way that is hurtful to others, even if what I say itself hurts the person concerned. The harder I try to tell them (and, in particular, the more they reject what I am saying), the more hurt is going to result. In the exchange, I am almost certain to make mistakes as well. Making mistakes and falling short of perfection seem to be part of life.

For every parent, teacher, and Christian leader, this is the dilemma that we face every day. We who are imperfect ourselves, must still act as "judges" of others. Our judgements are never going to be perfect, and sometimes they will be totally wrong. What parent has never unknowingly punished the wrong child? What teacher has not criticised a child only to discover that the child had a good (or half-good) reason for not doing her homework or for misunderstanding an assignment?

At times specific errors can be pointed out and apologies made. But as I've already said, there will never be perfect agreement on the specifics, and at times the children/students/followers will need to be told that they just have to accept the good with the bad. We all need to learn to live with injustices. They are a fact of life. If we cannot accept that, we are going to be very miserable and bitter people.

In the end, leaders of every sort need to rely on their overall record to determine whether or not they have been "good" leaders or "bad" leaders.

In some areas I have no doubts that I come up with a "bad" rating, and I am very sorry about that. That is the major thrust of this article. But in others, I think I have come up "good", and I raise that now, not to justify myself for my sins, but to make life more bearable for those who have suffered from my sins. If you dwell only on the negatives, you will end up bitter and miserable. Pain (even unjust pain) is so much easier to take if you believe it is coming from someone who ultimately loves you. Obviously, if you have leaders who you believe do NOT love you, then you should leave them. But if you think they do love you, then there is no point in holding onto every little (or even big) hurt that you experience at their hands.

Once again, I am very sorry for my many shortcomings as a leader. But (and there is that terrible "B" word!) in the end, I am still the leader, and I still have to carry out my responsibilities to the best of my ability. What you do with both my good qualities and my bad qualities is up to you.

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