In the past few months, I’ve had three pastors (in three very different contexts in three different states) seek me out to make sure they hadn’t discouraged me or sinned against me on a particular issue. Two outright apologized to me, without any hints or prodding on my part. I didn’t have to put out the vibe that I was disappointed with them or that I was waiting on an apology. The other was concerned that I might have taken something they said personally and sought me out to clarify themselves. In each encounter, what clearly was missing was defensiveness and self justification. There was authentic confession, genuine concern for me, and no circling of the wagons.
In fact, instead of circling the wagons in self protection, I noticed the freedom each seemed to have to be humble. Humility was the norm. “What?! We don’t need wagons! No wagons allowed! We are FREE to confess sin and make things right. We have no need for self-protection.” I am starting to cry as I type this because it is SO different that my experiences with Christian leaders growing up and even well into my thirties. I remember pockets of humility back then, but it was mostly from those UNDER authority, rarely from those IN authority. I can’t put into words how much it meant to me as each humble Christian leader sought to repair something with me out of genuine concern. I have MARVELED over it. It seems rare to me when it should be so very normal.
I thought today about what separated the pastors in my life over the last few months from those I have known previously for which such easy confession would not have been the norm. It isn’t the age of the leaders. It’s not their educational background. And it isn’t their position in their respective churches. I think it’s much simpler and much more profound. Why was concern, confession, and reparation the norm for these guys? Simply, it’s their theological understanding of the gospel. It’s their security in Christ that makes the difference. It’s their confidence in HIS finished work that frees them to say, “I made a mistake.”
The gospel makes confession NORMAL. It makes it SAFE. And it makes it normal and safe for leaders, not just those under their authority. The gospel makes confession normal and safe for me with my children. I can say “I am sorry” as a parent, as a teacher, and as an author. It doesn’t threaten me to own up to my mistakes and to seek to repair what I’ve done wrong. My standing with God doesn’t rest on my performance, and I don’t have to fake perfection with my kids. I don’t have to fear that my authority with them will be forever lost if I admit I was wrong. The truth is that I will most effectively undermine my gospel ministry to them if I instead circle my wagons in defensiveness and self-protection when my faults come to light.
I look forward to the day when a Christian leader apologizing to me doesn’t seem so out of place, to the day when it seems normal. As the gospel settles deeper in our psyche, repairing with others will be the natural outworking. It will be the standard. We rebuild the fabric of our relationships when we humbly say we are sorry, and I love rubbing shoulders with leaders whose view of the gospel makes such confession the norm, not a rare exception forced under duress.
2 Corinthians 5:18-19
All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.
So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.