Have you apologized, repented, confessed lately?

a key to remaining blameless

I don’t have a problem with them making a mistake. I can accept that. We all make mistakes. What hurts is when they make mistakes and fail to acknowledge them — and worse when they deny it was a problem and try to cover it up.”

A bishop must be blameless, above reproach (1 Timothy 3:2). How does a bishop, deacon, preacher, or other person have and maintain that quality? Since all fall short of perfection, the only way I know how to continue to be blameless is to be a good repenter.

I have noticed, and experienced, an inclination of leaders (humans) to be reluctant to admit wrong. At the moment, they made the best decision and took the best action they knew. This is what people do:

Every way of a man is right in his own eyes,
But the Lord weighs the hearts (Proverbs 21:2, NKJV).

However, every decision leaders (humans) make, isn’t right. Every action or inaction is not the best. How do I know? The Bible tells me so:

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).
If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us (1 John 1:8)

Now, what does a parent, elder, deacon, preacher do? The answer of Scripture is to confess and repent — admit you did it, apologize for the hurt you caused, and don’t do it again.

There seems to be a fear in some of us:
[tweetthis]If I admit imperfection and inadequate judgment, I fear I’ll undermine my authority and leadership.[/tweetthis]

So I’ll ignore it, camouflage it, excuse it, and deny I really did anything unwise or hurtful. Like a statement I heard:

[tweetthis]“I once thought I made a mistake, but I was wrong.”[/tweetthis]

That attitude injures relationships in the family, church, and business. It hurts and damages trust in a leadership group. A healing response is a sincere apology. Seth Godin describes the complete process:

Two elements of an apology

Compassion and Contrition

“We’re sorry that your flight was cancelled. This must have truly messed up your day, sir.”

That’s a statement of compassion.

“Cancelling a flight that a valued customer trusted us to fly is not the way we like to do business. We messed up, it was an error in judgment for us to underinvest in pilot allocation. Even worse, we didn’t do everything we could to get you on a flight that would have helped your schedule. We’ll do better next time.”

That’s what contrition sounds like. We were wrong and we learned from it.

The disappointing thing is that most people and organizations that take the time to apologize intentionally express neither compassion nor contrition.

If you can’t do this, hardly worth bothering.

But it is worth bothering, because you’re a human. And because customers who feel listened to help you improve (and come back to give you another chance.)

— Seth Godin, September 18, 2014

If that is so helpful and healing, why don’t leaders apologize often knowing we make mistakes often?

Two reasons not to admit bad judgment, wrongdoing, or lack of action

1. The people the leaders wronged deserve it.

  • “You might not have deserved that whipping, but you missed a lot when you did.”
  • “You just need to respect our authority and not question us. We did the best we knew how. You should appreciate our efforts.”

2. The leaders know more than you do.

  • “You will understand it better bye and bye.”
  • “When you get as old as I am, you’ll understand.” I’ve lived thirty or forty years after someone told me that and I still don’t understand. I think we need to talk some more. That can be a conversation stopper: “Just take my word for it, I’m smarter than you are.”
  • “If you knew the Greek and Hebrew, you’d get it.” Do you have the ability to explain it in English?
  • “Elders have more information than you do. If you knew what we know, you’d know we always make the best decisions.”

One reason to confess my wrongs, mistakes, oversights, omissions: healing and forgiveness comes from confession.

Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much (James 5:16).

If all sin, I’m among the all. If the way to healing is through confession and seeking forgiveness, maybe I need to increase my contrition, confession, and admission of hurt.

As a leader, how have you found it easy or difficult to admit mistakes or wrongdoing?
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9 thoughts on “Have you apologized, repented, confessed lately?

  1. This is a powerful lesson. Here is what I’m taking away from this: When elderships/preachers/parents make poor judgment calls, and the churches or children know they did, yet the eldership/preacher/parent never admits that that at any level, it calls their integrity into question. It potentially causes distrust, and, therefore, lack of desire to follow. Or they will follow, but follow the wrong pattern. Poor judgment calls are not necessarily sins, but if such calls produce serious problems, then such calls can engender sin. Now, just change “poor judgment calls” to “sins”. I have seen both, and the bitter fruit is children or church members leaving the Lord at worst, or church members moving their membership elsewhere. Then there’s the proverbial rumor or gossip mill. But the elders or preachers or parents often do not see the problem in themselves, so they throw pity parties and wonder why folks talk about them and will not follow. It is a sad scene that could have been remedied with, “I was” or “We were wrong and need forgiveness.” Church leaders/parents who confess mistakes and sins are not weak. They find strength in Christ and forgiveness, and help build strong churches and families. We may preach about and compare David and Saul and Peter and Judas, but we’re not so good at practicing the lessons. Shame on us! James 5:16 is for everyone. This is my take-away, Jerrie. Great article.

    • Roger, Thank you for thinking and reflecting. When protecting my reputation by failing to admit wrong is more important than exhibiting strong character by admitting wrong, I have an integrity problem that others will see and:
      1. Imitate.
      2. Reject.
      3. Expose.
      4. Ignore and see me unworthy as a leader.

  2. Insightful as always, Jerrie. Sometimes our self-confidence (or even our zeal) leads us to “outsmart” ourselves and make mistakes that are difficult to admit to ourselves, much less to others.

  3. Excellent article! I wish I had read it before I got married! Following the advice here would have averted most if not all the instances of breakdown of trust for both my spouse and me, as well as many occasions of dealing with some very rebellious teens! But it’s still not too late to start building our family into a haven of trust, so thanks for the blueprints!

    • J.N.,
      It is amazing how God’s principles apply to all areas of life: church, family, business, and softball teams.
      Thank you for recognizing and pointing out how that is working in your family.