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There’s Something I’d Like to Say

Confessing The Weeds in My Leadership

The Parable of the Weeds

“He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, “Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.”‘”

– Matthew 13:24-30 (ESV)

Soul Gardening

We have all experienced the wheat as well as the weeds of leadership. We have either lived through someone else’s wheat and weeds or guided others through our own garden mixed with both the good and the bad. I’ve always thought the master allowing the weeds to continue to grow with the wheat until the harvest was interesting. Why does God allow the bad of spiritual leaders to grow with the good? Why not pull all the weeds out now? 

Too often, we expect our spiritual leaders to be perfect. This is unrealistic and unfair. Once we find there are weeds in the lives of those that lead us, it can be easy to write off all people in authority. After experiencing hurt, some people’s initial reaction is to stop going to church or label Christians as hypocrites. It doesn’t have to be this way. All of life comes with both wheat and weeds. It’s possible to experience both the good and the bad of a church culture or ministry leader and remain thankful and honoring. 

At the same time, any leader who is not honest about and repents of his or her own imperfections is not being the best reflections of Christ they can be. We all need to attend the garden of our soul. The harvest will come, and God will ask us to give an account of the weeds in our leadership.

There’s something I’d like to say about my own weeds.

There was a time in my life when my words and behaviors towards people resulted in spiritual abuse. I was a Pharisee, legalist, and avoider of grace. This did not just negatively impact my own life but also those around me. In my role as a church leader, I caused hurt and pain in the lives of others. My weeds got in the way of the good I was attempting to accomplish for the Kingdom of God. 

Some in a similar situation may blame the culture they are in, the feeling of having no other choice but to do as they are told or even being a victim of abuse themselves. While these are genuine contributing circumstances for me and many others, I feel I must focus on my responsibility over factors that were in someone else’s control.

“It matters not how strait the gate,

How charged with punishments the scroll.  

I am the master of my fate:

 I am the captain of my soul.”

-Invictus, by Nelson Mandela

At any point, during this time in my life, I could have taken responsibility for myself. Eventually, I did. This doesn’t wipe away my part in using people’s desire to please God to achieve my goals and validate my need for approval. It has, though, allowed for redemption to step into my story. I can now see God’s hand working in each of my past experiences to help me point people in a better direction. It has also helped me own the good in my past in a way I can always be grateful for while also learning from my “weeds.”

Seeking Forgiveness

Once I first decided to make an intentional change in my life and approach to ministry, I went to specific people I felt I owed an apology and asked them to forgive me. I also listened as they shared how my approach to being a church leader negatively impacted them. 

Eventually, I felt God say I didn’t need to track down each person involved in situations I regretted. This would be to put their healing in my hands instead of His. So I asked for and received His forgiveness, and prayed for anyone I have ever hurt to find the courage to begin the process of healing with God’s help.

A couple of years later, after I had a better perspective of my own involvement in these behaviors and ministry methods, I began blogging about my transformation and growth in how I related to God, church, and others. This opened the door to many more conversations with those in search of healing.

I now feel it is time to combine both of the previous steps I have taken in the past – to be public and specific. The goal is not to wallow in the past, but to help those presently struggling in similar situations and those specifically impacted in this way in the past.

With that said, I would like to offer my heartfelt and sincere apology to anyone I have ever hurt in my role as a spiritual leader. I am sorry for the things I have done and said that have caused pain in your life. I was wrong, and I am asking for your forgiveness. 

I am sorry I…

…was not careful with my words and said things that were extreme, mean, rude, and painful to others.

…felt it was my job to put people in their place instead of using my role as a leader to lift people out of the place they were in.

…was hypocritical in what I asked of others while making excuses as to why I was not required to do the same things.

… didn’t listen, because I assumed I already knew the whole story. Often, I gave ultimatums when I should have offered mercy. 

…used the scriptures to belittle, cut down, and categorize outsiders in a way that took away from their humanity and value as a person.

…judged people’s motives, thoughts, and intentions (as if I could know these things), instead of assuming the best and speaking to God’s best for them.

…marked people as rebellious and cut them off from relationship when they did not submit whole-heartedly, not only to God but to the customs of our group.

…flippantly questioned people’s salvation and sincerity in their commitment to God when they didn’t live up to my man-made standards or unrealistic expectations.

…created an environment of correction and outward performance in my ministry instead of encouragement and inward transformation. I made it hard, if not impossible, to be vulnerable, honest, and real. I gave no place for grace.

… allowed submission to authority to mutate into something other than what God intended. Instead of being a life-giving principle that brought safety and security in trusting God and the spiritual leadership He places over us, it became a gateway to control, fear, and intimidation. 

……thought it was my responsibility as a spiritual leader to be involved in every decision of the lives of those in my ministry (who they should date, where they should work, and even how they should spend their money and free time). In doing this, I replaced the voice of the Holy Spirit in people’s lives, and developed dependents on me instead of disciples of Christ. 

These things all feel so foreign to me now. I don’t think I am anything close to this person I don’t want to remember.

Why Apologize?

There will be those reading this who do not need an apology from me but are maybe waiting on one from someone else. Would you accept this apology on their behalf? Not for their benefit, but for yours. Whether it is a parent, pastor, church leader, or another person in a leadership role in your life, I believe if they could see things through God’s perspective, they would ask for your forgiveness.

Others may misunderstand why this needs to be said. Why bring this up if it was so long ago, and you are no longer this way? First of all, it is never too late to apologize, because time isn’t a substitute for, “I’m sorry.” If you’ve been through this, then you get why this is important. 

Secondly, owning my mistakes may encourage growth in someone else by helping them respond better to their shortcomings. Taking responsibility for our “weeds” (the bad in our leadership) is how we separate from them and shed new light on our “wheat” (the good that has taken place through our ministry). Denying our failures is how they get repeated.

Thirdly, I see these same behaviors in zealous young leaders too often. I believe their intentions are good, but I want to help them see there is another way, as I am sure they eventually will, as soon as possible. 

Moving Forward

Finally, unhealthy leadership can exist even in healthy churches and organizations. There can be great people doing amazing things in the same place where dysfunction is also present. Jesus talked about this in the Parable of the Weeds (I shared this at the beginning of the blog). This teaching shows us how to respond to unhealth in leadership. To take Jesus’s approach is to live in an uncomfortable tension between the wheat and the weeds in all of our lives. Healing from negative experiences in a church is never an excuse to attack others. Don’t try to pull up others’ weeds prematurely, even though it can be difficult to live with them.

In the same way, being a spiritual leader is not an excuse to turn a blind eye to your own faults, even though it is embarrassing to deal with them. Healing, as well as a lasting legacy, won’t take place if we continue to ignore the problem. If you are willing, let’s move forward together in forgiveness and restoration.

Further reading on this topic:

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Country Music and Greeting Cards

Navigating the Love of a Father

My dad was pretty cheesy. I guess that means cheesiness is in my genes. This may also explain why I am incredibly corny myself. 

Greeting Cards

With my dad, however, this mostly showed up in two ways. The first is he never wrote a card. Instead, he preferred to give Hallmark cards with detailed cliché messages already written in. This is very much the opposite of me. I like to get a card with the shortest amount of text possible and then fill in the blank space to overflowing with a personal, heartfelt note. I never liked that he chose to give me the corny words of greeting card writers to mark birthdays and other special occasions. Why would he not take the time to write a personal message in his cards?

Country Music

The other silly thing my dad loved to do was force me to listen to the songs he enjoyed. Love songs were his favorite, but Country Music would also enter the rotation. Once, he called my brother and me into the living room to play a new song that was sweeping the dance floors of America. Then blasted Billy Ray Cyrus’s “Achy Breaky Heart” from the two giant speakers in the living room. He would also play songs like Garth Brook’s, “The Dance.” In the car, he would quiet me down to listen to “That’s My Job” by Conway Twitty when it came on the radio.

Eventually, my dad became very devout in his faith. Christian music replaced the country songs he required me to listen to with undivided attention. I am so thankful for this change in his life. Without him making the decision to follow Christ, I would not be serving God today.

Rules, Demands, and Discipline

At the same time, I still didn’t know how to deal with my feelings towards my dad. He was harsh. Often, he was mean and controlling. That softened a bit when he became more serious about his faith, but that part of him never really went away. The anger and intensity were always just beneath the surface.

Our home was strict. While full of rules and hard-work, it wasn’t absent of love and fun. We laughed with and at each other. I would never say my dad was affectionate, though. This isolated us from each other. 

Before living with my dad as a teenager, I spent my early years with my mom. My three guardian angels during that time were my mom, grandmother, and aunt. Being raised primarily by three females may be why I so strongly crave affection and expressions of feelings from those around me. That was something I didn’t really get from my dad. Mostly just rules, demands, and discipline.

Seeing Through a New Lens

One day, towards the end of my dad’s life, I noticed a book on the counter of his kitchen. It was for Adult Children of Alcoholics. It took a moment for that to sink in. Then the realization came over me like a splash of cold water. My dad was raised by an abusive alcoholic. Just because he was my dad, it didn’t mean he was over the hurts of his dad. The wounds and the gore of that kind of childhood were seeping through the cracks of the life he was trying to build, and even into his role as my father.

At that moment, I felt compassion for my dad, and I saw his shortcomings through a new lens. He couldn’t give me the affection he never received but did his best despite his own experience with his father. 

All of a sudden, those cheesy greeting cards and times he made me stop playing video games to listen to his music took on new meaning. He didn’t have the vocabulary to give me the fatherly intimacy I so desperately needed. So he used Hallmark cards and tear jerker Country Music songs to pass on the parts of himself that were important to him.

Choosing Your Compass

My dad wasn’t cheesy or superficial. He was doing the best he could with the tools he had amid the pain he didn’t know how to deal with. I am learning more and more that these are the choppy waters every parent has to navigate their love for their children through. Our ships sail in winds of legacy and pain. What we focus on becomes the compass that guides on these mysterious seas.

When it comes to my dad, I choose legacy instead of hurt; love instead of frustration. If my kids use the same measure of forgiveness towards me and my mistakes that I have used for my dad, then I want it to be as generous as possible. I think that is the only way we make it to the treasure of a lasting legacy.

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Dealing with Difficult People

How to Reverse the Momentum of Unfair Treatment

The Shimei in Your Life

Do you have a Shimei in your life? You may not know who this is but chances are you do. Shimei is a minor character in the story of King David who represents the difficult people and circumstances that can get under our skin. Why does there always seem to be difficult people hanging around our lives?

Who is Shimei

Shimei showed up when David was fleeing from Absalom. David was once again on the run for his life. While suffering through this betrayal Shimei does his best to kick David while he’s down. Technically, he threw rocks at him while he was down, but you get the point. He was David’s difficult person of the moment (he seemed to have several).

David tried to take the high road with Saul, but this family member of the former king wasn’t satisfied. He falsely accused David of things he didn’t do and publically humiliated him. Shimei treated mistreated David. He never tried to hear David’s side of the story. He could only see the world through his own hurt and disappointment. He taunted David when he was most vulnerable even though David did everything he could to treat Saul and his family the best he could.

There’s Always a Shimei

Have you ever encountered someone like this? Some people are just determined to see the worse in us despite our best efforts. Most of us deal with difficult people at one point or another. It feels like they never give us a chance or even proactively try to turn others against us. Like Shimei, sometimes a previous hurt is clouding their perspective. This can be a tricky shadow to step out of once we are in it.

There always seems to be someone like this in our lives. They show up at school, work, church and sometimes in our family as well. If it is not a person, then it is a circumstance that can become a sort of thorn in the flesh. It can be a daily irritant. How do you respond in moments like this?

Praying for Shimei

I often pray that God would remove these kinds of people from my life. “Lord, help them find their next season as quickly and as far away from me as possible!” I have even prayed, “Lord, expose this wolf! Let their true character be known!”

At the time, I thought I was being generous with my prayers, but I sure hope there isn’t anyone out there praying for me like that! Of course, this is better than responding in the flesh and giving difficult people a piece of our minds. This is exactly what David’s men wanted to do. In fact, they wanted to kill Shimei. David wouldn’t let them though.

He wondered if God had allowed this burden into his life. Would God even turn Shemei’s cursing into a blessing?

The Blessing of Difficult People

I usually don’t have the emotional intelligence to respond the way David did when facing unfair treatment from difficult people. But maybe David was on to something. I have heard pearls are formed only after an irritant enters the oyster. Something painful things have to get under the skin of the oyster before something valuable is created. Is it possible God continues to allow Shimei’s in our lives to give us the opportunities to produce pearls of great value as well?

This is certainly what happened in the story of David and Shimei. David didn’t seek revenge when Shimei treated him unfairly. Then when he was on his way back to the throne, Shimei was there to greet him. Instead of throwing stones he brought 1,000 other men to welcome David home. God blessed David’s response to Shimei by not removing this one adversary but by giving him 1,001 advocates.

Pearls or Problems

Difficult people can produce pearls or problems in our lives. How we respond determines whether we will get rid of a problem or receive a multiplied blessing. We can’t avoid unfair treatment entirley. If it is not a person, then it will be a set of circumstances that are refining our character. Responding correctly does not always bring immediate results. We can’t control how others will react. What we can do is determine to see all the people God brings into our lives as pearls instead problems.

 

I’d love to hear from you. What do you see in this story? How can we better deal with the difficult people in our lives? What resources have helped you overcome unfair treatment? Leave a comment or send me a message on social media.