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)
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
“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.”
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
…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.
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.
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.