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Apr25ThuAre we willing to admit when we miss the mark? April 25, 2019 by Captain Laura Van Schaick
A lot of us have it wrong about being wrong. Let me explain. We’re afraid of being wrong—about anything. For some, our sense of worth is so wrapped up in being right that admitting to being wrong is seen as a sign of weakness—even disgraceful.
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- Opinion & Critical Thought
As a culture, we often shame and shun other people who have made mistakes. We fire them, push them aside and discard them. We make room for the right people, the ones who have never been wrong.
This way of thinking is all wrong.
Last month, I wrote about Joshua Harris’ public apology for the harm caused by his book I Kissed Dating Goodbye. His apology is getting a lot of attention in Christian circles, and for good reason. It’s not every day a Christian leader acknowledges being wrong. Harris courageously admitted that he has come to disagree with some of his earlier ideas, recognizing that the message of the book has been damaging for many people.
While some are celebrating this confession, others feel it is too little, too late. Some don’t even want to hear it.
For Harris, this journey began when he posed a question to his congregation: “If there are ways that the leadership of your pastors has been unhelpful, I want to hear from you.” Several people responded, and he began to see how even well-intentioned practices and godly values can be applied in a way that deeply hurts people.
Still, Harris admits that he was not able to objectively reconsider his book until he stepped away from his role as a pastor. As a Christian leader, he felt that he “had to be constantly right about everything.”
But this isn’t the biblical approach. Take the prophet Nathan, for example. When King David declared his desire to build a temple, Nathan initially supported David, saying, “Whatever you have in mind, go ahead and do it, for the Lord is with you” (2 Samuel 7:3). Nathan later reversed his statement, acknowledging that he had not accurately discerned God’s will.
Christian leaders are not perfect. They are not always going to get things right.
I’m not talking about things like sexual harassment or abuse—that’s a different matter altogether. But when it comes to the sharing of ideas, to teaching and preaching, to giving counsel, we sometimes get it wrong, even when we have good intentions.
Social biases, the influence of family-of-origin or simple ignorance can all cause a leader to make a poor decision or statement. The result can be emotionally or spiritually harmful. We need to take responsibility for this harm.
Unfortunately, too often Christian leaders are performance-oriented, self-righteous or feel too unsafe in the context of their church to admit fault. This isn’t healthy.
When Christian leaders become too convinced of what they think they know, it inevitably damages the faith community. They need to be held accountable.
This can only happen if there is a culture shift within the church. Leaders, we need to be more transparent and vulnerable. We must model Christ before we teach Christ, and we must acknowledge our depravity outside of a relationship with God. We need to be courageous enough to choose humility and willingly admit our mistakes. And we need to welcome questions and constructive feedback from the church body.
We need to foster environments that encourage open dialogue and deep, honest relationships.
Personal development—the process of becoming holy—requires mistakes. Personal development requires us to put to death old ideas and habits that are holding us back from growing as disciples. This is true for everyone in the church, leaders included.
People who are always right aren’t really growing. They aren’t taking risks and they aren’t re-evaluating their worldviews. Do we really want Christian leaders who are stagnant in their growth and development as disciples? Or do we want Christian leaders who are pushing the boundaries of social justice and seeking a fuller understanding of what it means to be a Christ-follower?
Admitting that you are wrong takes strength and is a sign of wisdom and personal growth. I think we all want those types of people leading our churches.
The question is: Can we, as Christian leaders, have the courage to say “I was wrong”? Can we repent, seeking God’s wisdom in all things, and then share our new perspectives? And if we do, will the Christian community respond with love and acceptance?
Captain Laura Van Schaick is the corps officer at The Salvation Army, A Community Church in Prince Albert, Sask.
Illustration: © Jumbo2010/stock.Adobe.com