Lenten Leadership

by David Hansen, LEAD Director of Communication & Innovation 

Lent began with Ash Wednesday – a worship service that is built around a comprehensive confession and act of repentance.

As leaders, we too often forget the importance of this central act of our faith.

Confessing our errors. Asking for forgiveness. And then repenting – changing the ways we speak and act.

I get it. The world would be so much easier if everyone just agreed with me … but it hasn’t happened yet. Something tells me I shouldn’t hold my breath until it does.

If we live in a community – and especially if we lead in that community – we are going to have conflict with others in the community. It’s not a question of if, it’s a question of when.

Confessing Our Errors

So we are talking about the Lenten practice of confession. If you are anything like me, your first response is that it would be a whole lot better to talk about the things that other people need to confess. I’ve got a list for those people – I bet you do to.

But as leaders, we start with ourselves. We model how we are called to live in community. And no matter how my leadership has been lived out, there have been times.

  • Times when I have unintentionally hurt people with my words
  • Times when my actions have stepped on the toes of others
  • Times when I have chosen the wrong course of action
  • Times when my biases and emotions have gotten in the way of relationships with others

We aren’t taught this.

In fact, we are taught the opposite through all of our lives.

To say “I was wrong” is to show weakness. It gives people a way to criticize me and my decision making. It might become ammunition for people who want to take the organization in another direction.

The act of confessing is an act of vulnerability. And it is 100% necessary if we are to have any sort of meaningful community that is rooted in the Gospel.

Let’s be honest: The church has not been good at this.

We have taught confession, we have asked people to confess, but the church – those of us in leadership and the institution itself – has not done well about owning our own faults. To be a church in this new era of authenticity and accountability, that is something that we have to change.

As leaders, we are called to own our faults, errors, and mistakes, and to claim responsibility for them.

Finding Forgiveness

Forgiveness is tricky.

I can honestly confess my flaws and brokenness. But I can’t make people forgive me. That’s not how it works.

In teaching people how to pray, Jesus reminds them that they ought to forgive others in the same amount that they hope to be forgiven. Or, in the words of a prayer attributed to Francis of Assisi “It is in giving that we receive, it is in self-forgetting that we find, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, it is in dying that we are raised to eternal life.”

In other words, if I want to receive forgiveness, then I need to become a person who offers forgiveness. If I want to be a part of a community where people’s flaws are greeted with mercy and understanding, then I need to treat people with mercy and understanding.

This is an essential aspect of any community – and as leaders if we are not modeling forgiveness and grace, we can’t expect to see it in our community.

Real Repentance

When I was a kid, my brothers and I would have the sort of conflict that brothers have. Upon finding us mid-fight, my parents would tell us to say we were sorry – which of course we did. And then, as soon as Mom and Dad were gone, we resumed our fight.

The root words for repentance means “to change one’s mind.” I love the translation of the Common English Bible (CEB), which consistently renders this is “change your hearts and minds.”

Real repentance doesn’t stop at confession and forgiveness. It involves action – changing our lives.

As we continue to live in community and lead those communities, we find that we are changed by those communities.

With genuine remorse for the ways – both intentionally and unintentionally – that my words and actions have negatively impacted others, I find myself seeking new ways of expressing myself and resolving the inevitable conflicts that arise in community.

The season of Lent, with its accompanying focus on spiritual discipline, is the perfect time for us to revisit the importance of confession, forgiveness, and repentance in our leadership.

1 reply
  1. Donna J Krueger
    Donna J Krueger says:

    Thank you for this important reminder today! I love the root words for repentance…means to “change one’s mind:!
    I also can relate to the Confessing Our Errors bullet points!


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