by Sarah Baldwin
I felt the heat rise in my face and in my heart as a colleague spoke accusatory words at me. While the words were cloaked with professionalism, his meaning was clear: I want not managing my end of this project the way he thought I should. I was not being a leader according to his criteria.
Conflicting thoughts shot across my brain. Was it my fault? Did I let a ball drop? Was this true? An apology immediately came to my lips: I am sorry that I did not… and then I paused before speaking. Was this a time for an apology? Was this an issue of trust or perspective or actually a failure? As I considered this, I knew it was more a matter of his perspective than of my action. I let his comment fall to the side. I knew I would need to confront the deeper issue of trust and understanding at another time and perhaps he and I had some relational work to rebuild a broken perspective.
None of us escape leadership unharmed. As a pastor and a leader, I have often said that being a pastor is incredibly challenging all the way to your core. As we work to keep our center of gravity in crisis and to be prepared to speak from scripture in season and out of season, it requires diligence and vigilance in our own spiritual journey.
But leadership is what brings us face to face with ourselves: our shortcomings, our bad judgment calls, our egos, and our boundaries or lack thereof. Our discernment or lack of discernment is put on the line. We are called out in front of others. We experience failure and celebration in the round. Leadership is a catalyst of the soul; it is the fire that burns or fuels us.
Some of the fire comes wrongly at us from other’s misplaced expectations or the recognition of our teams that we are neither Moses or Jesus. We do not have the skill set to bring the people out of Egypt or the power to save a dying organization on our own. But some of the fire comes from our mistakes–the way we wound others by being too hurried, too busy, or because we are stressed, busy, or angry.
The centrality of leadership is repentance. Henri Nouwen describes community as the people we need forgiveness from and with whom we celebrate. As a leader, we often lead the celebration of a community, but we must also lead in asking forgiveness.
Genuine repentance is the safeguard of leadership. Repentance keeps us in a place of embracing the gospel and our need for Jesus and the Body of Christ. Repentance is the path to the holy life. Without recognizing our need for grace and forgiveness, we cannot grow as a Christ-follower or a leader.
The noise and pressure of the political sphere and the Facebook realm will trick us to believe that the vulnerability that comes from repentance leaves us weak and ineffective. Certainly, it appears that bravado and ego take the game in the political consequence. However, as Christ-followers, we know the way of kingdom leadership is not the way of bravado and ego, but the way of the cross.
It’s repentance that takes us to the cross. The core of the gospel is the core of leadership.
As a woman in leadership, I am often chided by various books or advice aimed at women leaders about not apologizing for everything since it appears to be a habit connected to femininity and weakness. Certainly, taking too much responsibility for things out of our control is not helpful to anyone. But admitting error and keeping our spirit sensitive to confession when the Holy Spirit nudges us is the Jesus way of leadership.
Knowing when and how to confess is part of a the journey of maturity and done most fully within a community of mentors and support.
Our leadership life is made up daily judgment calls. It is made up of quick apologies—a miscommunication, a forgotten appointment, a word said out of turn. But it is also made up of the heartfelt repentance and authentic confession. This is leadership. It begins and ends at the cross.
Sarah Baldwin serves at Asbury University as the Vice President of Student Development and Dean of Students. Previously, she served as University Pastor at George Fox University. Her passion is wholeness and holiness in leadership and formation. Sarah blogs at sarahthomasbaldwin.blogspot.com.