I shared these things in the 25th chapter of my essay called, Learning Leadership Lessons from 2 Corinthians.
Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it –I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while– yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. 2 Corinthians 7:8-10
Surgeons, whose mantra is “Do no harm,” almost always hurt people in the process of helping them. Truth hurts when you’re living a lie! When we need to repent, it hurts to hear it, and it usually hurts to do it! I know for me it’s uncomfortable to hear that I need to change, to admit that I need to change, and to do the changing! I appreciate leaders who were willing to cause me some hurt to point out the changes I needed to make and I appreciate that it only hurt “for a little while.”
As a leader, I have to be willing to upset people sometimes. If they’re in need of repenting, they’re going to have to be convicted of their sin. If they’re going to get convicted, they’re probably going to have to get upset first – at themselves for what they’re doing wrong and sometimes at me for pointing it out to them. Evil King Ahab referred to Elijah as the one who “troubles Israel” when he was the one who was actually to blame for the trouble in his country. But Elijah didn’t let his king’s blame-shifting attitude deter him from confronting him.
We have to be willing to pay the price of a temporary – and maybe even permanent – loss of people’s approval, appreciation, and affection, in order to challenge them to live better lives. We have to be ready to jeopardize our relationship with them for the higher goal of improving their relationship with God. Sometimes it takes “hurting them” temporarily in order to help them eternally.
There’s a world of difference between “hurting” someone and “harming” them. Good leaders may hurt people (who need to be pierced by the truth), but they won’t harm them (or damage them in any way). Harm is where their overall condition worsens; when they’re worse off from having us “minister” to them! It’s never our goal to injure people. But like surgeons (or his assistants) we are willing to hurt them in order to help them.
Proverbs 27:5-6 Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.
Proverbs 28:23 He who rebukes a man will in the end gain more favor than he who has a flattering tongue.
I did it right at least once…
I’m often on one extreme or the other. I’m either too harsh or too tender when I have to “reprove, rebuke, or exhort” people in the church. One time, by God’s grace, I did it right when I had to let a staff member go. He had not been performing his ministry sufficiently, and after many months of trying to find a way to help him make some improvements, I had to help him see that it was time for him to look for gainful employment elsewhere (I hate the word, “firing”). It was difficult, mostly because he was my close friend as well as ministry partner. We had worked together for over five years, and I loved him as a brother. I knew I had to let him go for the sake of the church, but for his sake I wanted to do it in such a way that he wasn’t crushed. To cut to the chase, I think God must’ve helped me, because afterward he said, “You have a way of confronting people so that they are able to walk away feeling better about themselves than before you confronted them.”
Not only did we stay friends afterward, but he and his family remained in the church and served as avid volunteers. I’m thankful to God for that.
Let’s be practical
- Have you “hurt” people with the truth, weathered their initial reaction, seen them turn around, and be ultimately helped? Or, are you afraid of their reaction so much that you refuse to tell them the painful truth? Take a look at your own heart. Do you want people to like you, or do you want them to get better? Ask a friend to pray for you for a more loving boldness.
- I’m sure, as a leader that you don’t live to harm people. Keep in mind that there are at least two ways you can do that. First, you can refuse them the spiritual medicine that would help them get better. Second, you can harm them by speaking the truth without love! So, resolve to speak the truth, and speak it in a spirit of love. Converse with the Lord about this delicate balance right now.
I urge you to pass this on to your social media networks, especially to spiritual leaders, who could use a simple reminder to be ready to pay the price of the loss of people’s approval, appreciation, and affection in order to challenge them to live better lives.