When a Leader Lets You Down

Where this post began…

Recently someone asked me how I was taking the news that came out about Bill Hybels. They knew I had called Willow Creek my home church for 3.5 years and would still be there if I had not moved last July. So I answered, honestly. When a leader let’s us down, it’s hard. It takes processing, self reflection, and honesty about ones own feelings, to work through.

“But running from emotional pain is never a good idea, as it only leaves us damaged of soul and hindered in our ability to fulfill our purpose. We have to turn and face our torturous seasons and the scars they try to leave on our hearts.”
― Stephen Mansfield, Healing Your Church Hurt: What To Do When You Still Love God But Have Been Wounded by His People

As I’ve been processing through the possibility that these allegations could be true (and the more that comes out, the harder it seems to digest), I reflected back to the beginning of my journey at Willow Creek. I walked into Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois in January of 2014. I was broken, damaged, and so beyond hurt by “the church” I had no plans of actually staying there or at any church. I was at the point where I wasn’t sure I would ever want to be more than just a bench warmer in any church ever again.

I walked into Willow Creek broken in pieces, and I walked out 3.5 years later (kicking and screaming that I wasn’t ready to leave yet), healed and stretched in ways I could have never imagined. The church, any church, is made up of broken and sinful people, this includes it’s leaders. As a result of this, (at any church) people can get wounded and damaged. The churches I have been hurt in have provided healing and growing for others. And the church I found healing and growing in, has caused wounds, some extremely deep and unimaginable, and damage for others.

“Your horrific time of trouble offered you truths about yourself, windows into your own soul, and maps to the terrain of your inner life. Wise people learn to gather this intelligence to help them conquer themselves and then to live in loftier ways.”
― Stephen Mansfield, Healing Your Church Hurt: What To Do When You Still Love God But Have Been Wounded by His People

No one wants to be alone…

One of the biggest desires I’ve found we humans have is to resolve the “I’m alone” feelings. This has resulted in many scenarios where one group of people take one side and another group of people take another side. I think when we fight so hard to feel not alone, we often forget to keep our mind and hearts open. Because just like any story or situation, there are always 3 sides (if not more) to the story. There are the ones from each person (or people) involved and then somewhere in the middle of that, there is the truth. I think one of the greatest lessons I’ve learned as a leader is to hear out both sides before coming to any conclusions.

I’m beyond guilty of that need to not feel alone. For me personally, it stems from when I was a child. In 5th grade I was the targeted child in a very small class for bullying. I don’t know why I was the target, but it sticks with me to this day. The lies that were taught to me when I was just 10 years old were that I didn’t belong and I wasn’t wanted. These have fed into my needs and desires into adulthood and, if I’m not careful, they can run me into very wrong directions and decisions.

“A good leader can engage in a debate frankly and thoroughly, knowing that at the end he and the other side must be closer, and thus emerge stronger. You don’t have that idea when you are arrogant, superficial, and uninformed.” Nelson Mandela 

A reflection on leaders failing…

So back to the whole reason for this post. Leaders are going to fail us, they are human. I’m a leader and I’m going to fail, because I’m human. But even when leaders fail us, that doesn’t take away the good that has resulted from their leadership. It doesn’t dissolve any positive experiences or growth you’ve had under their leadership. It doesn’t mean that the church, corporation, or group of people they’ve lead aren’t going to continue to grow and flourish. It also doesn’t mean that just because they’ve excelled in certain areas, that the hurt that has resulted from their misconduct shouldn’t be brought to light and that apologies shouldn’t happen.

“The challenge of leadership is to be strong, but not rude; be kind, but not weak; be bold, but not a bully; be thoughtful, but not lazy; be humble, but not timid; be proud, but not arrogant; have humor, but without folly.” Jim Rohn

I don’t know what the truth is behind the Bill Hybels misconduct allegations, but I do know this. Because of his leadership, I was able to find healing. But I also know, because of some of his choices, there are people today suffering. My heart breaks for these people. It’s a very fine line to be able to celebrate my healing as the result of leadership of one person, while also mourning for the pain of others that result from the same leader. It doesn’t take away the value of my healing and it also doesn’t devalue the extent of their pain. It doesn’t mean that just because I found healing as a result of this leader, while others found damage, that we can’t still be in it together. It just means that we are two different sets of people, in a broken world, that have to learn to walk together with different experiences and say “you’re not alone, I’m with you”.

My promise as a leader…

So what will I take away for my own life? As a leader, I promise to always be open and honest. To hear my employees out. To apologize if I’ve said something either I or they feel was hurtful. I promise to not aim to be perfect, but to be honest and real of my shortcomings. I promise to listen carefully when someone feels I have wronged them and try my hardest not to come at it from a biased point of view. I promise to live with truth, integrity, and to continue to build my skills and character so each day I can become a better leader for whomever it is I may be leading. Whether I like it or not (and it is often on the not side), I know God has called me to be a leader. This is not a responsibility I carry lightly and I sure hope the burden I feel for being called into leadership never lightens. And if it does, I hope those closest to me challenge me and ask if I truly should be in leadership anymore.

I also hope that if I should ever be unable to look at someone else’s side, that those around me will call me out. It’s not about who’s right and who’s wrong, it’s about the hurt on both sides and how can we come to a place where we both find healing. And to those suffering right now from leadership hurt, I pray that you find the healing you need. And as a leader, I apologize that we have let you down.

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves,  not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. ” Philippians 2:3-4
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