It is summer time and all across the U.S. churches host Vacation Bible Schools (VBS). My daughter has two particular VBS’s she attends and everything else on our summer schedule must revolve around those particular dates. It’s funny and very interesting how persistent she is about not missing VBS. It’s made me think about my love, as a child, for VBS. Not only did it contribute to my spiritual formation. The Mennonite church not far from my neighborhood in Vineland, NJ was a loving and welcoming place. Even though Spanish was my primary language, they took the time to share about God’s love in ways I could understand. (Just in case you are wondering, Spanglish has most recently become my primary language!)
One of the main things I remember from my VBS days are the songs. I remember singing Psalm 51:10-11. “Create in me a clean heart, oh Lord. And renew a right spirit within me… Cast me not away from thy presence oh Lord. Take not thy Holy Spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation. And renew a right spirit within me.” It is almost impossible for me to recite that verse without singing. I’ve always loved the words of that psalm. It’s one of those sections of Scripture that expresses my heart and tells bits and pieces of my story, as a child and into adulthood. It wasn’t until much later in my spiritual journey where the words of that song would take on a new meaning.
So I tend to be a ‘stickler’ about lyrics. I’ve ‘grown up’ (sort-of) to be a person who wonders about the story behind the words in a song. You can imagine my amazement when I turn to the Bible to make sense of the Psalm 51 song, and it points me to 2 Samuel 11&12. Unlike the song, I did not classify this bible story as VBS material. Quite the novela! (That is ‘soap opera’ in Spanish.) While still a sticky topic to address even amongst adults there are so many lessons to learn from both of these portions of the Bible. One day I shall work on a sermon series based on these passages. (If you’ve already done it please share!) For today I seek to share one point, I believe is vital from an ecclesial leadership stance.
I don’t know how easy it is for you to admit you were wrong! I find that acknowledging fault is one of the most challenging and yet important elements of the faith walk. No one wants to be wrong. At least I don’t. However, which of us could say I am right 100% of the time? I admire David’s response to Nathan: I have sinned against the Lord (2 Samuel 12:13) and in Psalm 51:3, David tells God he recognizes his transgressions. The New Century Version says, “I know about my wrongs…” In summary, David was wrong! It wasn’t just a given. When he recognizes his fault, David admits he was wrong.
Within the diverse Hispanic cultures, you learn at an early age that if you admit a mistake it is a sign of weakness and failure and it will come back against you. I have come to learn this is not unique to my culture. There seems to be this notion that leaders (Christians or non-Christian) should never admit they are wrong.
Forum shares its finding (pp. 6-8) on a global leadership survey they conducted in 2013 (http://www.forum.com/_assets/download/c2a5e850-a50b-48ed-ad3e-dc732d27fb6a.pdf). When leaders were asked about admitting their mistakes and apologizing, 87% of the respondents in a leadership position indicate they apologize often or almost always. However, only 19% of the employee state the leader apologizes when making a mistake. That’s quite a large gap; astonishing.
As a leader in a position of power, I work hard on recognizing when I am wrong. When I am not able to admit I made a wrong decision, I tend to shift to what I call ‘justification by reason.’ I place the blame on others or find ways to ‘save face’ and even though it doesn’t necessarily feel great to say I was wrong, it feels worse to pretend I wasn’t. I’ve also come to learn that the people I get the privilege of working with do not expect me to be 100% right. (AMEN?) It takes vulnerability and transparency to admit you are wrong, which are elements of authentic leadership, transformational leadership…spiritual leadership.
I like Paul, do not profess to have achieved it (Philippians 3:13) and the Forum study serves to remind me I must continue to press on towards the goal to a place of deeper awareness and self-evaluation. I don’t want to act like I’ve reached a place where I can admit I was wrong, only to find I was never really there and it had little impact upon others and inherently negatively impacted the work God entrusted to me.
So during this time of the year where VBS is at its max, I take advantage to tell you my VBS experiences at the Mennonite church remain a part of my spiritual formation. Support those involved in your local church VBS and others in your community. It also serves to remind me to examine my heart and actions to see if I really am able to admit when I am wrong. As I go through this process should you see a shortcoming, would you be a Nathan in my life and lovingly speak truth? Thanks!
How about you? As an ecclesial leader in a position of authority, are you able to admit when you are wrong? Are you sure? I’m praying we all stay faithful to His call and humbled at His feet.