On the Offensive

The other day I had lunch with someone and started to learn more about their story. This guy is a leader, with a ton of favor in his relationships, people are drawn to him and like him naturally, but the main part of his story that stuck was in regards to a wound from his past. A leader he had worked with very closely operated in a strong type A, my way or the highway mentality, and he wound up being wounded and burned out from the experience. He no longer works in ministry, nor does he have any desire to. I’m going to call this type of offense “Bubble Burst-itis.” There’s nothing wrong with this guy, and his wounds are legitimate, but they can also be healed, and even possibly avoided in the future through a small perspective shift.

Often in life, and even more frequently in ministry, we have a perception of our leaders or organizations that transcends reality. It’s the same feeling we had as kids when we looked at our parents. And the disillusionment we feel at discovering how different reality is can often be echoed in that same experience with our parents as well (you mean they fail too? It wasn’t all intentional?). I’ve seen a lot of leaders, most likely unintentionally, encourage the false perception that they don’t have struggles or failures. I’ve also seen people tell a pastor that he was “too real” for them to continue at that church, leaving the unspoken implication that what they really felt comfortable with was a pastor who covered it all up, or better, one who didn’t have such “human” struggles.

When we expect a person to be one way and find that’s not the case, we don’t really have a choice but to feel some shock and resentment. And in our offense, we create “a fence” that walls out and pushes against the person that shocked us. Over time, and unresolved, offense can turn into bitterness and resentment and create a spot of hopelessness in our spirit where we lose faith and expectation in that particular area.

I’ve felt this disillusionment with many leaders, and for a good while, it did fester into bitterness, but I came out the other side with a totally different perspective.

Here’s the two-part secret:
Part 1 – Your very favorite people, your heroes, the world-changers, mentors, leaders, parents, motivators and life-challengers–they are all failures. They’re all screw ups. Each and every one of them has a vice, and very likely a vice that could hurt you if you get too close. They may not even be aware of it. Or maybe they are and they fear its exposure. But that’s our human condition. There is no one man or woman who can be our ultimate Rabbi, Sensei, or Yoda. Only one perfect being has ever had foot touch soil on this earth.

Part 2 – This is a good thing! Because thank God, He’s given us leaders who can understand us and walk us through the muck! One of my mentors has consistently said, “never trust a man without a limp.” The implication being that we need people who have walked through something difficult (or are still walking through it!) and came out transformed, not leaders who have built comfortable answers within a comfortable system. When I got this, I began to look for leaders and mentors who walked with faith despite intense trial and struggle, rather than those who seemed to have everything in hand. And in my chosen mentors, there are some things I wouldn’t want to emulate, alongside so many other things that I do. And I learn from and honor both sides of them.

It is better to learn from one who has consistently had to rely on the hand of God, than one who seems fully capable and complete on his own.

Every human being on this earth is flawed, and has the potential to cause us great harm, no matter how perfect they seem. But if we can start from a foundation of understanding that they have a hidden story we don’t know, and if we can give each other grace to share and learn from those hidden stories, we can grow so much more. I think it’s worth considering that many of our wounds related to disillusionment were caused more by our own expectations than by the actions or failures of anyone else around us. My point is not to excuse any of the legitimate abuses that have sometimes been done by authority, but instead to return responsibility to our own hearts for what hooks we allowed to sink into them.

What do you think?