It was September and I had ten months to create a new event for families. I was so excited about this opportunity because I was passionate about family and family ministry. How hard could this be? I only had to develop, brand, build a budget, create and then recruit the program, find the location, and market and sale the event so the event would pay for itself. I smile today as I think about all that I did not know. The event became Family Fest and we ended up with a great event, a great program, in a great location but the costs were greater than the number of people that came. I didn’t factor in a few simple things like how hard it would be to reach families with this message, that most families don’t have extra cash they are eager to spend, and that most family schedules are full and you can’t just “drop” something on families and expect them to show up. I was so discouraged as I wrapped up the report on the event and went in to share with my boss the bottom line results. The event had lost a significant amount of money.
More than twenty years later, as I think about this event, I am even more aware of the significance of what that leader did for me. It was a turning point in my own development and in my future. I had failed and it would have been easy and right for my boss to let me go or at least let me have it. Instead, he “redeemed” the situation for me. He rescued me and exchanged the bad story and made it a good story. No, he didn’t lie about the financial loss, that was fully accounted for but he took my story and helped me reframe it. He felt we had learned so much that would be helpful for us in the future and give us future opportunities. He also felt I had learned a great deal that would make me a better leader.
I have taken many risks since that day (and made other mistakes). I have launched bigger initiatives with even greater implications. Because this leader helped me redeem something that I had done, forgave my debt, and helped me move forward with confidence, it has made a significant difference in my life.
It reminds me of the parable of the unforgiving slave (see Matt. 18:21-35). Jesus is talking to Peter about forgiveness and Jesus, the master storyteller and teacher, tells the story of a man who owed 10,000 talents whose master had compassion on him and released him from his debt. The same man turns around and refuses to forgive a man who only owed him 100 denarii. Scripture says the master summoned him and said, “Shouldn’t you also have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?” And his master got angry and handed him over to the jailers until he could pay everything that was owed. Jesus ended the story with these words, “So My heavenly Father will also do to you if each of you does not forgive his brother from his heart” (vv. 33-35 hcsb).
I think redemption and forgiveness matter to God.
Redemption. As a leader, remember those that have redeemed the mistakes you have made. Others have given you grace and mercy when you have messed up, forgotten, or failed. Don’t be like the man in the story that had been given much but gave nothing in return.
Here are a few things thoughts on redemption as a leader:
1. Jesus is your Redeemer. Never ever forget what Christ has done for you. Because of Him, you have life, you have forgiveness, and you have grace. God’s mercies are new every day. I wake up to His grace and redemption every single day. My debt has been paid. I am free.
“In the same way we also, when we were children, were in slavery under the elemental forces of the world. But when the completion of the time came, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba, Father!’ So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God” (Gal. 4:3-7).
2. Lead with Grace. Grace isn’t weak leadership. Grace is packed with powerful opportunities to develop your team. Grace sees the potential in people right smack in the middle of the mess they will make. Don’t be surprised when people mess up. It will happen. Address the issues that need to be addressed but lead first with grace. Don’t assume the worst in someone first, but assume the best. I have also found that the person most difficult to lead is about a work that God wants to do in your life not theirs.
3. A Development Mindset. One of the primary tasks of leadership is to build and hand off to the next leader (trust me there will be one!), a strong healthy organization or team. It is your job to develop your organization and that is done through developing people. Who is in your leadership influence that God is developing to do great things for Him? Don’t be the barrier to God’s work in their lives but let God work through you to impact their future. One of the key ways you will do that is helping them redeem the mistakes that will make.
4. Change Leadership. It is redemption to move someone out of your team when it isn’t the right place for him or her. How you do that makes the difference. Give grace even as you make changes. Don’t give this assignment away to others. Many leaders do this because it is hard work to face someone across a table and say this isn’t working. You may need to give more of your leadership energy to someone you are moving out or moving to another place on the team. Walk it out with them.
5. Organizational mistakes versus people mistakes. Most mistakes are because the organization you lead has a problem with processes, planning, communication, or resources. Most mistakes are “organizational” mistakes not people mistakes. You have to own the responsibility for the organization you lead. People don’t wake up and say, “I am going to mess up today.” The majority of people want to do good work and makes a difference. First start first with a focus on the organizational problem and then move to the people issues related.
6. Leader as Teacher. Leaders are always “on”. You don’t get a pass (except maybe in that safe place with friends or family when they will love you no matter what!). You are teaching as you lead both formally and informally. In the middle of your work, be intentional about teaching those around you. Share insights, mistakes you have made, books you are reading, and lessons you have learned. One of the ways God redeems our mistakes is by allowing us to use those very mistakes to help others.
7. Leader as Servant. Your leadership success is lived out in the team and people you lead. Serve them. Help them succeed. Invest in their lives. Give them the tools that help them be successful. Speak truth to them. At the heart of spiritual leadership is servant leadership and Jesus is our ultimate model. Leadership requires a bended knee, a basin, and a towel. You will have lots of dirty feet to wash and Jesus showed us how.