Effective leadership requires compassion. When you are seeking to build healthy relationships, move toward your mission, and hold people accountable for their contributions to the mission, you are often forced to look at the people in a critical light.
When making your judgments and decisions, it is important to remember that the people entrusted to your care are human beings, beloved children of God. They are going to make mistakes. They are going to disappoint you, let you down, and say things out of line. They will even at times act like they are sabotaging the mission.
On your best days, it is difficult not to take such actions personally. But, at the end of the day, if you remember that the people with whom you work are human beings with their own pasts, their own personal issues, frailties, and struggles, you will remember that each of them are in need of grace.
Forgiveness is Key
That is why forgiveness is one of the key components of effective and courageous leadership. When you are able to forgive mistakes and be generous with the people you are leading, you will encourage and empower people to be more who they are created and gifted to be.
Your effectiveness as a leader requires your acts of compassion. People are going to speak back to you and have their own ideas. Their personal lives are going to impact their work, their past experiences will affect their relationships. More often than not, they are not even aware of their words or actions.
As a Christ-centered leader, a fundamental element of your effectiveness is forgiveness.
Remember that in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus prays at particularly important points in his ministry. His pattern has been to go to a desert place or a lonely place to pray. He prays to keep his focus on what God has called and commissioned him to do.
He prays seeking direction when he is tempted to follow the crowd, “Do I go with the crowd or do I go to the cross?” He prays when Simon Peter and the other disciples misunderstood his suffering and dying as a contradiction of who and what they understood the Messiah to be and do. And, he prays when his identity and purpose as suffering Messiah did not match the images of the people who loved him and who followed him.
Let’s use the pattern of Read, Reflect, Respond, Return to explore what Luke says about Jesus and forgiveness.
Read Luke 24:23
Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.
This prayer is in keeping with the character and life of Jesus. He is praying for forgiveness for those who are violating him because they did not know what they are doing. In Luke, the primary problem is ignorance. They killed the Lord of glory in ignorance.
For the Romans, Caesar was Lord. The government was central. To speak or act against Rome was considered heresy. Crucifixion was used to warn citizens what would happen to them if they were disloyal to Rome. People were sacrificed on crosses to warn others what would happen to them when they committed heresy.
Now Jesus is on the cross and he prays, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.”
Forgiven for Ignorance
I know it seems strange that anyone would have to be forgiven for ignorance. We usually don’t put forgiveness and ignorance together. But when you think of the different kinds of ignorance that move and motivate people, the ignorance that closes their eyes when they have every opportunity to see the truth, our only hope is “Father, forgive them…”
When I think about it, evil could be called intentional ignorance. When we refuse to listen or to understand. When we remain silent and do nothing. When we turn our backs and say, “Well, it is terrible, but it is not my problem.” That is intentional ignorance.
The crowds walked by Jesus on the cross, and their only words were insults, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, the Chosen One.” “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us.” Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” It sounds like Jesus forgave them for their ignorance.
It took courage, as well as love, for Jesus to forgive the people hurling insults, who at one time confessed their allegiance and are now calling for his life.
It Takes Courage
As a Christ-centered leader, it will take love as well as courage to lead with forgiveness. Think about it:
When your lead team decides that making grace-filled Jesus followers is your mission and someone in the congregation disagrees and works against the direction you are leading, it will take love and courage to lead with forgiveness.
When people say with their lips that “everyone is welcome” but their actions show otherwise, it will take love and courage to lead with forgiveness.
When people say “we want to be followers of Jesus” but they don’t want to connect with their neighborhood and to be involved in their community, it will take courage to lead with forgiveness.
When you offer bible studies and classes on becoming Christian disciples that will help church members grow in their faith and the assumption is that bible study and classes are for the people who are not present or actively supporting the church, it will take love and courage to lead with forgiveness.
When you stand to preach and name issues of injustice and you get emails and texts that you should not be political in the pulpit, it will take love and courage to lead with forgiveness.
When you respond to gun violence and the killing of children in classrooms and the killing of adults in night clubs and someone says, “It is my right to own a gun”, it will take love and courage to lead with forgiveness.
When you name the evils of racism and say that it is Christian to love persons of different ethnic backgrounds, it will take love and courage to lead with forgiveness.
When someone says that because you are a woman you should not be preaching or teaching, it will take love and courage to lead with forgiveness.
You can add your own situations to my list. You know where you are challenged to lead with forgiveness. But as a follower of Jesus, with people entrusted to your care, you lead with forgiveness.
The Love of God
The words, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing,” were spoken by a person whose only weapon was the love of God. Whose only crime was being different. Who raised suspicion because he challenged the systems of hatred, prejudice, and bigotry. Yet, in the midst of being put to death for extending love, even to his enemies, he called upon God to forgive the ignorance of his abusers and accusers.
Think of it this way. What defines any of us looking for growth and personal development is not a spotless life of constant kindness and an even temperament, but a willingness to learn from mistakes, and to make the choice to come to terms with whatever has happened to us. As a leader, when you act with compassion and offer forgiveness, you are more able to shape the lives of people and assist them in becoming who God has created them to be.
Forgiveness is the Attribute of the Strong
Mahatma Gandhi warned that “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” And according to Indira Gandhi, “Forgiveness is a virtue of the brave.” Forgiveness is a powerful concept for leaders and for a Christ-centered leader, it is a necessity.
Leading with forgiveness can change how the people entrusted to you live and interact with one another, connect with their community, and view the world. Leading with forgiveness creates internal harmony and a sense of care and compassion. Leading with compassion turns failures and unwanted situations into a culture of understanding and generosity. It creates places where people feel safe to express themselves and function at their best.
Forgiveness may be the most important gift you can give to the people entrusted to you. As you model forgiveness you are offering others the chance to take risks, learn and grow in their own leadership. Without forgiveness, there cannot be true leadership.
As a leader, you have an important influence on the lives of people. Where there is a lack of forgiveness there is a climate of anger, bitterness, and animosity. To lead with forgiveness changes the atmosphere and culture in which people live, work, and play. But as you know, forgiveness is not easy.
So, here are several ways to lead with forgiveness:
Be generous in your assumptions.
Intentionally work to understand the true intentions of others. Have a sincere conversation and ask questions for your clarity and understanding.
Be compassionate in your actions.
Relationships are important. Treat and care for others the way you want to be treated and cared for. You are a person in need of love and encouragement just as the people entrusted to your care.
Be generous with yourself.
While you are leading others and often seeing them in a critical light, you are placing yourself under a critical eye as well. You know the areas where you need forgiveness and compassion. When you can approach your own difficulties with gentleness, it’ll be easier for you to forgive others as well.
Let go of resentments.
As you allow yourself to be forgiven, you create a space for others to forgive. I am sure you can think of other ways to lead with forgiveness. As you put each one into practice you become more of the leader needed for this time.
Give God thanks for the people you met today. How did you lead with forgiveness? With whom and in what areas did you need help in practicing forgiveness? Name those persons and situations before God. Ask God to give you the power to love others as God has loved you. What will you do differently tomorrow as a leader of forgiveness? Give God thanks for the opportunities you had to love others as you have been loved. Ask God to give you the power to forgive others even if they do not understand.
O God, forgive me when I do not understand, and do not get it right. By your grace, forgive me when I don’t want to understand and I don’t want to live and lead the way you created me to live and lead. Put within me the desire to learn and grow, so that as I lead with forgiveness others will see you in me and my actions and be drawn to you. Use me as an instrument of your love and peace. In Jesus’ name. Amen