The Paradox of Restoring Yourself in Leadership

This was an exciting week for us! Following our 16 year wedding anniversary, my wife & I spent a few days with some key Christian leaders. The purpose of our Roundtable discussion was to explore how to apply the biblical New Testament concept of “grace” in order to restore leaders who experienced a moral or ethical “fall” which impacts their position of leadership. How can we restore leaders in their position so that they can continue to use their proven acumen, now in a more authentic ways?

This is an area that we are extremely passionate about, as it has impacted our own journey within leadership. For sure, the church community lacks a sufficient model of how to do such a task that does not just remove the leader from their position indefinitely. The secular world has tons of examples of leaders “falling from grace” and being restored. Whether it’s the business community, Hollywood, the NFL, or politics, clearly “the world” knows something that the church has not learned, or rather, applied well to its shame:

the person who rises from the fall makes a more positive impact than they ever made previously

Quite the irony, since the church campaigns it’s message on brokenness, new life, grace, forgiveness, and second chances. As one leader stated so succinctly, “the church saves people by grace, yet restores them through works.” The church has plenty of opportunities where leaders fall, but so far the norm is misguided action in response. 

The ideas are plenty, however the solutions to this glaring contradiction are frustratingly far away. What is clear is this, if you fall, (as a Christian leader), you must restore yourself.

Allies for help are rare…

What I mean by that is, as the leader who fell, now your character, integrity, and trust are completely shattered. To risk requires trust, and to trust requires risk. The risk for others to put their name next to yours is too high. In a fear driven culture the Evangelical church is most concerned with image management, and protecting their backside holding their pocket book. (Yes, it would be great to see the church act in faith, and not fear, but it does make sense as that is the default for all of us as humans, to self-protect).

If you’re one of these fallen leaders, the sooner you embrace that you are a liability to the image of the church, the sooner you will be able to focus your intention & choices on survival. You must stand on your own two feet. Stop wasting your time hoping the church that condemned you will restore you. They won’t. They ran from you on your worst day, they certainly won’t reach out to you on their best day. [Few ever validate the collateral consequences of “disciplining” a leader…you punish their family as well.] I am describing here a double-bind that places both the fallen leader, and the church community they came from in what appears at first as a ‘no-win’ situation. It can be done, and it must be done.

So often in our process, we have been met with a “wait & see” attitude, at best. Wait & see meaning a tentative stance towards the leader that often communicates false hope of help to come. Sounds like this: “…after we get to know you for a season,” “…if there’s anything we can do let us know.,” “…we’ll pray for you.” We must own our response, not just be reactive and translate these well-meaning statements into practical action or else they do come off as platitudes that can be frustrating to hear repeatedly.

More common has been the flat out refusal and quick back-peddle justified by the fact that we are “damaged goods” (…yes we’ve actually been told that…). It’s amazing how the comfortable will protect their sense of power. They don’t want guilt by association. It’s not fair, but it does make sense.

The worst, actually, are those that “want to help.” To them you’re not a person, you’re a project. They want to profit from your mess, take credit for the finished product (a cleaned up version of you…hmm what’s THAT look like???), yet these are the very same who quickly justify why they won’t put their name next to yours. Remember, you’re a liability and would do everyone a service to go away.

These words may sound harsh, and the reality of experience is often that; but we are confident our friends whose motives are genuine, will not be offended. To the fallen leaders, our encouragement is this:

use the help anyway, regardless of what motive you discern it’s coming from.

You need it, and if it provides an ounce of momentum for you in charting a new chapter, it is worth it.

Trust us, it would be great to NOT have to rely on others and pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps. That is unrealistic and for most leaders who fall, the common denominator is isolation that was the greatest contributor to their implosion. I’m a high driver and prefer to build alone, however, as counter-intuitive as it may feel, we have benefited most from a redemptive community of relationships to heal. You need others with battle scars unafraid to link arms with you to vouch for you. It is the critical step necessary following the crisis, to rebuilding and experiencing restoration because it validates that a new trajectory is in play, and the hard work of survival, healing, and growth have been and are worth it.

Comeback stories…

Unfortunately, with the age of the internet and big brother Google watching there’s NO WAY you get to move on. Geography won’t help you. Your only option is to get your negative records to page 2 of Google, where no one will see them. Forever, your scars are now part of your narrative.

Yes, time may have elapsed. Yes, You may be “healed.” But to the person looking you up in the internet search the news about you is brand new, and MUST be true because it’s online.

What leaders need most initially for restoration is practical, concrete assistance. Leaders and their families need others to risk on their behalf. It is no small thing and takes courage to give a fallen leader another shot through practical solutions. Here’s what this can looks like, as part of a restorative community:

  • help them get a job, any job, that pays more than minimum wage. A job YOU would want to have because it pays a LIVABLE wage. What good is it to have a “job” when it won’t pay your bills???
  • help them move out of survival to sanity every month financially
  • a stable place to live where they won’t be scratching each month to make the rent for fear of being evicted
  • money for our kids to engage in normal kid activities to help protect their dignity
  • grocery money for when the food stamps run out before the end of the month

I love God, but I really dislike (hate) the common core religious system of “Evangelical Christianity.” Too many Christians hide behind their ginormous head-knowledge to justify their judgment, condemnation, apathy, legalism, & bigotry…to do nothing and wait on the sidelines. As a people group, we Christians need to learn from world and be willing to write our own comeback stories. We need modern day versions of what we read in scripture of Paul, David, Peter, Abraham… all human men who blew it, and THEN were used to their highest potential because they were restored.

“Pull me from the darkness, lift me back into the light
Fill this empty vessel, Fill this hole I have inside
Am I worth forgiveness, I can’t make myself believe
Show me that you’re listening
And tear this devil out of me”

“Good Man” by Devour The Day c.2014

Restorative Communities…

As a community we must put action with faith (James 2:14ff) if we want to be relevant with our faith and a positive contributor in writing the stories of redemption for our leaders. “Another’s sin is our opportunity to apply the Gospel…” is the main idea guiding the conversations from this week. Prayer is powerful, encouragement helpful, … but to the fallen leader and their family too often these are nothing more than spiritual platitudes that don’t aid the process. We absolutely value your prayers, as we do not discount the reality & power of God. However, your actions that cost you something mean more practically & are the most helpful that leaders need along the way in their restoration journeys.

As we were also reminded:

we each have a choice WHO we will be in this story”

The world, and God ARE eagerly watching, and they are absolutely keeping score. It takes a village, and we need more courageous friends who are willing to write new chapter’s in the narrative of the church restoring its fallen leaders. The church needs to BE the hospital for the wounded, not a theatre for the performing.

As our discussions this week reminded, we are not alone. We are grateful for our friends who have been unafraid to be numbered with the transgressors. Other good leaders have been in our shoes and made it through this survival stage. Clearly this issue is a black eye for the Christian church that reveals it’s continued hypocrisy & irrelevancy to the watching world by shooting it’s wounded & eating it’s own.

We haste the day to see the sun rise again, and be a practical to help our fellow leaders truly being restored, experience the real application of grace, and instilling real hope…so that their worst days are not the final chapter of their stories. We believe it is our responsibility, as wounded healers, and the responsibility of all those who are passionate about empowering authentic leadership, to lean into this area as a community, and change the narrative.

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