CONFRONTING: THE AGONY [AND ECSTASY] OF LEADERSHIP

Anyone who has been in a positon of leadership responsibility for very long has had to wade into the treacherous waters of confrontation…

In the very first church I pastored, one of the deacons and his wife invited us to Sunday dinner after morning worship.  The wives rode together in their car while the deacon and I followed along in my new 1968 Chevy Impala.  He and I were about a mile into our twelve-mile trip to his house, when he pulled out a package of cigarettes, shook one out and started to light up.  Now, I was only a couple of months into this, my first ministry. Like all my pastoral peers, I have always wanted to be liked; but I have always wanted to be respected more.  (I thought it was bad form for him not to ask if I minded if he smoked.  It would have been easier if he had asked, but the uncomfortable afternoon that followed would probably have been the same.)  So, I said, “Bob, if you don’t mind, I would rather you not smoke in the car.”  His face said it all.  Did I mention that he was a hard-headed farmer, probably in his mid-forties, not used to being corrected?

That first ministry also furnished me with the memory of a conversation with one of the elders who was serving at the Lord’s Table nearly every week with snuff under his lower lip.  Yes, it would have been easier to let it go.  Believe me, I wrestled with that one for a while before tackling it. He actually he had a pretty good attitude about it, but his wife, who also happened to be the church treasurer, stuffed my weekly $65 check in my jacket pocket as she went out the front door (without speaking) for a few months.

While I am purging here, I should also mention the lady who sat in worship and clipped her fingernails [(every week).  You have no idea how loud and distracting that can be when you are preaching in a room that only holds about 125 people.  She actually transferred her membership to the Methodist Church in the next town.  That turned out to be one of those blessed subtractions.

My guess is every seasoned leader reading these accounts could match me story for story.  Loving and patient confrontation is part of the usually unwritten job description of a courageous leader.  Now, to be honest, I am not sure I would choose to die on these same hills today.  However, I might if I thought it might be redemptive for the other person.  The reason is because I have been spiritually shaped and deeply challenged by a select few people who have had the courage to confront me.  I remember when I was second semester freshman in Bible College when one of the administrators pulled me into his office one morning as I was on my way to class and ambushed me with this indictment, “Idleman, I have been watching you.  And I have to tell you… you have everything it takes to be a flash in the pan.”  Ouch!  That comment really stung. In the years that have passed, I now I have thanked him a dozen times for impressing reality on me at a very formative season in my life.  After that, every time I was tempted to be superficial, or cut corners, or trade on charm, I remembered his prophecy.  I wasn’t going to be that guy!

Then I was serving as a student youth minister when the senior minister sat down with me one day and said, “Ken, I have noticed that when the offering plate is passed, you open your wallet and randomly take out a bill or two.  It looks to me like you are not preparing your gift.”  That day my pastor took the time to teach me both the right attitude and the right method for giving.

It was after that I started taking the first $5.00 of my $35.00/weekend salary, putting it in an offering envelope and placing it in the plate each week.  I am sure I have become a more conscientious steward and generous person because of the path on which that thoughtful confrontation set me.

So, bottom line: Godly leaders make friends with confrontation… they receive it and they give it as a gift of grace.  Proverbs 15:31, “Whoever heeds life-giving correction will be at home among the wise.”