Have the courage to apologize

Photo by Zsuzsanna Kilian

Photo by Zsuzsanna Kilian

So yesterday news broke about yet more unethical behavior from a celebrity pastor, this time buying his way onto The New York Times bestseller list.

There is so much wrong with this kind of behavior that I don’t even know where to begin. Frankly, I’m not sure I could say it any better than has been said here. But since reading about this latest in a series of life lessons on the dangers of unchecked hubris, there’s been one thing I’ve felt I’ve needed to say:

If you’ve done this, have the courage to apologize. 

Look, I know none of us are perfect. Anyone who says they’re without sin is a liar and a fool, and I am chief among them. But you know what I do expect? I expect that if we’re people who claim the name of Christ, we’re people who apologize and mean it.

What do I mean when I say we “mean it”? Simple: we’re genuinely repentant.

So a true apology is not immediately pleading Jesus, saying how thankful you are that He’s forgiven all your sins, past present and future. That’s spiritual and emotional manipulation, not asking for forgiveness. And it’s not a political non-apology, something akin to “mistakes were made.” That’s acknowledgement, not contrition.

What I mean when I say apologize is simple:

  • specifically name your action or attitude
  • own your personal error
  • explain how you are making restitution
  • ask for forgiveness

But all of this, of course, hinges on a critical truth: you have to actually think what you’ve done is wrong.

My fear for many who engage in shenanigans of this sort is they really don’t care. As much as they want to say they’re trying to boost the name of Jesus, they’re really out for themselves. They’ve traded integrity for influence. So the ends justify the means (even when the means are wrong). Their consciences may be so seared that that they’ve become blind to their own folly. They are like those leaders who sat in Moses’ seat, whom Jesus commanded the Jews to listen to but not imitate, for they do not practice what they preach.

They talk a good game, but it’s all talk.

“What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” (Matt. 16:26)

Your integrity is worth more than your celebrity.

Your ministry is more important than your influence.

Your reward with Christ is better than the riches of this world.

If you are truly in Christ, you know this to be true. Now act like it. Have the courage to apologize.

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  • Michelle Dacus Lesley

    I think that’s one of the biggest issues in all of these church scandals: it’s not that people mess up and sin, it’s the lack of repentance (also the lack of these pastors’ churches exercising church discipline). Were these men to repent and accept the consequences of their actions, I think they would find far fewer critics and far more admirers and Christian people willing to forgive them. Plus, pastors have the responsibility to lead by example. And what a great example they would be by humbling themselves and repenting! Maybe it would inspire their church members to do the same in their own lives.

    • http://www.bloggingtheologically.com Aaron Armstrong

      exactly!

  • Paula Coyle

    This won’t happen because the infection is too systemic. It’s not just this one thing they did. The whole ministry is built around this kind of shell game. If he actually *repents* rather than just apologizing for this one incident, his whole ministry will be demolished and have to start over. And they can’t have that because too many people are invested in it. Until Mark Driscoll crashes and burns, they will keep pumping him full of theological steroids and using him and he will keep allowing it.

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  • Jeph Maagdeleyn

    For some reason, this post really bugged me. I struggle with the blogging community demanding repentance or policing the Christian community for us. I know it’s more complex than that, and I’m not trying to be accusing at all, but I’m just saying it bugged me. As someone who is not a blogger, I don’t see it as my job to say what should and shouldn’t be written about.

    That being said, I do like your blog, your writing and appreciate what you bring to the table. Whether I agree with this post or not, you laid out some specific things that you would like to see him do. Although people were skeptical that he would, he has. I must say I’m impressed of how open and over and above he is going. I think since you wrote this post, I would hope now you would write another post, encouraging him and praising God for the work He is doing in this pastor’s life. Mark is simply a very public example of the fact that God uses imperfect people and I’m willing to bet you have been blessed by his ministry somewhere down the line. There’s a great opportunity to lift him up now when everyone took the easy opportunity to tear him down.

    I realize this comment might be hypocritical in that I’m doing what this blog post did, and I said I didn’t appreciate that. My intentions are simply that this would be an opportunity to do a few things. Promote forgiveness and unity, to show great character and demonstrate your gifting as a blogger.

    • http://www.bloggingtheologically.com Aaron Armstrong

      Hey Jeph, thanks for writing this response. Yeah, I definitely get where you’re coming from on the post bothering you, especially the concern about perceptions of policing the Christian community. It’s a difficult thing to balance for any blogger, which is why (in general) I try to stay away from it.

      In all honesty, I’ve not planned on writing anything—positive or negative—related to Driscoll or anything coming out of Mars Hill in the foreseeable future. I don’t want to be rabidly pro- or anti- him, and I don’t want to be contributing to the spectator sport his actions have become any further.

      I’ve read his apology letter and am thankful that he’s done so and I am praying that the changes he says are happening will be long lasting and genuine. I’m also praying for my own skepticism in regard to the genuineness of the apology—which is why I’m reluctant to comment on the letter itself. I’d rather not post anything that looks like a “yeah but…” post, or anything that smacks of a back-handed response.

      But never say never. I might write something that, while not directly dealing with Driscoll, deals with a bit of what I’ve shared here in greater detail.

      • Jeph Maagdeleyn

        Fair enough. This conversation would be better had in person, but this is the thing the internet has opened up for us. Conversations online. There are some great aspects to it, and some negative ones. I can understand not wanting to draw more attention to it and also wanting to be genuine in your response. So if you don’t feel your response would be encouraging, uplifting, probably best to refrain. However, you did draw attention to it in this blog post by raising the issue, so it seems a little convenient that you would shy away from writing any further when there is all of a sudden a chance to say something positive. I am not making an accusation with that comment, just saying you could understand if some were to think that.

        Again, if you think you can be more supportive by not saying anything, then I agree that’s probably best. The Bible is very clear that our words can get us in a lot of trouble and sometimes it’s better to remain silent. I am grateful for the fact that you do write and speak into the Christian community and hope that it continues to be a blessing to all of us who read.