The Leadership Gift of Clear Forgiveness

Gift 2This Advent, posts on Tuesdays will focus on often overlooked gifts church leaders can give their congregations. I have seen these gifts deeply move God’s people. Such gifts that can form and shape the culture of thriving congregations.

It was the kind of argument that boils up when you’re young and tired, in the midst of a summer heat wave.

A friend and I were working a project for a neighbor, repairing a broken a door. We had a disagreement, which led to him “accidentally intentionally” smashing my fingers in the door. I expressed my suspicion that it wasn’t an accident. My friend responded with some very colorful words, then tried to accidentally slam the door on my hand a second time.

We took a break. Cooler heads prevailed. He apologized. I said, “We’re good.” We finished the project.

I hear phrases similar to “We’re good” repeated in churches. One member offends another, then confesses the mistake. In response, the offended member says something like:

“No offense taken.”
“No problem.”
“Forget about it.”
“Let it go.”

Leaders, if you want to give a powerful gift to God’s people, speak directly. When a member of the family of God apologizes, say, “I forgive you.”

Christians are often well intentioned when they use euphemisms to forgive sins. The word “forgive” is so powerful, it can be intimidating. Some Christians feel only pastors should announce “forgiveness,” so respectfully decline the utter the term. Other Christians do not understand offering a synonym for “forgiven” can leave people wondering whether they were forgiven.

Hence, it is a gift when leaders teach and model, “I forgive you.”

While this applies to all church leaders, I want to speak to pastors who write worship services. Worship services in a number of denominations historically start with confession and absolution. Over the years, I have experienced custom designed services with absolution worded in the following ways:

“The Lord has heard your confession. Go forward in peace.”
“The Lord sees your sin no more.”
“As far as the East is from the West, so the Father has removed your sins.”

I’m asking pastors to resist allowing creativity to reign over clarity. Couching the words of absolution in phrases from Scripture does not necessarily clearly communicate sins are “forgiven.” You bless God’s people by pronouncing forgiveness.

In my younger days, I didn’t fully understand the need to be direct in forgiving. But, I had a sense about it. Two weeks after our blow up, my friend apologized again. I asked him, “You know I forgave you, right?” He replied, “I thought so. But I wasn’t sure.” The last words either of us uttered on the topic were mine: “Well, I forgive you.”

Share a story of forgiveness in the comments. If you prefer, shoot me an email. Additional posts in this series include:

4 thoughts on “The Leadership Gift of Clear Forgiveness

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