Offenses are the bane of churches and proper apologies are the antidote. It is hazardous to assume that, because an offense happened in a church, everyone knows how to apologize. Powerful apologies are an art, learned through instruction and experience.
Human nature rebels against apologies. Pride prevents our admitting faults. Feelings of embarrassment or shame make us unwilling to ask for forgiveness. Some fear that admitting a mistake will allow others to control them. Often practicing avoidance is easier than dealing with an offense. Sincerity matters in apologies, a truth that creates its own challenges.
There is no guarantee that members or staff of a church know how to properly apologize. It is common in Western society to apologize for the effect of an action but not for the action. For example, athletes or politicians will apologize for offending their fans or constituents, but not for the activity that caused the offense. There also is a practice of hedging on apologies, making general or vague comments that are supposed to count as apologies.
Without a clear and clean apology, conflict often continues. Allowed to persist conflict drains the congregation’s emotional energy. Distrust can grow between members. Ultimately, it can even lead to the loss of members. Most of this could be avoided through proper apology.
Here are some thoughts on how to make a proper apologize.
Deal with the Conflict Personally
I have seen pastors send a trusted staff member or lay leader to make peace after giving offense. This is a mistake. Jesus taught us to personally go to resolve our conflicts (see Matthew chapter five).
Clarify the Offense
Offenses quickly become emotionally charged experiences. The offense can become quite clouded. It is wise to clarify what exactly was offensive. Practice active listening skills in this process, especially restating how the other person was wronged.
Apologize and Ask for Forgiveness
Apologies are often awkward. We stumble around, trying to find the right words. I know first-hand the temptation to make a general statement of regret instead an apology. The most effective way to apologize is this: Apologize for the specific offense, then specifically ask for forgiveness.
Choose the Best Form of Communication
Apologizing in person is best. However, this is not always possible, especially for regional or national organizations. Live video chat is the next most effective communication means for an apology, followed in effectiveness by a phone call. The strength of an email is that the person who was offended can re-read the apology and request for forgiveness. However, this is also the most impersonal means of apologizing. Text or direct messaging through social media for an apology is not recommended unless it is the only means of communication.
Accept Appropriate Consequences
Offenses can have consequences. Some are formal, such as a suspension from work for violating a drug policy. Others are relational, seen when a supervisor no longer trusts a team member to follow through with responsibilities. A sincere apology means accepting legitimate consequences. Formal consequences have a set end date. Relational consequences usually allow for trust to rebuild over time.
Look for a future post on forgiving people who apologize. What is the best lesson you have learned about apologies? Share it in the comments or shoot me an email.