Church Leaders Who Apologize

“I was forced to resign from my church.”

78% of pastors say this. Often these pastors leave their church hurt and angry, afraid their career and calling are ruined.

Ken Baugh, former lead pastor of Coast Hills Community Church felt this way two years ago. (In last week’s email devotional I told his story: “Finding Your Heart.”) But he sought support from counselors and friends and after he and the elders had simmered they re-engaged with each other to say, “I’m sorry.”

“I’m sorry.”

We don’t say or hear those words often enough — especially in situations of church leader conflict.

Ken met individually with each elder to apologize. “I’m sorry for my part in this conflict… I’m sorry for my angry reactions, that I wasn’t humble and caring… I’m sorry I let myself get burned out…I’m sorry I wasn’t a better leader in that season…”

The elders also apologized to Ken. They said they were sorry for leading a process that brought so much pain to him and his family and for taking so long to resolve this. In the video interview Matt Kearn, the co-chair, summarized “the collective heart of the elders” in regretting they hadn’t “done a better job of shepherding our pastor’s heart.” This is “one of our major calls [but] we weren’t a true friend to Ken.”

It was after these meetings that the elder board asked me to come help them learn how to better shepherd the heart of their pastor. Then Ken came back into the elder group, but this time it wasn’t a battlefield it was more like a family meeting. There were more apologies, listening, and prayer.

Church leaders who were previously at odds connected emotionally!

As great a grace as that was, it wasn’t enough. Many people in the church had been left in the dark and were hurting over the rift. So the leaders of Coast Hills Church held a Sunday morning “Reconciliation Service” and 1,500 people came. (See the Soul Shepherding video for highlights.) Interim pastor Todd Proctor opened the service and his team led us in worship.

Then Matt stood up on behalf of the whole elder board and poured out his heart with wave after wave of “I’m sorry… I’m sorry… I’m sorry…” He admitted, “Two years ago when we announced our decision that Ken Baugh was no longer our senior pastor… That decision permeated through the hearts and families in this room. For many of us in that moment church became what we hate most about church. I’m sorry for that…”

He publicly apologized to Ken for disconnecting from him, battling over the leadership of Coast Hills, and that Ken had felt “erased” from the church. He affirmed Ken’s ten years of faithful service and leadership.

Then Ken stood in the pulpit for the first time in nearly two years. Before the meltdown it’d been his home for ten years. Now as a guest he wept, “I never thought my voice would be heard on these speakers again… It’s really awesome to be here with all of you.”

In his message he apologized to the congregation for his part in the conflict. With more tears he offered, “A breach in relationship is two-sided… I could’ve submitted and been more humble… I hurt the elders and I hurt you… I’m sorry and I ask you to forgive me.”

It’s humbling to apologize — especially in public.

“Early on I felt like a victim,” Ken admitted to me in the video interview.

He added, “But later you and I talked about how I can be self-righteous… It took me awhile to see that I could’ve handled things differently in the meetings. I was living out of fear and defensiveness and trying to protect my family — that doesn’t bring out the best in me.”

Matt also took courage. “I had a lot of doubt and fear to share this publicly. Elders need to project security so the congregation can trust us… Looking out in the congregation and seeing the faces… The natural way to shepherd is from strength.

“It’s not comfortable to lead from vulnerability,” Matt continued, “but I was overwhelmed to see how God used that.”

We’ll continue with this series on “Repairing Torn Hearts and Relationships” in the next two Soul Shepherding Devotional emails.

Soul Talks Podcast: Leading With Vulnerability

“Excuse me, Lord, why should I go the elders and apologize? They wronged me!” That’s how Ken Baugh felt after being terminated as lead pastor. But having receiving empathy and emotional healing, now he took ownership of his part of the leadership conflict, humbled himself, and said, “I want to listen and understand how I hurt you.”

Watch the Reconciliation Video

You can watch the highlights from the Coast Hills Church reconciliation service and my interview with Ken and Matt on this Soul Shepherding video: “Reconciling a Pastor and Elder Board.” (This reached 27,000 people in it’s first two weeks!)

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