Loving the Leaders Who Hurt You

Reconciling after a breach of relationship requires that you move toward the other with God’s love.

This is true in all relationships, including if you were hurt by a parent, pastor, or other leader who should be the one to make the first move. My experience with repairing conflicts is that usually in retrospect both sides will feel like, “I had to be the first to humble myself and reach out.”

In Soul Shepherding’s weekly devotionals and podcasts we’ve been telling the Coast Hills Church reconciliation story. Last week was on “Church Leaders Who Apologize.” Relational repair also requires reliance on Christ’s love, forgiveness, empathy, and a readiness to bless those who have mistreated you. (Col. 3:11-14; Rom. 12:14-21)

But probably the pastor feels like the elders are in charge and need to lead with love, while the elders feel like the pastor ought to pastor them with love.

In our our video on “Reconciling a Pastor and Elder Board” I recalled to pastor Ken Baugh, “You were reeling as we worked through your emotions of feeling violated by the elders. But down the road we talked about your opportunity to be ‘Christ’s ambassador’ to them.”

Violated is a strong word,” Ken replied, “but it’s how I felt… I felt angry, like it was unjust. I said, ‘Why should I reach out to care for them? They hurt me!’

“I needed you and trusted friends to sit with me in empathy and lovingly guide me into a path of truth… This helps me be willing to be vulnerable, ‘Ok, I don’t need to defend that part of me. I need to own that and receive God’s grace and healing in that.”

But Ken wasn’t experiencing God’s love in his hurting heart.

He was tearful as he shared on the video, “I wasn’t sleeping, and I would get up at 4:00 or 5:00 in the morning and go to the beach and sit down on the rocks… I would take the things that you and I would dig up in therapy and take them to prayer… I journaled how I was really feeling. I memorized Scripture, especially on fear and God’s love, because I wasn’t feeling his love. The enemy was accosting me with, ‘You’re a failure. Your career is ruined.’

“I knew theologically how much God loved me but I hadn’t experienced it at this deep level.

“I’d preached sermons on God’s love. I can believe it for others, but will God do it for me?…

“One day at the beach I felt God prompting me to begin a reconciliation process with the elders. I was not happy about that. ‘Excuse me, God… They need to come to me!’ I was ticked off… But on the spot I texted each elder.”

The elders had their own pain and stress so it was hard for them too. Matt admitted, “Initially when I receive a text from Ken I’d love to say there was joy, but I felt reservation… Do I have the energy and desire?… Will it be helpful?

“The Holy Spirit said, ‘This is the right thing. Go meet with Ken…’ The first meeting wasn’t great. It took time. It was two steps forward and one step back…”

Henri Nouwen says it’s the call of the leader to be a “wounded healer” in the way of Christ. That’s the posture Ken took on.

Matt and the elders saw Ken’s change of heart and were grateful to re-engage. “We had sent off our ten-year pastor with a bad narrative. He was left with hurt and pain and we wanted a re-set. We wanted to do things differently and continue our story with Ken and Susan… It was important for us to be given that second chance.”

So separately I worked with Ken and the elder board as we prepared for reconciliation. This involved conversation, Scripture meditation, prayer, counseling, role plays, and more prayer. Todd Proctor, the interim pastor, was also involved with shepherding the elders and Ken.

Then we met as a group. The last time Ken was with the elder board one-and-a-half years earlier it felt like being bullied, but this time was like a loving family. I set the stage and turned it over to Ken. In the spirit of a wounded healer he came right from the heart with humility, apologies, and vulnerable emotions.

Matt recalls, “Ken set the tone for the entire evening. Oh, this is how we’re going to do it. It was incredible!”

Loving the leaders who hurt you is an essential ministry in the Body of Christ.

Whether we realize it or not, all of us at times are on both sides of that. That’s why Jesus commanded his leaders, “Love one another… Love one another…” (John 13:34-35, 15:12) Then he modeled it by loving the leaders who crucified him.

We’ll continue with this series on “Repairing Torn Hearts and Relationships” in next week’s Soul Shepherding Devotional email.

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!)

Soul Talks Podcast: Emotionally Healthy Community

“We couldn’t have made it through the church conflict, pain, and fear without our friends who supported us.” That’s what Pastor Ken and Susan Baugh share with Bill and Kristi as we continue our series on “Repairing Torn Hearts and Relationships.” Here’s what it looks like to heal, forgive, bless, and love those who hurt us in our church or family. This is the third of the 4-week series.


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