When a Leader Repents

Repentance is a regular day at office for the humble leader. Granted it’s not an easy day. It’s downright hard for leaders (especially me) to admit they are wrong.

It’s even harder for them (especially me, again) to ask for forgiveness.Repentance modeled by a leader can unlock a wave of renewal in the organization, church or even in an entire generation in a way mentoring can’t touch.

Recently I spent a week with 120 short term mission leaders in Africa. I heard many stories of how leaders in various settings act. The “big leader” often gets to be big by squashing and stifling young leaders from thriving. Big leaders remain at the top until they die, never giving any thought to concepts like “transition” or “passing-the-baton.” Nope it’s as if they ignore the very existence of new generations and the passionate gifted leaders ready to lead them.

Worse yet, God forbid they should ever admit to being wrong.

There are exceptions. One happened during our meetings. One leader took a risk and repented. He is a bishop, who will remain unnamed from a country which will also remain unnamed. This bishop’s context is one of tribal warfare, killings, religious discrimination and extreme refugee camp poverty. Their people are conditioned to constantly peer over their backs to see from where the next tragedy will strike. Needless to say, life’s challenges have done everything to rob them of perspective and sensitivity. It’s out of this context emerged this bishop, a leader whose trust had been replaced with skepticism, whose hope had been robbed by paranoia, and whose ability to forgive was overruled by anger.

In all fairness I certainly could not blame him. There are precious few leaders I know can relate to that kind of pressure.

Even fewer leaders would have done what he did. This “big leader” walked to the front of our group and began to humbly speak. Over the years he admitted to letting his skepticism, paranoia and anger get the better of him. These attitudes had caused him to say many hurtful things about some of the leaders in the room.  He went so far as to publically speculate whether his actions and attitude actually hindered what God desired to do in his country. Then he dropped to his knees emotionally asking for forgiveness from each one he had wronged.

What followed was a time of reconciliation, the likes of which I have never seen before. Forgiveness was extended, and relationships were put onto the right footing again.

And then something more…

Other leaders began to repent before God for all kinds of sins.  Simple prayers for healing and forgiveness were prayed. Commitments to greater levels of purity and integrity were made before our holy God. It went on for some time.

I believe God was honored. I also believe that repentance will have ripple effects now that we’ve all returned home. Repentance can begin crazy things like revival.

I’m praying revival breaks out all over our nations as a result of one “big leader’s” humble example.


How do you think leaders should model repentance?

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