Today I was made aware that, in my message on Sunday, I used an illustration that was insensitive and hurtful to someone in the congregation. Though I did not intend to, in any way, be hurtful, it didn't change the fact that the person (and potentially others) was/were hurt and offended by the comments that I made. Thankfully, this person had enough courage to share how I hurt her so that I could be made aware of my insensitivity and of my blindspots.
Though it grieved me to hear how I had been hurtful, this circumstance does bring up a great learning opportunity for me. It gives me the opportunity to determine how I will respond when I am "called out" for communicating in a way that isn't the best.
Being that I preach in my local church at least 40 times a year, I preach outside of my local church at least 5 times a year, and I blog daily, this will not be the last time I say or post words that are unintentionally hurtful or offensive to others. But, when this does happen again, I want to be the type of person who takes responsibility for his words.
I don't know if I did so well doing this today when I spoke to the person that I had hurt, but I hope from this day forward I can keep the following things in mind when I am made aware of a mistake with my words:
1. LISTEN. DON'T EXPLAIN.
When I have made a mistake with my words, I need to listen carefully to the person correcting me. I need to hear out exactly how what I said was particularly hurtful, offensive, or insensitive. Early on in the conversation I must put the emphasis on listening how I was hurtful and not on explaining why I said what I said.
2. EMPATHIZE. DON'T EXCUSE.
After hearing and understanding how what I said was not the best, I need to empathize deeply with the person's pain or concern. I need to put myself in their shoes and let them know I can see and understand how they could be hurt or offended by what I said. At this point in the conversation I must put the emphasis on validating their feelings not on excusing my behavior.
3. APOLOGIZE. DON'T ESCAPE.
When I am clear on how I have failed someone with my words and the person who I have failed is clear that I understand them, I must apologize sincerely for my actions. I must take complete responsibility for my mistake and ask for the person's forgiveness. By the end of the conversation, the emphasis must be on me apologizing for what I said and not on avoiding the consequences for my behavior.
In addition to this unfortunate circumstance giving me the opportunity to reflect upon how I intend to handle situations like this in the future, it also made me thankful for a congregation who is patient with a sinful, flawed, pastor like me! To be loved and appreciated not only when you "succeed" but also when you "fail" is a gift from God. I am so humbled by the privilege I have to lead our church, and I hope that in the coming months and years I can lead in a way that is more edifying and encouraging to the people and more pleasing and glorifying to God.