my every-other-issue column for Youthwork Magazine (UK) came out a few weeks back. this time around i wrote a bit about how i changed my mind on a leadership conviction. and the magazine illustrated it with this awesome cartoon of me changing my mind!
I had convinced myself that I was speaking the truth; and whether it was spoke “in love” or not, speaking the truth was the thing leaders were supposed to do. But the young woman in my office started crying, and something tipped sideways in my self-analysis.
This crying young woman was the third meeting in a single day, all in my office, where I had spoken “the truth” to someone, only to have them end up in tears. After the first of these meetings, I felt a rush a power—confident that I was doing what leaders do. After the second, my confidence waned a bit, and I had an inner-Scooby-Doo saying “Huh?” But that third meeting; well, it started me on a path of change.
I’d always been a leader who was willing to be vocal with my thoughts and opinions (I’m sure, much to the frustration of everyone in my life). On those spiritual gifts tests, I’d always scored a flat-lined zero in the area of mercy. And here’s the silly part: I was proud of that.
When I worked in a church going through a massive transition, I was asked to be on a transitional leadership team, and was taken under the wing of the two older pastors leading the process. They were both naturally gifted leaders, but had similarly convinced themselves of the strength of their weaknesses. In fact, I remember to this day the exact wording of the mentoring I received from the two of them in one meeting. They said, “Marko, your lack of mercy is the strength of your leadership.” Hey, that sounded good to me (embarrassing and stupid as it sounds to me today). And for the next few years, I steamrolled people left and right under the ruse of “strong biblical leadership.”
What a misguided idiot.
But that crying young woman loosened something in me. And through divine revelation or long overdue common sense (or some combo), I immediately knew I needed to change. But I had no idea how to make that happen (and, I was accustomed to “making” everything happen in my world).
I carefully selected two older men who I perceived as strong leaders, but also merciful, and asked them to mentor me in the areas of mercy and gentleness. At one of my first meetings with one of these guys, he stated the should-have-been-obvious: I couldn’t make myself have mercy; I could only ask God to give me mercy, and pursue a life of mercy. They other guy helped me understand something that became a framing idea for me: I’ll likely never score high in mercy on spiritual gifts tests; but I can still grow in mercy. This same kind of parallel plays out all over my life (I’ll never be perfect, but I’m still called to righteousness; I’ll never love perfectly, but I’m still called to be loving).
These two new understandings re-framed leadership and mercy for me, and put me on a multi-year quest of change. I met with these mentors; I read books on mercy (and the kind of leadership that was more Jesus-y than CEO-like); I journaled and prayed; and I asked friends to help me.
About two years later (yes, it took that long!), I received a great double-confirmation from God that I was making progress. In the span of one week, I had someone comment to me (who didn’t know of my quest) how gentle they thought I was. I could hardly believe someone would ever use that word to describe me. Then, a few days later, one of the administrative assistants of the church told me that the other admins had a nickname for me: the gentle steamroller. I laughed out loud when I heard this: yup, I still had that steamroller way about me at times; and I’m not even sure what a “gentle steamroller” would be. But I responded, “Hey, I’ll take that!” I thought it was the best compliment I’d received in a long time.
As I write this, it’s about 18 years later. I’m still a merciless jerk on a regular basis. I am still very capable of possessing the gentleness of a sledgehammer from time to time (and even of being momentarily proud of it!). But I can see change. I wish it were more immediate. The only thing that was immediate was my recognition of need for change. The process of change has been, and will continue to be, a long, slow journey of transformation.
How are you changing? Which of your rough edges need some Holy Spirit sandpaper?
4 thoughts on “How I Changed My Mind”
I feel like I’m the 18 years ago version of Marko.. always a 0 on Mercy, and if I could score in the negative I would. Although recently I have not been wearing that as a badge but as an acceptance of who I am and looking on how to balance that out. I desire to be loving and compassionate but also know that guys like you and myself are designed that way for a reason. How do I balance that good and purpose of my design with the gospel transformation of my spiritual journey? Thanks Marko for the honesty!
Bottom line: a lack of mercy (or grace or generosity or love or compassion) is NEVER a good thing, never a strength. I think acknowledging that is step one, jonrob7. There may be strength for which a lack of mercy is a shadow side; but mercilessness is not, and never will be a strength. So, reframe your thinking on what your strengths actually are (maybe decisiveness, or insight, or something similar). Then prayerfully pursue growth in mercy alongside of your strengths. Thinking of mercy as the “polar opposite” of your strengths is counterproductive.
I’ve had a similar experience form the other end. I’ve spent years trying to learn to be more direct, more honest, to be stronger. I’ve hurt people by not being forceful when I need to be. I’ve worn that as a badge of honor at times too. I’m the kind and gracious guy and that is so much better than being the guy who seems to run people over. So, I will never do that perfectly either but I’m learning. Thanks for the word Marko. We are all on a journey of change empowered by the Holy Spirit to do the things that he has gifted us to do and to continually be reworked in the areas where he has not.
” (and the kind of leadership that was more Jesus-y than CEO-like)” Thanks for the article and mercy reminder. I would like to know some of the mercy books that influenced your mindframe.