How I Changed My Mind

I had convinced myself that I was speaking the truth; and whether it was spoken “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 crock.

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 to be gifted leaders, but also to be 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 he thought I was. I could hardly believe someone would ever use that word to describe me. Then, a few days later, one of the secretaries of the church told me that the other secretaries 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 17 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 growing and changing as a leader? In what areas do you need to be transformed?

13 thoughts on “How I Changed My Mind”

  1. Dude, I really appreciate your candor. At the same time, I am scratching my head a little (not from an actual itch). I can see that this could be a part of your past, but what I have seen in our time together in YMCP and personally has been a much gentler, gracious side of you.

    I guess the way I see you is a person who does have this gift of discernment that leads to a merciless pursuit of truth. It’s a strength that can be used imperfectly, but I see more of the compassion and care than any abuse of it.

  2. Lack of mercy makes you a strong leader can be true… But it sounds like your pride stepped in the way, and you took it wrong. If you are too merciful in your leadership it can be detrimental. This, of course, depends on what your position is. In a business, your decisions will probably always hurt someone. You need just enough mercy to be able to make a decision that hurts fewer people. If you’re too merciful, you won’t be able to make a stand and make the hard decisions.

    Marko – I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I’ve seen your change. I first met you as a workshop leader in Dallas in 2001. You came across as arrogant, condescending and full of yourself to me. 4 years later, I volunteered in Pittsburgh, and saw a caring, listening leader that took the time to chat with me and listen to me. I heard and saw change in your keynotes (Yac had just passed away.)

    Since then, I’ve read your blog posts, your facebook posts, and still see a very different person than the one who led my workshop on how to work with Junior Highs.

    Thank you for your openness and leadership and – your mercy.

  3. YUP, me too!!! I can still remember a seasoned saint God sent into my senior pastor office 20 years ago to be my prayer partner. After many weeks of prayer and sharing our hearts together, he looked at me with compassion and said … “Lanny, God needs to save your personality, too.”

    I, too, bought into the “lie” that I was practicing “Strong Biblical Leadership.” While I steamrolled over perople, plowed around them and even in my stupid pride and arrogance I even blew some people up emotionally & relationally … BUT GOD never let me go!

    I’m still walking through the continual process of learning to show mercy and compassion. Praise God for His patience with me! I shudder to think where I would be if not for the Grace of the LORD for me. By God’s GRACE, I am a different man, husband, friend, father, leader, etc.

    BTW – As a confirming witness, I noticed a MARKed difference in you between your two trips to Haiti while I was with AIM. It’s great to find a fellow sojourner of the faith who is walking with a “limp” like Jacob.

    You are a Mighty Man of God, Marko … keep on following HIS VOICE OF TRUTH!

    Blessings!!!

  4. Marko… this post is incredibly encouraging to me. Especially today. I’ve always been a bit of a rogue and a rebel, often with pride, but lately I’m realizing the dangers of this; whether “ruffling feathers” is a spiritual gift or not it’s not a game or conquest and no matter how much we are called to protect & defend the truth, as bearers of light, we’re called to bear that light with grace & mercy, gentleness and love. We are not called to burn people with the light. So thanks. I needed this today.

  5. And sadly…I’m no longer in ministry because of being “merciful”. I got pushed around and beat up by the congregation, the senior leadership, and parents. After awhile I decided it was too much and resigned…never to return. Now I own my own business and it’s a benefit because I’m able to listen to clients and meet their needs. Sad that in the church being merciful was a liability and in the secular world it’s an asset.

    Obviously there is more to the store but that’s probably a little much for a blog comment.

  6. Marko

    Thank you for sharing this! It is an encouragement to me in my own growth areas, and your willingness to share reminds me of God’s power and ability to remove even the most stubborn flaws in my own life. Thanks Marko!

  7. You a a jerk. Unfortunately so am I. I appreciate your transparency and reminder because I too struggle in this area.

    As someone who has known you for quite a while I will say ai recognize your growth in this area. It’s cool to see how God transforms.

  8. Hey Marko,
    My high school Spanish teacher taught me early on “Be totally honest, but be totally kind.” She was the wife of the pastor of the largest congregation in the county. I learned a lot of things from her. This advice that if your honesty is hurtful, perhaps the way I present it needs to be evaluated. It has helped me in a lot of situations – sometimes just keeping my mouth shut until I could figure out the right words to say. Thanks for the article.
    David

  9. Our youth pastor and I were talking some time ago about the pros and cons of social media, including blogs. I told him that I have two models in how to have an open heart when blogging. One of those is you, the other is Seth Barnes. Thank you for being so candid, yet tactful and appropriate in what you share.

    There were many things you said in this blog that were encouraging, but the one that stands out to me is the idea that, while I may never score high in mercy (either), I can still grow in my ability to practice mercy. Thank you for sharing the insight your mentor gave you. It’s a principle for so many things in our walk.

  10. “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).”

    Stuff like this should be obvious, but it’s just not for so many of us. Thank you for stating it so plainly for all of us.

    Growing and changing to be more like Christ is often very painful, but it’s always worth it. Thank you for sharking, Marko.

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