Leadership Mistakes: Owning Up

Guest Post: David Hertweck served as senior associate pastor of Trinity A/G in Clay, NY for over eleven years. He served as the lead pastor of inside-out student ministries and element young adults ministries and as a worship leader. He is an ordained Assembly of God minister. He presently serves as the District Youth Ministries and Chi Alpha Director.

One of the most difficult tasks for any leader is when it comes to owning up to their own mistakes. We’re frightfully proficient at deflecting blame and intuitively skilled at protecting self. We carefully craft our words or strategically choose silence to avoid owning up. If you’re anything like me, you have an “inner lawyer” that can readily defend your actions and motives. But everyone loses when leaders don’t own up. Churches and organizations need leaders who own up.

What are the benefits of owning up?

1) The team you lead will be attracted to your transparency and more likely to trust your leadership.

2) Your honesty gives the team a better (and safer!) starting point for the necessary learning and growing conversations.

3) You’re modeling for your team how to humbly own up.

Where do we find the motivation to own up? The same place we find the motivation and power for all true spiritual growth: the Gospel.

The Gospel frees us to own up by giving us a true starting point: we’re sinful beyond belief. Recognizing our own depravity and tendencies keeps us from placing ultimate hope in our leadership skills or in our abilities to make things work and make people happy. When I place my ultimate hope in being “The Leader”, I will be dangerously busy maintaining that image and I’ll find myself becoming unusually angry or down when I fail. The reason? I’ve made my leadership status my true god and when I fail, it has no power to forgive me. It will only crush me. The result? I’ll never own up.

The Gospel also frees us to own up by giving us a true resting place: we’re loved beyond hope because of Jesus. As your heart rests and rejoices in that unchanging truth, you won’t be a slave to approval or achievement because the cross is the source of both of those things. Your true worth to God is never at risk when you make mistakes. The result? You’ll be humble in all your wins and you’ll own up to all your mistakes.

Question: Why is owning-up difficult for you as a leader? Share your thoughts and let’s learn from one another.



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  • illuminatefreak

    I will simply respond with a quote from a ridiculously awesome devotional book titled “A Gospel Primer For Christians” by Milton Vincent.

    “The Cross exposes me before the eyes of other people, informing them of the depth of my depravity. If I wanted others to think highly of me, I would conceal the fact that a shameful slaughter of the perfect Son of God was required that I might be saved. But when I stand at the foot of that Cross, I am left uncomfortably exposed before their eyes. Indeed, the most humiliating gossip that could ever be whispered about me is blared from Golgotha’s hill; and my self-righteous reputation is left in ruins in the wake of its revelations. With the worst facts about me thus exposed to the view of others, I find myself feeling that I have truly nothing left to hide.”

    Thankfully, the more exposed I see that I am by the Cross, the more I find myself opening up to others about ongoing issues of sin in my life. (Why would anyone be shocked to hear of my struggles with past and present sin when the Cross already told them I am a desperately sinful person?) And the more open I am in confessing my sins to fellow-Christians, the more I enjoy the healing of the Lord in response to their grace-filled counsel and prayers. Experiencing richer levels of Christ’s love in companionship with such saints, I give thanks for the gospel’s role in forcing my hand toward self-disclosure and the freedom that follows.

    JAMES 5:16
    “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.”

    EPHESIANS 3: 14, 17-19
    For this reason I kneel before the Father… so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

    • David Hertweck

      Dang. That quote is so rich. Thanks for sharing.

  • http://twitter.com/BrandonScholes Brandon Scholes

    What I’ve found as a leader as well is
    that when we allow our mistakes to trickle down into our leaders and
    students, that new boundaries begin to be pushed. We all know how
    people (especially teens) love to push new boundaries. The problem
    then becomes, where you allow one person to push, then another begins
    to push, and before you know it, it’s a long up-hill battle of
    behavior that needs to be corrected.

    It sounds so “mom-ish” of me to
    say, but it’s easier and better to be completely honest and up-right
    in the beginning. I’ve endured way to many up-hill battles that could
    have been taken care of in such an easier fashion by simply calling
    myself “out” on what I’ve done. I’m just thankful that God’s
    grace is more abundant then my mistakes.

    • David Hertweck

      That’s solid insight and a valuable discovery Brandon.

  • http://www.smarterym.com/ Aaron Helman

    If I’m honest, it’s because I like it that there are people who think I’m really good at my job and I don’t want them to think less of me.

    The funny thing is that they will think MUCH less of me if my mistake comes out any other way. Double whammy, I suppose.

    • David Hertweck

      Spot on man. In my experience the reason I need people to think I’m good at my job is because I get my validation from that perception. I heard Tim Keller explain righteousness once as “a validating performance record that opens doors”. Accomplishment for the purpose of approval and acceptance. Once I heard that i realized that what I was doing was trying to build a righteousness of my own. And that’s so exhausting. Thanks for your transparency.

    • David Hertweck

      Just checked out your blog Aaron – really great stuff man!

  • http://twitter.com/justinadour Justin Adour

    It is simple for me to directly answer your ending question. Reality is that people are not as gracious, forgiving, or patient as God. It is easy to rest in the grace of God because my theology tells me that this is His nature. However, human nature is far from being so abundantly gracious. The fear of not performing and not measuring up to the expectations of those watching is an exhausting, and perceptually necessary, task. In a world driven by performance, these expectations aren’t always a figment of one’s imagination. For some, this can also be a “job security” issue. Therefore, moving past the expectations and into genuine openness seems impossible for some.

    Obviously, this is a treacherous path to walk because it inevitably leads me to self reliance. This self reliance affects my ability to get help when I need it and could go as far as to change my heart’s soteriological understanding of how God saved me. But if the work of Christ is sufficient and my reliance is on His work, then I have no choice but to reveal myself and remove my mask.

    As you said, “As someone that has learned to mask game well, I know that, while I think I’m being effective, Recognizing our own depravity and tendencies keeps us from placing ultimate hope in our leadership skills or in our abilities to make
    things work and make people happy.” I have learned to wear a mask well too. However, the Gospel message forces me to remember that even at my best I am pathetically short of the mark. My hope is in the work of Jesus.

    As stated below, JAMES 5:16 has to be a priority. If I don’t have people to do this with, I need to. This is easily my biggest issue in this area. Finding people to do life with in this way can be tough, however, is necessary. Also, I need to be willing to put in the work necessary to create an atmosphere of grace. When I reflect the grace of God, it helps others to do the same. Then, when there is an atmosphere of grace, that I have helped develop, it allows for me to drop my guard.

    I’m rambling, but great and encouraging post. You’re forcing me to evaluate this aspect of my life…again.

    • David Hertweck

      Thanks so much for letting us read as you wrestle through the tensions and the heart compulsion to protect or prove itself. May we learn more and more to speak the Gospel to ourselves and to each other – tirelessly!

    • http://twitter.com/BrandonScholes Brandon Scholes

      Love your last paragraph on grace Justin….I can def relate to what you wrote.

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