She sat in the second row. Long brown hair. A high-school look to her, and yet, her eyes belied way too many journeys to fit into a 16-year-old time frame.
I was teaching a class about ministry and dark places. Not so much about ministry in dark places, but about the darkness we and/or our spouses bring with us into ministry. I started the hour by saying, "Unfortunately, I'm qualified to teach this class." (For more about that, see my Leadership Journal article.)
Her tears came slowly. They'd been held close under the lids, but 20 minutes into the hour, they could no longer contain what had collected there. I showed a clip from Seabiscuit?the part where an injured racehorse was about to be put down, and a stable hand yells, "Stop. I'll save you the bullet. I'll take him." Cut to the scene when a horse buyer (played by Jeff Bridges) asks the stable hand if the horse will ever race again. "No, not that one." The horse buyer is silent, unable to take in the meaning. Then he asks the obvious. "Why? Why are you bothering with him then?" The stable hand responds, "Because I can. Just because someone's banged up a bit doesn't mean he isn't worth anything."
Banged up leaders. Banged up Christian leaders. The tawdry details of leaders' indiscretion and moral failure have filled a lot of newspapers and talk shows of late. We scratch our heads and wonder how these things can happen. Some of us retreat into denial. It didn't really happen. The charges were trumped up. Others of us get sick to the stomach. One more example of hypocrisy. No wonder Christianity is a bad word in America. Some of us take the opportunity to reflect on our own leadership. We think about our own failings, our own destructive, secret habits. And we have no idea what we'd do if anyone ever found out. And if we're honest, more than a few of us reach for the shotgun.
I wondered about this young woman, and the pain she was carrying. Were her tears about herself ? her own dark places? Or was she married to someone with a secret, a leader with a double life? I didn't know. But I do know that her entire countenance changed at one point. It was toward the end of the hour, and the class had been discussing strategies for dealing with fallen leaders. They'd all been wrestling with specific situations in their various congregations, situations where no one confronted their leaders' destructive patterns until it was too late. Until much damage had been done. We had been affirming to each other how important truth-telling is, more important than saving a "career" or saving a congregation's squeaky-clean image. But, then I said truth must always come in the context of grace extended in tangible ways (read, an intentional healing process that usually requires much time and sacrifice). I explained that truth and mercy were the two inseparable antidotes to darkness. Then, the light of hope dawned on her face.