How to Apologize like a Man

I became uneasy the moment I saw her name on my schedule.

A slight anxiety stirred my soul. Oddly enough, if asked in that moment, I couldn’t even tell you why. I immediately texted my assistant. “Does she even attend our church any longer? Would you please check the attendance records to see if I need to meet with her?” Sure enough, she’d been attending faithfully for the last two months, and I hadn’t even recognized her. My assistant replied in text, “Is everything alright? Would you like me to keep this appointment on your schedule?” Something inside me shouted, “Cancel the appointment.” But our policy suggests that any faithful attendee may schedule a “coffee with the pastor” on any given Friday.

“No Melanie. It’s fine. I’m looking forward to reconnecting.”

I wasn’t. 

And I wasn’t sure why.

After nearly eighteen years of pastoring the same church, I’d made enough mistakes to make even a middle-schooler blush in shame. But I hadn’t a clue what brought on this sudden since of dread and apprehension. Something went wrong with this former church member and now I was going to have to relive whatever it was that made her leave in the first place.

In such moments my unruly mind tends to race to the worst possible scenario. She would likely get in my face. Man, I hate confrontation! Yelling, there will definitely be yelling. Oh, I can already feel my headache coming on. And tears would be shed. I knew that I would likely watch this woman break down and start crying in front of me.

I would likely have to apologize.

Something to which I’ve admittedly grown accustomed but have never really enjoyed.

An act in which I can claim a level of expertise, due to thousands of hours practiced.

A pill that tastes bitter on the tongue but, I’ve learned, has endless medicinal benefits.

Yep! When a man apologizes…

He reflects the Gentleness of Jesus

Jesus! A wimp? No!

Jesus! A Gentle Man? Absolutely!

Jesus was openly slandered yet did not retort. Jesus was physically beaten yet did not retaliate.

Isaiah 53:7 He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth.

It took godlike strength resist violent vengeance. He was gentle as a lamb.

Jesus was equally at home in the Throne Room of Heaven as He was in the carpenter’s shop of Nazareth.

Isaiah 57:15 For thus says the High and Lofty One who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: “I dwell in the high and holy place, with him who has a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.

Jesus had complete access to ultimate power yet chose to be gentle with those he encountered. Perhaps that he might demonstrate this trait to his disciples.[1]

Matthew 11:29 Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

She was smiling when she arrived at the local Starbucks where I take most of my appointments. She approached me with an awkwardly enthusiastic, “Hello Pastor! It’s so good to see you.” 

I noticed her hands were slightly trembling and our eyes didn’t meet when we exchanged pleasantries.

She was nervous to be here…clearly more nervous than I.

This, embarrassingly, put me at ease.

I was in control.

After ordering my Carmel Macchiato and her Venti Strawberry Water we sat down, and still without a clue as to the reason for our meeting I casually asked, “Catch me up! How have you been?” It was then I saw in her eyes the reason she’d booked that appointment – bravery. It emanated from her posture, set her jaw, and pierced my soul. She’d come here to kindly confront the preacher who’d done her wrong.

I’ve learned that when a man apologizes, he not only reflects the gentleness of Jesus he also demonstrates the wisdom of the Father.

He demonstrates the Wisdom of the Father

God is the only being who never need apologize.

He has never said a wrong word, done a wrong thing, or even entertained a wrong thought. He is sinless. Unlike we His creation who can hardly interact with another being without feeling the temptation to lie, steal, envy, or lust. We have plenty of sin. He has plenty of wisdom.

And the Scripture shows us what this wisdom is like. 

James 3:17 But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy.

I like that phrase, “easy to be intreated”. It means a wise person is open to reason, approachable, and willing to yield to another person.[2]

Unfortunately, pastors (along with many leaders in our society) are under the ludicrous assumption that approachability is a weakness rather than a strength. We often project a harsh coldness and lack teachability that unnecessarily harms the flock and elevates our own ego.

“I thought we could clear the air.” She began. “Now that my husband and I have been coming back to Southern Hills these last few months.” She explained that she had rediscovered my teaching online during Covid Quarantine and had been watching faithfully every week for nearly two years. She started quoting recent sermons and laughing about stories I’d told, either to stall the inevitable or gain rapport before she’d have to confront me.

“Pastor, you remember our last interaction.”

I didn’t.

“You remember what you said, right?”

“Honestly,” I replied, “I don’t remember so many things. There have been so many folks who’ve come in and out of the church over the last eighteen years that I…”

Instantly I felt like an idiot. This “thing” that had led her away from the church and had been such a definitive moment in her spiritual journey wasn’t even something I felt compelled to remember. This “thing” that I said.

My heart broke. God’s conviction pierced me directly in the heart. I simultaneously felt the presence of the Lord’s loving embrace and heard His distinctive voice deep inside, “You hurt this woman. Thou art the man!”

“Pastor, you said that God gave me my illness because I had done something wrong, or He was trying to change me into something better.”

It all came back in a flash!

This beloved sister had been in chronic pain and was experiencing debilitating health issues. Our entire church had been praying, yet healing had been elusive. She had come into the church for counsel with her husband, and the zealous young pastor had essentially dismissed her life tragedy with shallow theology and pseudo-psychological platitudes.

She wasn’t wrong. I had said that.

I had said that. I was wrong.[3]

This incredible woman had not come to demand an apology. She had come to freely offer forgiveness. 

And meanwhile, God’s been teaching me that when a man apologizes, he not only reflects the gentleness of Jesus, and demonstrates the wisdom of the Father, he also displays the fruit of the Spirit.

He displays the Fruits of the Spirit

What if there were a way to identify a spirit-filled disciple of Jesus?

Similarly, are there marks of a carnal man?

I wonder, what could the church of Christ do with such a list?

What could you do when analyzing your own behavior?

Galatians 5:19-23 Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatredcontentionsjealousiesoutbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsufferingkindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.

As a child my mother taught me that a true and full apology had three parts.

  1. I’m Sorry – A demonstration of authentic remorse & regret
  2. I Was Wrong – An admission of guilt without the demand of trade
  3. Will You Forgive Me – An honest request putting the decision into the hands of the wronged.

I knew it was time for me to apologize to this woman.

Yet, here is where the internal excuses often begin.

  • She misunderstood what you were trying to say.
  • God does turn bad things into glorious gifts.
  • You’re a good person, pastor. Shake it off.
  • Some people are just too sensitive.
  • Apologies demonstrate weakness.
  • People are just so soft now-a-days. The world is full of snowflakes.
  • Admittance of guilt opens you up to criticism and liability.

Gratefully the Spirit of God overcame the internal spirit of fear rising to the surface and I spoke.

“My dear sister. I’m starting to remember this scenario and it doesn’t surprise me at all that I would say such things to you. Yes, I was young, but it wasn’t youth that led me to say the foolish things I said to my wife – just the other day. I say stupid things – quite often actually – and most of the time these things are innocuous and harmless. However, sometimes they can do real damage, like I did with you, and I am truly sorry for what I said. I feel terribly that my careless words led you on a path away from church for so long. Though I don’t remember the details of what I said, it doesn’t surprise me that I said something like that. My view of God has expanded so much now that I’ve had another decade to study His Word. What I said was wrong. I know you’re not asking for it, but I’d like to ask for your forgiveness.”

Before, I could finish she dropped her eyes and quietly said, “Oh pastor – that’s not why I came here today. I’ve already forgiven you. But it’s good to hear you say this, and I’m so glad to be back in fellowship with you and the rest of the church.”

Somewhere, the modern American leader has been duped into believing bluster and bravado will get you further than honesty and humility. Christian leaders like to see ourselves as the descendants of Jesus; yet we often more closely resemble His antagonistic adversary.

I’m thankful for a sister who graciously forgave me for my hurtful comments. Furthermore, I’m deeply grateful for the many others over the years (I could tell you stories) who have forgiven me for the errors I’ve made in life and ministry. 

Don’t make excuses.

Stop talking about how difficult your road has been.

Swallow your pride and simply learn to apologize.

The men in our society will never know how to protect the weak if we are too insecure to admit when we are wrong. Christian men must lead in the arena of authentic humility. Furthermore, Christian men ought to look at the example of their pastor. A leader who ought to know how to apologize like a man.

But what do you think? Where did I get it right? What did I miss? Dialogue with me on social media or in the comment section below.

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[1] Christ’s notable exception. When Jesus spoke with the religious leaders of his day, He spoke directly, harshly, and without ambiguity. This doesn’t mean Jesus spoke cruelly and without thought. On the contrary, each of His words were perfectly selected for each individual audience. He didn’t see them as unreachable but rather dangerously close to utter destruction. In fact, the New Testament records many Priests, Scribes, and Pharisees came to believe in Christ. You may need to speak bluntly to a religious leader (like this woman did to me), but do so with the purpose of helping rather than hurting, desiring restoration rather than rancor.

[2] Meekness is not weakness, it’s power under control. God the Father has All-Power but doesn’t have to continually demonstrate the extent of His power to those He has under rule. He is clearly in charge, but also approachable. He isn’t the slightest insecure, so He often yields to our requests, and can be seen in scripture as open to reason.

[3] This is not the place to discuss the problem with pain and the theology of healing. Perhaps in a future article.

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