“Stop talking and sit,” I spoke firmly. My unruly student chronically arrived late then engaged in a hello tour with his buddies for the past two days, before sitting down. Today, I interrupted the tour. He stared at me, still standing, and snarled, “Make me.” Unused to such blatant defiance, I stood wordlessly. The kid outweighed me by a good thirty pounds and beat my 5’7” height hands down. I briefly imagined a resolution scenario that couldn’t possibly happen logistically nor legally for that matter.
I took three steps towards him and repeated my command, glaring at him ferociously. The class sat silent, wondering which of us would survive. Inches from his desk, he continued glaring. Finally, he flinched and said, “Alright already. Sheesh. Havta make sucha big deal about it.”
Shaking inwardly, I resumed teaching as if I didn’t care. But I did. At lunchtime, I told my sorry tale to a seasoned teacher. “Well, you’re as much to blame as he is, you know.” Whaaaaaaat?!? “First, you let him get away with that for two days. Secondly, you issued a command you couldn’t enforce. You showed your students that you weren’t in charge.” He then proceeded to share the book, “Love and Logic,” with me.
I highly recommend this book now to parents and teachers. It trains you how to create enforceable rules for any situation. For example, my first classroom rule became, “I only teach when students are silent and listening.” My classes learned very quickly that when I couldn’t teach, it didn’t change the content of tests and homework. It simply made for unprepared students when they didn’t allow me adequate instruction time.
Getting back to this instance, though, I shuffled into the teacher’s lounge that day looking for sympathy. I perceived myself as an innocent victim of a belligerent student and longed for encouragement. Instead I heard some hard truth and recognized that I was not blameless. I created an environment that allowed disrespectful behavior. What was my plan if that student hadn’t backed down?
I’ve heard teachers, parents, leaders, etc., complain just like me. Sometimes as I listen, it’s easy to see they share some fault. When allowed, I talk honestly, just as that wise teacher did. Honest conversation transformed my classroom management style. I recognized my failures. I changed.
This summer, I’d like to engage in honest conversations based around the leadership qualities in Titus 1:6-7. “That’s for church leaders,” I hear some of you saying. Not exclusively. Yes, Paul is speaking to Titus specifically about putting elders with specific character qualities in place. I submit to you that if anyone is following you, you are a leader. Second, as a leader, you are “pastoring,” your followers, be they children or corporate vice presidents. Do you want people to imitate your flaws or your strengths? Your dominant qualities will determine your destiny and influence your followers.
Each week this summer, I’d like to ponder one or two of the qualities. I encourage you to read Titus 1: 6-9 several times in different translations. For now, let’s continue to look at that first quality Paul calls, “blameless.”
Over the years I’ve observed countless broken relationships. More times than I wish, one side of a conflict refuses to acknowledge fault or weakness, just like I did in my classroom. At times, we are all oblivious to the effect of our words and actions or inactions on people. Eventually though, a steady drip of flawed behavior from my life fills another person’s cup to overflowing. This can demonstrate itself as an explosion, passive aggressive behavior, discouragement and disengagement.
We all love sympathy and being blameless. The attention given to “victims” is intoxicating. The truth is, we are rarely as innocent as we think. I think Paul strategically placed it first in the list. The dictionary defines blameless as “guiltless, above reproach, impeccable, virtuous.” The Greek here means “free from defect or fault.” Gracious! How in the world are we to live up to that?
For me, maintaining a blameless character is a never-ending process of increased self-knowledge. As I am honest with myself and others in recognizing my failings, I can keep things right in my relationships. The more I understand the trickle down effects of my character flaws, the more I am motivated to allow the Holy Spirit to change me, refine me.
Living a blameless life is doable only for transparent, authentic people. It’s impossible if you insist on wearing masks and behaving as if all others except you, are flawed. Oh, we’d never say that, but lots of times we act as if it’s true. I’ve worked under leaders who take no ownership of character defects. In a conflict between them and another, they take no blame. If you disagree with them, be prepared to leave the encounter bloodied.
Additionally, blameless means we don’t live one way when people are watching and then another when we are alone. We also can’t behave all nicey nice at church and then treat family, co-workers or underlings in crummy ways. A gemstone without fault is pure no matter how you examine it. Blameless lives are true and genuine no matter who is looking at them or where.
I don’t want to be that leader who leaves behind a steady wake of frustrated, discouraged people, do you? I’m asking God to show me, frequently, places where I need to take some blame. How about you?