The statement resonated so deeply within me. It was a recent social media post from a friend. As I read I couldn’t help but feel my inner man jump with affirmation. Almost flippantly within the context of a longer post he said, “We don’t have to allow sin against us to produce sin within us.” I felt like shouting, PREACH!
Isn’t this one of the greatest challenges when leading others? We internalize strife and erect great relational walls so that we never have to experience pain or rejection. Unchecked, we have a propensity to equate thick skin with a hardened heart. In fact, it is often the most offensive and demeaning person who lauds that others should develop this thick skin. Those unapologetic few simply want to be able to speak without reserve, restraint or filter with no negative ramifications. It just. Won’t. Happen.
If life and death are truly in the tongue then we are not only responsible for what we say. We are also responsible for the littered, bloody bodies left behind our words. It’s not just the spoken word, but those unspoken that can also lead to a hardened heart. The disgusted glance, the roll of the eyes, and deliberate avoidance mar the hapless souls who cross the path of the insecure leader.
They exhort, “Develop thicker skin. Don’t let anything hurt you or offend you.”
I reply, “Develop the Fruit of the Spirit. You can’t love from a distance.”
So which statement is right?
There is a great deal of validity to developing thick skin, but the purpose of thick skin is not so that we can say or do as we please, or so that we no longer have to feel. We must develop thick skin to prevent untruths from penetrating the tender heart. The problem with most leaders is that they allow insecurities to keep their skin thin and expose their heart to suffering. In doing so they only have one course of action. Harden the heart. Don’t let anyone in, refuse to trust, and push others down instead of building them up. Highlight their glaring mistakes instead of helping them to overcome and excel. It’s the soul tattoo of the insecure leader. When they talk to you about others they frequently mention their shortcomings. Rest assured, they will do the same to you. Your shortcomings will also become their tagline.
The insecure leader does not always realize what they are doing. They may be 100% accurate and 1000% wrong. The insecure leader uses fear, intimidation, and manipulation to get the results they’re after. The insecure leader will reduce others if it makes them look wiser or stronger. The difference between the insecure leader and the secure leader could not be more noticeable.
The secure leader will always lead people to think the best of their co-workers and co-laborers, not plant seeds of doubt as to their ineffectiveness. They will highlight their strengths and cover their weaknesses. They will praise them in public and in private. They will speak life. The environment of the secure leader is safe. Not easy, but safe (much like our relationship with God the Father). The secure leader finds joy when those they leads surpass them in greatness and accomplishment. They never diminish or taint the successes of others with snide remarks or devaluing quips.
While this should be magnified in the life the spiritual leader, the spiritual leader also contends with the spiritual realm. After all, the enemy does not waste bullets on dead soldiers. If you’re an effective leader, but also an unbeliever, he may very well leave you to your own devices. The spiritual leader is warring for eternal destinies so their temptations are that much greater.
We all know a pastor or spiritual leader who has made the mistake of thinking they could possess thin skin AND a softened heart only to be wounded beyond repair. They become jaded toward people, toward vision and toward their own calling. Doubt, regret, and judgment become their native tongue and they relive the same wounds time and again which feeds into their insecurity.
You may also know a leader who has thick skin and a hardened heart. The challenge with this leader is that they may actually be quite successful. Their thick skin protects their heart from untruths and allows them to hear the voice of God.
This may lead you to ask, “If thick skin protects the heart, how then did their heart become hard?” Great question. The answer is most often found in the past. Their heart hardened because of a past wounding at a time when they had thin skin. They thickened their skin, but never dealt with the wounded heart. These are the most vexing of all leaders. They are now unoffended but also untouchable, isolated, and withdrawn from relationships. They don’t trust but they don’t distrust either. They can be open and sincere one moment, stubborn and uncaring the next. They are at conflict within themselves. They realize the need for thick skin but they don’t know what to do with the heart. It hurts too much, takes too much time, and they have better things to do than revisit the past to reclaim their tenderness.
God’s promise to the people of Israel who had hardened their hearts and served idols becomes prophetic to today’s leader.
“And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart.” – Ezekiel 36:26
The benefits of having thick skin and a tender heart are numerous:
Thick skin will help you to survive the critics and the tender heart will lead you to pray for and bless them.
Thick skin will provide steadfastness and the tender heart will allow you to be transparent.
Thick skin will prevent you from being easily offended and the tender heart will help you learn to laugh at yourself.
Thick skin will help you recognize the minority but the tender heart will keep you focused on the majority.
Thick skin will cause you to forge on through challenges and the tender heart will keep you responsive to His presence.
No leader is perfect. There was only one perfect leader and he had an abundance of critics and even his followers doubted him from time to time. If anyone had the right to lead with thick skin and a hardened heart, it was Jesus. But He knew the right way… the better way.
Keep your skin thick and your heart tender. You don’t have to let sin against you produce sin within you.