The Art of Asking Forgiveness

posted in: Conflict, Humility, Obedience | 0

by Michael Hare, Guest Writer

The ushers moved with near military precision as they distributed the communion elements in the large church I was visiting.  Then I saw one usher break formation and walk over to whisper in the ear of a fellow usher.  They spoke quietly, prayed together briefly, and then returned to their duties.

What I assumed was happening was later confirmed:  As the pastor had invited the congregation to prepare their hearts for communion, one usher was convicted that he had an unresolved issue with his brother and felt compelled to reconcile before taking communion.

While some might think this conversation should have waited, I believe it is a wonderful example of the urgency of reconciliation Jesus commands:

“If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift” (Matt. 5:23-24, NIV).

It is my responsibility to initiate reconciliation not only when I am the offender, but also when I have been sinned against.

“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over” (Matt. 18:15 NIV).

No matter who is responsible for the lion’s share of the blame, whether my part in the offense is large or small, God’s heart clearly directs me to take the initiative to reconcile.

To lead to reconciliation, though, an apology must be real. For examples of ineffective apologies, just listen to politicians on the news! “If I’ve done anything to offend you” is probably the worst. A close second is, “I’m sorry if you feel offended.” “Ifs” and “buts” have no place in real apologies.

While a fake apology pours salt in the wound, a well-intentioned and sincerely worded apology can often soften the heart of a person who has been offended.

Gary Chapman and Jennifer Thomas list five kinds of apology statements that have been shown to be effective.

  1. “I am sorry.” (Expressing regret.)
  2. “I was wrong.” (Accepting responsibility.)
  3. “What can I do to make it right?” (Making restitution.)
  4. “I’ll try not to do it again.” (Genuinely repenting.)
  5. “Will you please forgive me?” (Asking forgiveness.)*

These authors’ research indicates that different people need to hear different words for the apology to be most effective for them.  When we don’t know which “language of apology” the other person needs to hear, they suggest a simple solution: Use all five.



  1. Is there an unresolved conflict between you and another person?
  2. What next step can you take to pursue reconciliation?
  3. Even if the other person is unresponsive, can you choose to no longer hold ill feelings and unforgiveness against him or her?


* Gary Chapman and Jennifer Thomas, When Sorry Isn’t Enough: Making Things Right with Those You Love, (Chicago: Northfield Publishing, 2013).


Mike Hare is the chaplain for Compassion International where his responsibilities include conflict resolution training for both domestic and international staff.  He earned his Ph.D. in Conflict Analysis and Resolution with a primary focus in organizational conflict resolution.

As a member of the Living Stones Associates consulting team since 2003, he serves as lead consultant for our Church Conflict Consulting Track. His book, When Church Conflict Happens (Moody Press), is scheduled for release in April 2019.

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