Innovation is essential for survival, says ministry leader and author Lysa Terkeurst, and the most surprising hindrance to innovation is an unwillingness to forgive. Terkeurst, founder of Proverbs 31 Ministries, told Global Leadership Summit attendees on Friday that fear, offense, anger, and hurt turn into hate in people’s hearts, hampering ideas, risk-taking, and collaboration. But when forgiveness is part of your organizational culture, people feel safe enough to solve mysteries—in other words, to innovate.
Although the concept of forgiveness is usually associated more with spirituality than with management, Terkeurst cites several business articles that point to forgiveness as the “secret” to innovation and success. Animosity and grudge-holding, by contrast, hold employees back and make them risk-averse.
Forgiveness not only helps people accomplish missions, says Terkeurst, but the real payoff is an end to pain. “You deserve to stop suffering because of what other people have done to you,” she says, and forgiving is “the only way to sever the suffering.” Through forgiveness, we trade pain for perspective and wounding for wisdom.
To Heal, Don’t Wait to Forgive
Terkeurst, whose latest book (November 2020) is titled Forgiving What You Can’t Forget, has learned firsthand about the challenge and power of forgiveness. Near the beginning of 2016, she discovered that her husband had been unfaithful, and almost three years later the couple renewed their vows.
When a Christian counselor told a devastated Terkeurst she needed to work on forgiveness near the beginning of that difficult time, she balked. “I don’t think I’m finished hurting yet,” she objected. “I don’t even know if my husband’s sorry or has learned his lesson yet.”
Terkeurst discovered that forgiveness is a God-given command—one that doesn’t first require reconciliation. It’s also a decision and a process, and forgiveness won’t always feel possible. Yet it is, through Jesus’ loving sacrifice for us and the forgiveness he extends to us.
How Forgiveness Creates Safety
At Proverbs 31 Ministries, Terkeurst established the following “Family Values” that allow employees to innovate and take risks:
Getting off the blank page is worthy work.
We give grace because we desperately need it.
This is a safe place for imperfect progress.
These values are key, Terkeurst says, because when resentments are left to simmer, energy is wasted. But when people move on through forgiveness, they can discover, innovate, and truly live. “The human heart was never built to carry the weight of unforgiveness,” she says.
At her organization, Terkeurst advocates a concept called “Dream & Determine.” That openness to new ideas encouraged a receptionist to propose an online Bible study—a decade ago, when such things were unheard of. The experiment took off and has grown exponentially, with 126,000 participants in an online study last year. The receptionist, in turn, is now a senior executive at Proverbs 31 Ministries.
Don’t let offenses define or confine you, Terkeurst advises, and don’t let offenders limit, label, or lure you. Instead, start the process of forgiveness before it’s even needed. “The best time to forgive is before we are ever offended,” she says. “The next best time is now.”
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