By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector

basketball-referee-sportsI have been officiating sports for more than 35 years.

I probably couldn’t have chosen a more difficult hobby or side job than umpiring baseball or refereeing basketball. Officiating is the only profession where you are expected to be perfect when the game begins and get better as it moves on. It’s especially hard when you know about 50 percent of the people aren’t going to like whatever call you make. But that’s part of it. You accept it or you find another hobby or side job.

I stayed on because I love sports. I still do though my body no longer responds as it once did. But I will continue officiating until I think I can no longer be effective.

No matter what officials may say, we all make mistakes. I have missed calls. The best lesson I ever learned (and, sadly, some officials never learn this) is to admit a mistake and move on. Nothing diffuses a coach more than to have him come to you to complain about a call and hear you say, “Coach, I’m sorry, but I missed it. I can’t change it so we need to move on.” Normally, they look a little stunned, but they accept it. Some will have to get in the last word, “Well, okay  but don’t miss another one.” In that case, I let them have the last word because I deserved it.

That principle has also worked well for me in the profession God called me to as editor of the Baptist and Reflector. An editor often has to make judgment calls. Sometimes we have to write stories or columns under extreme time constraints and we aren’t as careful as we should be. I am not talking about typos or grammatical errors. We try to limit those, but they still appear. I am referring to how something is worded or how it may be perceived by the readers. I have always maintained that while people accuse journalists of writing with a bias (and some do), readers also read with a bias. I am constantly amazed (and sometimes amused or deeply saddened) when readers tell me what they thought I meant after reading one of my columns. Their interpretation normally is nowhere close to what I intended.

I recently wrote a column that upset some people. I sometimes try to use humor to make a point. Unfortunately, as my wife often reminds me, I am not as funny as I think I am. Hindsight is 20/20 and on reflection I should have worded it differently. To those who called my hand on it, I apologized. I stand behind the premise of what I wrote, but I could have done a better job in making my point.

I have learned from that experience and will be more careful in future opinion pieces.

Sadly, there are some people who will never admit they made a mistake — much less apologize.

This happens in every segment of society (just listen to all the political rhetoric) and even in our churches.

It’s especially tragic when this occurs in our churches. Christians, of all people, should be the first to admit when they are wrong and apologize. In fact, Scripture demands it. See Matthew 5:23-24 and Luke 17:3-4 for a quick refresher course on making amends.

Leaders need to lead and sometimes the best way to lead is to admit you made a mistake, sincerely apologize, and move on. Together, we can do more than we can apart. As Matthew 12:25 reminds us: “… no city or house divided against itself will stand.”