Many pastors, this one included, have a hard time opening up and being vulnerable with those around them. The lethal cocktail of pride and insecurity, combined with the belief that people need us to be an ever-stable, always-faithful, never-failing rock, causes some pastors to suffer in silence, struggle in secret, and suffocate in isolation. This sad tendency is destructive for the church, but deadly for the pastor.
I hear a lot about growing our churches, preaching, and leadership, but little about the need for pastors to grow in their vulnerability. This is a problem. If you’re a pastor, I want to share three reasons I think you and I need to strive for healthy vulnerability with those in our lives.
1. Vulnerability Is Humbling
The Apostle Peter said, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand…”(1 Peter 5:6). Peter emphasizes that humility is an action we take, not just an emotion we feel. Humility is the product of daily decisions to choose the humble path. Few things are more humbling than opening up and being vulnerable with others. It’s humbling to expose our insecurity, fear, and mistakes. The very act kills our pride, cultivates humility, and forces us to find our identity in Christ rather than people’s perception of our personal strength.
2. Vulnerability Is Humanizing
We live in a culture hungry for heroes. People are desperate to be delivered from whatever it is that ails them. In the church, this means the preacher/pastor is often held up as the hero everyone leans on, runs to, and trusts in to save them. The problem is, pastors are helpless sinners, not heroes. Sadly, some perpetuate this problem by celebrating their strengths, only discussing their sin in the past tense, and never opening up about their weaknesses. Conversely, when we as pastors lead from our vulnerability, it makes us human and points the people we shepherd to Jesus, the only true Hero we all need.
3. Vulnerability Is Helpful
If you are a pastor, you are called to serve as an example of a life lived in pursuit of Jesus. This is why the qualifications for eldership Paul laid out in the pastoral epistles are nothing more than a description of a God-glorifying life (1 Tim. 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9). This doesn’t mean that we should pretend to be perfect. As pastors we suffer, hurt, and doubt, just like our people. If we don’t open up about our own struggles in these areas, we can’t help them follow Jesus in the midst of their own.
Now, before we run off and verbally vomit on the next church member we’re scheduled to meet with, a few words of caution:
- First, vulnerability is not about drawing attention to ourselves, but Christ. We open up in order to draw people in and point them to Jesus.
- Second, the pulpit is not our confessional. Preachers are called to proclaim the authority of God’s Word, not place their own deficiencies on display for all to see. Vulnerability is a tool in the belt, but don’t make your story the sermon.
- Finally, practice appropriate disclosure. Not everyone in your church needs to know everything you struggle with. Know the difference between the friends you live life with and the people you’re called to serve as their pastor.
If you’re not a pastor, I’d encourage you to pray for yours. His task is taxing and his stress is substantial. God’s working in and through him just like He’s working in and through you. You can partner with the Spirit in this work through prayer.
If you’re a pastor, your people don’t need you up on a pedestal, they don’t need you to be their hero, and they certainly don’t need you to pretend to be perfect. They need you to remember that Christ’s grace is sufficient for you and that His power is made perfect through your weakness, not your strength (2 Cor.12:9). You may be able to preach that; the question is, can you practice it? By God’s grace and with the Spirit’s help, you can. Seize Christ’s strength, open up, and reach out to those around you today.