Should I be vulnerable as a leader? How much do I share? What do I share? What if someone uses it against me?
I think everyone in a position of leadership questions whether or not, and to what extent, they can be vulnerable. It’s a tricky piece of leadership to navigate. How much of yourself do you share with those you are leading? I heard a great piece of advice a couple of years back from a Christian leader who said, “I only share the parts of my story that can’t be used against me.” In a longer explanation he continued to say that he only shares those parts of his story that have been healed and aren’t raw wounds waiting to be re-injured.
That makes sense to me. Because, I think in order to be a good leader, and a good pastor, you need to be vulnerable. In other words, a leader needs to be real.
About a year ago, my wife and I found out that our unborn baby had a fatal birth defect that was irreparable and 100% fatal. We were devastated. After weeks of prayer and waiting, we lost the baby, at 14 weeks. God has been faithful. God was in control. God continues to guard our hearts and our minds. Months after that part of our lives was over, and once we had begun to really feel like God had done some solid work healing our hearts, I preached a sermon that talked about our journey.
It was hard to share. I don’t actually think it was the best sermon I have ever preached. There was nothing brilliant about it. But after the service was over, a man came up to me and thanked me for the message. Not because I had said anything profound but simply because I had been honest about a real-life struggle. I didn’t pretend like I was anything other than devastated and angry with God. In his words, “That made you real to me.” I don’t think I’ll ever forget that moment and it will continue to shape my preaching and speaking for the rest of my life.
How are you real with those you serve?
People are becoming better and better at spotting fake leaders; leaders who have public and private lives that are so distinct from one another you would hardly be able to recognize them as the same person. And good! I would never want to follow a fake leader, so I definitely don’t want to lead as a fake leader.
Hypocrisy is probably the biggest challenge to the church right now. I know a lot of people may disagree and say that outside threats to the Church’s way of being is the greatest threat, but, I actually think our greatest enemy is ourselves. Christians do the most harm to our own witness in the world.
So, why do I think it’s important for leaders to be vulnerable? Pete Scazzero writes, “As the leaders go, so goes the church.” If its leaders are vulnerable and authentic people, then the church will learn to also be vulnerable and authentic in the way they live out their faith.
Here are 3 Suggestions for how you can be vulnerable today.
1. Be Honest, You’re Not Perfect
The majority of people in a congregation only see their pastor one day of the week. Sure, there are small groups, Bible studies, pastoral care meetings, leadership meetings etc. For the majority of people, Sunday is the only time they see the pastor of their church. That’s problematic. Here’s the reason why: pastors are often at their best on Sundays. The message is well thought out, planned, and often showcases the best communication skills the pastor has to offer. That’s not a bad thing. We all try to communicate the message of the gospel to the best of our abilities. However, it often creates an illusion that pastors are something they are not; perfect. As pastors and leaders, we all know it, we’re not perfect. So why pretend to be? The best thing we can do with our congregations and organizations is be real, and honest, and admit that we are not perfect.
2. Build an Honest Culture: Encourage Vulnerability
The challenge to creating an honest and vulnerable culture is that not everybody is safe to be honest and vulnerable around. That’s problematic. So as leaders we need to be very careful and make sure that we’re only putting safe people into positions of leadership. Does that mean you have to be perfect in order to become a leader? Absolutely not! But you do have to be on your own personal journey of healing with Jesus.
Bonus: What’s the number one thing I look for in safe leaders? They demonstrate a personal and ongoing relationship with Jesus, and they don’t feel the need or attempt to fix others.
3. Eliminate Shame
Let’s face it, nobody is going to be honest or vulnerable if they’re worried about feeling ashamed. And, for different reasons, the church has been a place of shame for many people.
Eliminating shame, eliminates fear, and I think is the single greatest thing we can do to create an honest and vulnerable culture. So how do you do it? I think it all comes back to the honesty and vulnerability of the leaders. If they are vulnerable and fearless in sharing struggles, I think the church will begin to see that they can be fearless too.
A vision of the Church as vulnerable and authentic—that’s a vision I’d fight for—because that is a vision of the Church as it was meant to be. That is a vision of the Church that reconciles, heals, builds up, and has earned the right to be heard in the public sphere.
The great thing is, nobody is perfect. Hopefully this encourages you to continue to grow – wherever you find yourself today.
How about you?
What do you think about vulnerability in leadership?