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How to be more vulnerable without freaking out your church

Unsplash/Kelly Sikkema
Unsplash/Kelly Sikkema

Vulnerability is a two-edged sword. Many appreciate the honesty of tender leaders revealing their secret struggles. Overshare anxieties, however, and you can disrupt the church with unnecessary angst.

Jesus was vulnerable. The incarnation demonstrates the vulnerability of God. Someone had to change baby Jesus’ diaper. Someone had to teach God to speak and walk—it was His mother, Mary. Vulnerability is not something to avoid. God was intentionally vulnerable. Pastors should be as well.

How can you achieve the balance of genuine vulnerability?

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Share with strategy, not just emotion. When emotions lead, you are less likely to consider the impact on those receiving your feelings. It’s hard to be thoughtful when you unload on others to release your own burdens. Every person needs friends who can help lighten the load of a heavy season. But you should not use your position as a pastor or church leader to trap people into hearing about your problems.

Consider who needs to hear your problem. Get in the pulpit and scream, “I just can’t take it anymore!” Or meet with a close confidant and make the same emotional outburst. There is a big difference between dumping emotion on the entire congregation and venting with a friend or accountability partner. Different audiences require different strategies when expressing deep emotions.

The larger the audience, the more careful you should be. For example, I can be more intimate with my staff in our Tuesday meetings than with the congregation during Sunday morning worship. When pastors share publicly about an inner struggle, an entire room can illuminate with inspiration. Or quickly deflate in awkwardness. Often, the difference is one of the size and make-up of the audience.

Include optimism with your authenticity. When giving declines precipitously, church leadership should address the issue. “We’re in a tough spot financially” is the correct message, but it’s incomplete. Authenticity with optimism adds, “Here is the way I believe God will help us through this season.”

Use weakness to connect rather than to draw sympathy. Showing your weakness increases your ability to connect with others. Jesus is the supreme example. The humanity of Christ was necessary for Him to sympathize with us. The point of the incarnation was not so Jesus could draw sympathy from us but rather so He could connect to us. Vulnerability can be used for either selfless or selfish reasons. Pastors and church leaders should express weakness to serve others rather than trying to garner sympathy.

Give details only when they are helpful. The more details you give, the more dramatic the issue becomes. On the rare occasion I preach while sick, I will let the church know I’m not feeling well. It’s a small gesture of vulnerability. But I don’t spend several minutes describing my symptoms lest everyone thinks I’m dying.

Pastors and church leaders should always be honest. Sometimes vulnerability is a key part of being honest. But don’t share too much. And don’t share with the wrong group. A misguided vulnerability will add too much anxiety into the church culture and has the potential to destabilize the congregation. You can be vulnerable without freaking out your church.

Originally published at Church Answers.

Sam Rainer is president of Church Answers and pastor at West Bradenton Baptist Church in Florida. 

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