Church Leadership and Vulnerability
As leaders in ministry, we are looked upon to set an example for those who follow our guidance. It goes without saying that we should be above reproach, honest, consistent, loving, fair, just, and people of integrity. There are many scriptures that speak to these characteristics (just take a look at what the apostle Paul wrote to his mentee’ Timothy for examples).
It’s true that a leader should possess a certain level of spiritual maturity (again, Paul talks about these qualities in his letters). Leaders should know the Word of God, not be swayed by every wind of doctrine (Ephesians 4:14) and be able to live out the Word that we teach and preach on a daily basis. There are countess books by authors such as John Maxwell who expound greatly on the concept of leadership and what makes an effective leader.
Recently the question of transparency and vulnerability in leadership has entered my mind. Yes, leaders are to be examples to those around us, but how far should we take the example? The issue I’ve seen recently is the fact that in many instances, church leaders are placed on pedestals by those whom they lead. Leaders are saddled with sometimes unrealistic expectations of perfection and super-human strength (and no I’m not talking about Superman or Wonder Woman strength), and are expected to always “take a licking and keep on ticking” (anyone remember the old commercials for Timex watches…I guess I’m dating myself lol). Leaders are sometimes expected to be able to withstand any and everything and keep going as nothing has happened…nothing should be able to faze them, right?
However, sometimes the people we lead (and us as well) forget one very important point: Leaders are human beings! We experience emotions like sadness, anger, and frustration. We get tired and sometimes feel like throwing in the towel (or at least taking a hiatus). We sometimes get confused and are unclear about a decision we need to make. We sometimes feel disappointment when things in our lives and ministries don’t turn out the way we thought they should. I could go on and on, but I think you get what I’m saying.
So in light of that, how does a leader balance his or her own vulnerability with the need to set an example? I’m certainly not an expert in this area, but my thoughts are this: it’s ok to be vulnerable and transparent to a certain extent. How can this openness benefit those around us? Being open with some of our struggles can help remind people of our humanness. Just because God has called someone into ministry or leadership doesn’t elevate a person to the level of perfection. Everyone struggles with many of the issues I mentioned before, whether we’re a leader or not. We need to stop worshipping people (after all, that’s idolatry – go back to the Old Testament to remind yourself about what God says regarding idolatry), and remember that all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23).
Being open with our concerns can also be an encouragement to those around us. If you’re dealing with an issue, our followers are watching us to see how we’re handling a situation. Are we living in defeat because we’re facing challenges, or are we standing on the Word of God and in faith to help us overcome? Paul reminds us that we are more than conquerors (Romans 8:37)! And we may experience emotions as a result of our situations (and sometimes those emotions are visibly seen on our faces and in our eyes), but our faith helps us to keep going, and can serve as an example for others experiencing similar situations.
Vulnerability and transparency are not easy. Our egos sometimes don’t want to admit that we are flawed or imperfect. But I believe a certain level of vulnerability can be healthy and helpful, not only for us, but for those who follow us. However, I would caution that we be careful to display wisdom regarding our vulnerability. Everyone can’t handle hearing everything (AMEN somebody), and we never want to be a stumbling block (1 Corinthians 8:9, NIV) to anyone. We’re not going on Dr. Phil to tell it all (of course, this is an exaggeration, but you get my point). We probably shouldn’t share every last one of our issues and concerns, but there are some issues that if shared the right way, can help strengthen someone else.
Your decision to be vulnerable can be a blessing to you and to others but we must be wise. Every spiritual leader should have a spiritual mentor who has traveled the road you’re currently on, and provide you with Godly advice and can help counsel you through those issues that everyone’s not ready to hear. Ultimately, we should seek God’s guidance about what areas to be transparent in, when and with whom. Stepping outside of God’s will in this area could prove to be disastrous.
So leaders, I believe it’s ok to be vulnerable and transparent. And followers, I believe it’s ok for your leader to be vulnerable and transparent. Leaders are human, and we’re all trying to accomplish the same thing: to live fully for Christ, live a victorious life, and to look forward to the promise of eternal life in Christ Jesus. Whether you’re a leader or a follower, we’re all in this thing together.
Just my $0.02.