Vulnerability and leadership

Any of you who have read my blog before know that I place a lot of value in vulnerability. I believe that the basic need we have as human beings is to be part of a community where we can be vulnerable. Because we engage in sinful behaviors we are ashamed of, we turn into defensive, self-justifying people who cannot experience the intimacy we were created for. Christ’s vulnerability on the cross makes it possible for us to be vulnerable with each other and God as part of His body. This is the core of my Christian faith. But I’ve lately been confronted by the question of whether vulnerability is a good quality for me to have as a pastor.

So much of my pastoral identity has been influenced by Henri Nouwen, whose vulnerability is what made me trust his insights. The fact that he seemed unsure of himself made me take him more seriously than other writers who made it clear that they knew how perfectly right they were. I don’t trust people whom I could never imagine crying or speaking irreverently or at least farting on occasion. When another pastor cusses in front of me, for example, I know that I can speak freely with him or her. I stop monitoring everything I say to make sure it’s perfectly theologically correct. Likewise, when I’m talking with a parishioner who seems to be putting on an act for me because I’m a “reverend,” I try to say something irreverent in order to allow for real intimacy to invade our conversation. I assume that because I don’t trust people who aren’t vulnerable with me that I’m supposed to be vulnerable to win others’ trust.

But I’m starting to realize that not everyone thinks like I do. I imagine that what a lot of people seek in a leader is clarity and confidence, not vulnerability. I know that according to the big-shot preachers who have turned living-room size small groups into 10,000 member praise stadiums in 10 years or less, I’m supposed to be a catalyst with stadium-sized hubris and an inspiring vision, not a pathetic, corny guy who shares his flaws to make himself approachable. I guess I just cling to what Paul said about God’s power being made perfect in our weakness. When I stand in front of my congregation, it is always “in weakness with great fear and trembling” (1 Cor 2:3). That’s my story. I don’t know if it will make others want to listen to me. What do you think? Are you more likely to put your trust in a pastor who’s vulnerable or confident? Do you follow leaders who know what they’re doing or those who are very open about the fact that they don’t?

8 thoughts on “Vulnerability and leadership

  1. Please keep clinging to what Paul said. Please. There are very, very few blogs I will read any more. Yours is one of those few and it is precisely because of your honesty, sensitivity, and humility.

  2. Nice post and thanks for doing it. I’m always amazed at someone like Nouwen because he is so honest. I read the Road to Daybreak last year, a wonderful example. As important as vulnerability is, it can’t be faked, like the hyper emotional conversion. I think authenticity is important and assumes a vulnerability. So being your true self is apart of that too. Thanks and peace!

  3. I am far more drawn to vulnerability than to confidence. Perhaps it’s a generational thing? People my parents age seem to be more interested in confidence than vulnerability (I’m 28), whereas my friends seem to interpret confidence as b.s.

    • At the same time, it’s the preachers with impenetrable hubris who fill stadiums with people. Not that that’s the goal. But it always makes me scratch my head.

  4. I’ll take the corny guy with flaws any day, someone to whom we all can relate. I also trust people more who let there flaws show, as we all know, no one is perfect. I’m always a little skeptical of people who seem too “perfect”.

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