As a pastor of a local church in Missouri, USA, I remember the advice I first received when I entered full-time ministry. A pastor from another church approached me and said, “Well, you got to remember one thing: Don’t become friends with those you minister to. Staff are employees and you just want to keep a professional relationship.”
This left me in a dilemma.
Though his advice made practical sense, I couldn’t reconcile what he said with the Bible’s call to “love one another” (John 13:34). As renowned British author C.S. Lewis, once said, “To love at all is to be vulnerable.” And this, he suggested, meant giving our hearts to others at the expense of it being wrung and possibly broken.
Unfortunately, as my pastor friend’s comment showed, vulnerability, or love for that matter, didn’t seem to be a priority at all in church—and this, I believe, is extremely worrying.
From my experience since entering full-time ministry, here are some lessons I’ve learned on the need for vulnerability in the body of Christ.
Jesus Became Vulnerable for Us
The Creator of the universe looked upon guilty, needy, perishing sinners and was moved by compassion. So, out of love for us (John 3:16), He sent His only begotten Son Jesus Christ into this world (John 1:14).
Though He could have chosen to come as a high, mighty, and distant king, Jesus instead chose to become vulnerable like each one of us, tempted in every way, and able to sympathize with our weakness (Hebrews 4:15-16). He counted Himself as nothing, humbled Himself and came to serve in the lowest of places. (Mark 10:45; John 6:38; Philippians 2:8). And 1 John 4:9 tells exactly why Jesus did all this: because of His love for us. But it doesn’t stop there: just as God loved us, we are called to love another (1 John 4:11).
Yet, as believers and followers of Jesus, we seem to have accepted Jesus’ love but ignored His call to love others. If we fail to experience Jesus’ life of passion, zeal, and excitement in the church, could it be because we have not followed His ways in loving others (because we fear the messiness and trouble it brings us)?
What if we brought this 1st century principle into the 21st century by living an honest and authentic lifestyle just as Jesus did?
How We Can be Vulnerable
If you look at the state of the church today among the millennial generation, it isn’t promising. Though millennials represent the largest generation in America’s history with almost 80 million members, only 15 percent of millennials to date are Christians, according to the Barna Research group’s recent study called “The State of Pastors”.
Why is that so? The reasons I’ve heard range from “the church is just not relevant” to “young people can get all the information they need online”. But if you ask me, I think one of the core reasons is that we’ve not been exhibiting the love of Christ—and that is shown through vulnerability. I believe this with all my heart.
Having worked as a youth pastor, the one thing I’ve noticed is that young people are able to read between the lines fairly quickly. They can see past the structure and programs to whether you truly care about them as individuals. And sadly, it’s not uncommon to hear comments from young people such as: “Well, the church was judgmental and hypocritical. I don’t want to be part of that” or “I just didn’t feel connected to the people at my church.”
Just a month ago, I was told by one of our core leaders in the church that I couldn’t be vulnerable and share about my past as it would get people worried that their leader didn’t “have his life together”.
But isn’t that the actual reality? We all don’t have our lives together. The truth is that I am just a needy, guilty and wretched sinner who is saved by a merciful Heavenly Father. There is really no such thing as mighty men of God, but only weak, pitiful, and faithless men of a great and mighty God.
In fact, it is when we are vulnerable in our weaknesses and say, “I don’t have my act together, I need Jesus” that God shows His strength in us (2 Cor 12:9-11). It all points to Christ. It’s all about Him and His grace. As one author put it, we need to be vulnerable “for the sake of the gospel”. We need to understand that the gospel of Christ is about embracing lost sinners and growing together in a vibrant community.
Will we be vulnerable for the sake of the gospel? It could mean spending time with a church friend outside the usual Sunday morning service, over a cup of coffee and asking him or her a simple question like: How are you really doing? But beyond just listening, take time to share some struggles you yourself have been facing too. Be open and honest about our weaknesses, and share about the amazing work God has been or is still doing in our lives.