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To Be Vulnerable...or Not?

A few years ago a friend of mine stepped into the senior pastor role at a large church after the previous successful pastor left under poor circumstances.

The church had been rudder-less for over a year when my friend was hired. The transition was rocky but after a while he was able to bring new members on the board who were ready for change and supportive of a new vision and direction. All was good; momentum was happening.

But then I got a disconcerting call from my friend. He was confused about a recent meeting with his board. In his previous church where he served as an associate pastor, the leadership team often shared in transparent and vulnerable ways. At times it was messy, but it was real.

So in a recent meeting he expressed some vulnerability about his own leadership and personal challenges. He assumed because of their camaraderie and his consensus-building leadership style, that he had created an atmosphere of trust and safety.

It backfired.

His board didn’t know how to process what some viewed as a weakness and a leadership gap. After all, shouldn’t leaders know all the answers and confidently chart the way?

Of course not. But that was the unspoken mantle that had been placed upon him. They simply weren’t ready for—or unaccustomed to—that level of emotional honesty.

Over the phone he lamented, “Where is the place I can go and be real if it’s not with my closest people? Who can I really trust?” We talked a good while and I put him in touch with a pastoral care group in his city.

When someone is burned liked that, they often take one of two routes: (1) withdraw and resist sharing any expression of transparency and openness, or (2) become more circumspect and discerning of where the safe places are. Here’s the reality check: it’s guaranteed that Number 1 will stunt your emotional and spiritual development, so avoid that like the plague.

Finding those places can be difficult, but they must be pursued—real friends will appreciate vulnerability and shared honesty. Or have you considered a mentor?—a good one can be a true confidante. At the risk of sounding obvious, the first thing to do is ask God to simply help you find that safe space and then begin to take notice. It often comes with an invitation, but you’ll find it one way or another, and all because your Father loves you and longs to give you the deepest desires of your heart.

Eventually, you’ll want a leadership circle where people can be real, but it takes time to create that culture. You’ll end up modeling it, but in measured, incremental ways. At some point, though, it will click—and when it does, you’ll be rewarded with an invaluable gift: trusted friends on a mission.

Dave Workman | The Elemental Group

Jesus took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” MATTHEW 26:37-38


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