Yesterday I arrived at one of those small but significant decision points that threaten my composure and test the limits of my willingness to be known. It came when my coworker greeted me with his usual, “How are you today?”
I earnestly sought a perfunctory “Fine, how are you?” so I could move on from the greeting and get on with my day, but it eluded me. The truth was that I was not fine. Twice in the last week I had pled with dear friends who were departing from the faith, one into false doctrine and another into immorality. Both cases of apostasy hit me hard, and I had mourned and prayed over them, wondering what on earth God was doing.
So I cracked open the door—”I’m pretty sad today”—and it was costly to do so. It cost me a measure of self-confidence and self-respect. It cost me a few minutes of my life to explain what I was sad about. It reopened the wound and renewed the pain. It sucked more energy out of me, as I tried to balance openness with self-control (to avoid gossip, venting, or speaking other words that wouldn’t edify).
But such vulnerability is Christlike, and by faith I trust it was worth it.
Why is it so hard for us to be vulnerable with one another? Why do we struggle to lead and to teach the Scripture with transparency? Why are we more attracted to a pretense of perfection or a veneer of imperturbability? I can think of at least 3 reasons.
I have heard pastors say they won’t tell personal stories from the pulpit because it would get in the way of representing Christ. They believe that for Christ to shine brightly, they must completely get out of the way. So in private they’re happy to share of their need for grace, but their preaching focuses much more on proclaiming the truth than on incarnating it.
This same sort of thinking shows up when Bible study leaders think only about how to apply the text to the group members and not about how to apply it to themselves. One sign of this struggle is when their preparation time doesn’t feel devotional and they need to schedule separate personal time with the Lord.
I greatly respect those who want to “get out of the way” so people can see Christ. This desire to serve others at great cost to oneself is a noble one.
But I think the attempt misfires, for we miss the fact that God shows people himself by showing himself to people. He doesn’t merely declare truth; he demonstrates the truth and lives it out. He became a man and perfected his power in weakness. He demonstrates his love by dying for sinners. He exposed and disgraced himself that he might lead us to glory.
And so John can say that while no-one has seen God, Jesus has made him known (John 1:18). But at the same time, while no-one has seen God, they will see him if we love one another (1 John 4:12). For them to see, we must give them something to see.
Some brave souls like Eric, who commented on last week’s post, perceive pride and fear as the greatest enemies to vulnerability.
- We don’t want people to think less of us.
- We fear losing our position or influence.
- We don’t want to be a burden.
- We don’t want to be laughed at or seen as mistaken or needy.
Perhaps we even feel like our reputation—or at least our self-perception of it—signifies our standing with God, such that God’s pleasure is shown through others’ pleasure and people’s displeasure betrays God’s displeasure.
Whatever the exact issue, we find our identity in something other than the finished work of Christ. We must not forget the guttural cry of him who bowed his head and gave up his spirit (John 19:30).
My biggest struggle, as I mentioned above, is that vulnerability is hard work. It’s costly, and I’m often unwilling to pay that cost.
Many in the “theological reason” camp react rightly against those who see their leadership as an opportunity for dealing with their personal demons. If I’m vulnerable for my sake—to cleanse my conscience or even to get people to feel sorry for me—I have missed the point. There’s a foolish sort of vulnerability that serves nobody but myself, but there’s also a wise sort of vulnerability that serves others deeply (for example, see 2 Corinthians 11-12).
This wise vulnerability takes an effort. It requires forethought and godly character. It demands unwavering confidence in Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Cor 12:10).
When you teach the Scripture, beware sanitized hypocrisy.