May 26, 2016

Visible and Vulnerable: Church Leaders and the Fight Against Perfect

Man staring at himself through a broken mirror

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I’ve never met a church leader who didn’t struggle with vulnerability.

Being highly visible in an institution that cares deeply about morality would cause anyone to think twice about what they share. As a pastor’s kid who went directly into full-time ministry, I’ve experienced this pressure to look perfect all my life.

Recently, I was challenged to pursue greater vulnerability while reading Brene Brown’s book, Daring Greatly. In it, she describes vulnerability as the courage to “let ourselves be seen.” I’ve become convinced that vulnerability is a significant catalyst for leadership growth and organizational health.

What would our churches look like if we truly led ourselves and others to take off our masks? These four insights from Brene Brown can help us imagine:

Creating Community

“True belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world. Our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.”

If we want to help people truly belong in a community of discipleship, we have to create space where it is ok, even expected, to be imperfect. This only happens when people accept themselves enough to share their full lives openly. I don’t believe leaders can create that level of community without publicly and humbly modeling vulnerability themselves.

What are you intentionally doing to model imperfection and self-acceptance to your church?

Leading with Fear

“When I look at narcissism through the vulnerability lens, I see the shame-based fear of being ordinary. I see the fear of never feeling extraordinary enough to be noticed, to be lovable, to belong, or to cultivate a sense of purpose.”

I used to think narcissism developed when a leader became over-confident in his or her gifts. But Brene Brown’s research suggests that narcissistic leadership actually begins with the fear that oneself is not good enough. That belief causes leaders to build facades and develop personas to prevent others from seeing their inadequacies.

When you’re unwilling to admit that you don’t have it all together — that’s the moment narcissism is most likely to develop. I can promise your team will notice its impact on your leadership. You’ll ask fewer questions, walk into meetings with more answers, and push your closest staff members away for fear that they’ll see the real you. I know because I’ve stepped into this trap before. The only safeguard against narcissism is vulnerability.

Do you ever fear that you’re not good enough? Do you secretly hope your team doesn’t find out?

Responding to Critics

“Nothing has transformed my life more than realizing that it’s a waste of time to evaluate my worthiness by weighing the reaction of the people in the stands.”

I believe one of the hardest things about being a pastor is having an audience every seven days. Each time you preach, cast vision, and lead change, someone will love it…and someone will not. When we lose sight of Christ as the center of our worthiness, we’ll do everything we can to please everyone around us. It’s an un-winnable battle that creates constant pressure, devalues our spiritual gifts, and pulls our attention away from the visions God has given us.

Never forget: God called you to lead people, not please people.

Where do you currently find your sense of worth as a leader?

Encouraging Faith

“Faith minus vulnerability and mystery is extremism. Don’t call it faith if there’s no vulnerability or uncertainty. If you’ve got all the answers, then don’t call what you do faith.”

The Word of God is a sacred text revealing the heart of a great God who mankind has spent centuries trying to comprehend. If you feel like you have to provide an answer to every theological debate, you’re shortchanging people on the opportunity to study Scripture for themselves. Questions draw people into the mystery of faith and invite them to explore what God is saying to them through Scripture. Resist the urge to make faith feel safe.

Are you overcrowding faith with detailed answers that keep people from pursuing God for themselves?


Patrick Lencioni once shared,

“If a leader cannot be vulnerable, cannot admit his or her mistakes, shortcomings or weaknesses, others will not be vulnerable and organizational health becomes impossible.”

Vulnerability is more than another word to put on the conference room wall. It’s a way of life that must be modeled each day by leaders. Only then will others have the courage to truly “let themselves be seen.”

Tony Morgan

Tony is the Founder and Lead Strategist of The Unstuck Group. Started in 2009, The Unstuck Group has served 500 churches throughout the United States and several countries around the world. Previously, Tony served on the senior leadership teams of three rapidly growing churches including NewSpring Church in South Carolina. He has five published books including, The Unstuck Church, and, with Amy Anderson, he hosts The Unstuck Church Podcast which has thousands of listeners each month.

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