“I didn’t realize he struggled with that.”
“Wow, even our own youth pastor?”
“They just seemed so put together, you’d never guess they went through something so awful …”
These are not uncommon sentiments to hear in the Christian community. We’re often less aware of what our Christian brothers and sisters suffer from, struggle with, and overcome than with our secular friends. For many, there can be an unspoken (or even spoken!) sense that we don’t go around “proclaiming” our sins, struggles, or doubts. We must always present a good face to the world.
The trouble is, while that maintains the Church’s image, it doesn’t always help us fulfill the Great Commission from our Lord.
How Do We Approach Fearless Vulnerability when Ministering?
Just like our relationship with God and each other, often when it comes to ministering the compulsion is often to hide our struggles behind a mask, almost as if the work of God will appeal less if people see that we who proclaim it still struggle. Many times, we face the temptation to paint the spiritual journey like a cakewalk, wherein accepting Jesus as your savior makes life so much easier, you become immediately better, and the struggles of old grow dim.
But this isn’t a truly honest way of living. Very few Christians are immediately cured of their struggles upon receiving salvation; in fact, for many of us, the refiner’s fire of God’s holy work in us brings flaws to the surface we didn’t even know we had!
Do we stuff those things and keep them in the dark? Do we deal with them just between us and God so no one else ever knows? Do we own our story and declare it, even the flawed parts? Do we keep all but just a few details to ourselves?
It’s up to the individual to decide how they address and share—or don’t share—their struggles. But at the very least, we must be honest that we have them, even if we don’t feel led to elaborate with those we minister to. When we are frightened or invulnerable—when we refuse to even acknowledge to others that, yes, we face problems too!—we are not able to minister as strongly.
Why? Well, because now we’re back to being focused on “me”…how ministering to them makes me look or feel.
Fearless Vulnerability – How It Brings People to Jesus
The telling of one’s story is an important part of human connection. We’ve been doing it around campfires, cook stoves, and conference tables for much of history. The need to feel less alone in the vastness of time and space is one of the things that not only draws man to God, but to each other. In a world where everyone is looking to fill the emptiness, ministering offers a unique opportunity to help connect others with the one thing that will truly fill the void we all feel inside: personal relationship with their Creator.
In Christian circles, telling your life story is often called “giving a testimony”—and it’s something people tend to lean into. At camps and conferences, church services and Bible studies, it’s almost universal that second in appeal only to the reading of Scripture is hearing someone’s testimony, their life’s story: where they’ve come from, where they are, and where they think God is leading them next.
When ministering to others, having fearless vulnerability around our own testimony allows us to help be a bridge between them and the greatest Storyteller, in whose story we all play a part. On the other hand, if we are elusive and insincere with our testimony, preferring to share only the good parts for the sake of not being rejected or thought less of, we risk sending others away feeling hollow or hopeless with a vision of the Christian walk that is not actually attainable in this life.
Social media has a similar and well-documented effect: Instagram photos and Facebook posts allow us to present a corner of our lives where all the walls are perfectly painted and well-decorated, engendering occasional jealousy and even hopelessness in the viewer who can’t figure out how to make their lives as perfect as ours. But they’re not seeing the other corners crammed with junk, unswept and cluttered. They don’t see this because we choose not to show those dirty parts, because we don’t want to be thought of as the person with the messy corners—the one who doesn’t have their life together.
So it is in ministry; when we paint a perfect walk without flaw, temptation, or struggle, we invalidate the pain others are searching for help to endure. Though the wounded often go to the mystic on the mountain searching for ways to achieve happiness, I believe it’s through the testimonies of those with scars like ours that we find a real path out of the pit.
And in whom could we ever find a better example of fearless vulnerability in ministry than the one with nail-scarred hands?
A Biblical Example of Fearless Vulnerability in Ministry
No life has more utterly embodied the concept of fearless vulnerability than Jesus’s. Though brief, I would suggest that his ministry was utterly built on this concept, that it is from his example the notion of fearless vulnerability can be derived.
Jesus was utterly honest about the message and purpose of his life, even when his closest friends argued or denied it. He was clear about his sonship with God, even when he was ridiculed, scorned, called a child of Beelzebub, and threatened with stoning; in fact, he was honest all the way to the cross.
He was liberal with his compassion, but not ruled by it. He was courageously unswayed by the thoughts, opinions, and oppressions of the socio-political and religious climate of his time, yet he wept over Jerusalem knowing how lost her inhabitants were, unable to recognize their Messiah. He boldly endured the worst torture known to man, yet he was unafraid to plead to his Father for a different path. He embraced lepers, defied leaders, suffered and died for mankind, and still offered hope to a criminal on the cross next to his.
Perhaps the clearest example of fearless vulnerability in Jesus’ life was how utterly surrendered he was to the plans and purposes of God. He knew his life was not his own; it existed within a greater story, the purpose of the ages being played out for thousands of years. Thus, he was able to go all the way to the cross and a horrific death—arguably the most terrifying of ends, in the most vulnerable of states—as a sacrificial lamb slaughtered so that we all might live.
Words fail to express how much fearless vulnerability it required to walk that path. And because he did it, now all have the chance to be free.
Ministering With Vulnerability Matters
Through the example of Jesus, we see how vulnerability matters in ministry. Because of the love and openness he exuded, many, many people both during and in the centuries since his earthly ministry were drawn to a higher path, a better road, a closer walk with the Father. Jesus was vulnerable in what he would face, in how he reacted to people, and in how he handled hearts. When we are vulnerable in ministry, willing to embrace the unembraceable, having compassion on those like us and those who are different, thinking of our neighbors first and giving up our personal offenses for the sake of another’s salvation, we may make the Gospel known even to the most uncertain hearts.
Ministering Fearlessly Matters
Through Jesus’s example, we also see why fearlessness in ministry matters. Jesus did not make light of or dance around the fact that his followers would be persecuted—just like him. Yet he encouraged and practiced boldness in sharing and declaring the truth even when it cost him personally. Even when he lost his cousin, faced scorn from rulers and friends and even his own family, and faced his own death, still he endured. When we are fearless in ministry, willing to step into the sticky situations, confront the uncomfortable issues, and tackle the difficult subjects with love, grace, and truth, we bring honor to God and glory to Him and His Son whose example we follow in conduct of fearless ministering.
When we have fearless vulnerability in ministry, willing to be honest with our story and giving all glory to God for where we’ve been, where we are, and where we’re going next, we walk in the footsteps of Jesus—and that, more than anything else, is the beacon that guides lost souls from troubled waters into the harbor of salvation.