Vulnerable. Not the first word that comes to mind when you think about strong leaders. Yet, this word, “Vulnerable,” is what Mandy Smith, lead pastor of University Christian Church in Cincinnati, Ohio, suggests should characterize strong Christian leaders.
In The Vulnerable Pastor: How Human Limitations Empower Our Ministry Smith attempts to debunk current leadership wisdom as not only being harmful, but impossible. The image of somebody who is always strong, always has their stuff together, is never wrong, never wavers, and is extremely self-confident is the exact opposite of what Smith suggest Christian leaders should be like. Instead a Christian leader should be marked by vulnerability. Specifically, this vulnerability should recognize and understand our human constraints. Recognizing these constraints makes our ministry more sustainable “and guards us against disillusionment and burnout.”
As the former director of a college ministry in a large church in the LA area I knew I could benefit from reading Smith’s book. I sort of live in the “mega-church” world, which is mostly characterized by the leadership images Smith decries. I constantly struggled, despite pressing on in ministry, with the notion that I didn’t fit the “pastor-mold.” I still struggle with it! Even though its never expressed, it is implicitly there. I’m just not one of those pastors. I’m shy, introverted, intellectual, liturgical. Again, not your typical mega-church type leader. Throughout the book Smith shares her struggles with not fitting the mold. Told mostly in story form, she expresses how difficult it was to be herself as leader, when the world (i.e. CHURCH WORLD) told her that wasn’t enough. It was only when she was bold enough to admit that she didn’t have what the world asked of her, and she didn’t need to have it, that she began to find joy in her ministry.
Here are some helpful quotes from her book:
When we’re at our desks preparing our sermons and something snags our hearts, can we set aside our work long enough to be worked upon? Can we trust that the teaching of our congregations is not primarily our work but God’s work, which he wants to being with us? (92)
What if we began with our human limitations and shaped a ministry from that? Like a child pouring pennies on a candy store counter, asking, “How much candy can I get with that?” we can look at the time, gifts, energy, and ideas we have and ask, “How much church can we get with that?” (105)
If it’s right for me to be here (and I beliee it its) and it’s alright for me to be limited (and I believe it its), I have to trust that there’s a way to do this job without it destroying me. If he gave the church to humans, he must have a way for humans to do church. (105)
One way I equip my leaders is to remind them it’s their job to equip others. We’re not soloists; we’re choirmasters. Its not our job to do the work but to give the direction: to pick the note, choose when to start and wait for the community to shape the fullness of the song. (108)
All in all, I found this book quite helpful. There were so many positive messages in it that I needed to hear once again. Being a pastor, or any kind of Christian leader, is not about being enough…. Its about being willing to revel in our own weakness and in God’s strength.
Note: I received this book from IVP in exchange for an impartial review.