We live in a time when we are encouraged to be more open and even show vulnerability than when I first began my ministry journey. Most ministers I have met, and I myself have built up walls of protection over time. We are very cautious over who we let into the most intimate parts of our life. It can be very scary to open up about our weak areas or the greatest failures that we might have. We may fear judgment or worse yet that someone might use our pain against us in some way.
Ministry in any capacity is filled with a variety of pressures and problems. The pressure of ministry can cause us to feel like it is hard to keep balance and control in our lives. Ministry sometimes is like being the plate spinner at the circus. Except we are balancing on the high wire in a fifty-mile-an-hour wind, as we try to keep all the plates in balance.
We who minister truly do want to be open and honest with people. We want to show them where God has helped us through difficulties and blessed our lives. However, too much revelation might make it seem like we are encouraging people to go out and commit the very sins we are trying to steer them away from. Some people might even take such deeply personal information to use against us. To be open with others is a real risk.
Sharing in openness and does have risk and vulnerability, but it can draw you deeper with people. You will be more effective by being more authentic as well. I don’t pretend to be an expert, but here are a few things that I have learned with experience and time. The risk is well worth it, but we can be better prepared if we keep a few things in mind.
Three things I Have Learned About being Open and Vulnerable in Ministry
1. We Must Realize That Openness and Vulnerability Will Open us to Pain
You must accept the fact that in ministry journey we are going to experience pain. We will be rejected. We will be hated at times. There will be some who are angry at us with intent, but most people lash out at us out of weakness and brokenness in their own lives.
Jesus warned the disciples of people. He said, “If they hate you, remember thy hated me first”. Jesus was often despised by people when he opened up to them. They also tried using everything they knew about him to destroy his mission. They belittled his family and where he had grown up, to try to discredit his authority.
In my life, it has taken time, for me to grow in becoming more open in ministering to others. I thought I was open to people in the early days of my ministry, and then years ago I was confronted about how unopen and closed off I really was. We had just finished an open survey in the church, in which we ministered, and I was going through the responses. In response to whether I, the pastor, was open and approachable only one person out of many said no. However, that one “no” dug deep into my heart causing me to take some time to think.
It took some time, in fact, it took years, but I began to make changes. I started sharing more of myself and being more open. I admit I started very slowly but the openness with others has changed my whole leadership style and ministry dynamic. It has also allowed me and my wife to develop some very deep friendships, which we never truly had with people before becoming so open and vulnerable. Today I really couldn’t see myself ministering to others without developing close and open relationships with those I serve.
2. Openness in Right Doses
You notice that I said this process took time. I opened up in small ways in personal relationships and small groups. Eventually, I began to show vulnerability in my sermons. It took a few years before I became more comfortable with sharing my heart in more open ways. I am still careful with how far I share depending on the group I am with.
Today’s more open and honest ministry is a wonderful change to pastors who seemed unreal and plastic. However, some in ministry seem to downplay the consequences of poor choices. In an effort to be open it is easy to appear accepting of sin and even to cause a weaker person to stumble.
This is why sharing in right doses is critical. You can share past sins without hearing the details that destroy the witness of God. You can learn to be more open and vulnerable in sharing while still being professional and shedding positive light on the position God has placed you in.
You also need to know the audience and persons with whom you share well enough to know just how open you should be. Relationships take time, and all of us have people in our circles and ministries that we know we need to be more protective with, and other with whom we can be fully open. To know this takes time, and occurs as we live life together working and playing in various ways.
3. Develop Needed Accountability Friendships with Colleagues
In order for us to minister effectively into the lives of those we serve we need others outside to turn to for accountability. They can give us help and can call us out, or up, when we are in need.
I really feel the church is family, and we are to have deep relationships. However, the strongest of families often have parents who have close friendships outside the immediately family. They are there to pray and lift one another through the deep issues, so the family can be stronger. Parents cannot dump all of their issues on their children or it will destroy them. We who lead in God’s family need to keep this in mind too. Instead, we need others to help us bear the burdens of some issues in our own lives.
Find a person or small group of like-minded colleagues or ministers with whom you can bear your heart and deeper needs. Together you will find blessing and strength for your ministry journey. Be sure that you keep an agreement of confidentiality in your group. Also, be willing to make time with these people a priority, so that you can be stronger for the ministry you serve.
God calls us to be open, and vulnerable. To minister deeply requires developing more intimate and honest relationships. It is a risk, but one with both eternal and tempera rewards. I pray that God guides you in wisdom as you seek to lead and minister in His family.
Blessings on the journey with Jesus.