Vulnerability is frightening. There is nothing more uncomfortable than being exposed in our sin or confessing it to others. We feel the pressure to hide our true selves, even from the church. There is nothing worse than encountering a fake. Yet, as we look around our churches there are many who force smiles and hide their struggles behind a religious mask. Many feel a fear of being judged in the church, and think the church as the last place in the world to find forgiveness and grace.
- Shouldn’t the church be the most grace filled place in the world because we believe that their was a savior who was judged in our place?
- Doesn’t the Gospel free us to be authentic and vulnerable with each other?
- How can we remove the religious masks of our congregations and encourage them to be vulnerable and authentic
- How can we create a culture of grace within our churches where it is ok to struggle with sin and fight for joy in sorrow?
As a pastor these questions plague me, because I want my people to be vulnerable with where they are. I don’t want them to fear that if they share their struggles or doubts that they will be gossiped about or out casted. I want to create a culture so saturated in the grace of Jesus Christ where each member is bearing the burdens of others. After all, we are all pilgrims seeking Christ together.
Maybe you are a pastor or a church leader and you want to develop this sort of culture within your congregation, how do we do this? How to we encourage a foster of vulnerability?
1. Know, Preach, and Counsel with the Gospel
One of the reasons a culture of hiding develops in a church is because the Gospel ceases to become central in all the ministries of the church. When the Gospel is taken for granted or even lost, the religious game begins to happen. People begin to feel a need to conceal their sin, less they are thought less of. We take our fig leaves and begin to cover up our nakedness and hide from our creator and his body, the church. We need to integrate the Gospel in everything we do from our children’s ministry to our preaching. We must remind ourselves daily what Christ has done for us.
How does the Gospel free us to be vulnerable with one another? Because the Gospel tells us that we are far more wicked than we ever thought, but at the same time we are more loved that we ever dreamed to hope. We aren’t ok, in our sin we might be able to impress others with religious games, but we are certainly not impressing God. Our self-righteousness is offensive to him. This means that nobody takes your sin as seriously as God. Before him, left to yourself you are under his righteous judgement. We are exposed our religious fig leaves do not hide anything from God.
Yet, at the same time we are loved with an unbreakable and never-ending love. God showed us his love by sending Jesus to pay the penalty for our sin. It doesn’t matter how terrible our past or how detestable our actions, Jesus has paid for it all. In love, God has reached in your filth and washed you white as snow. This happens totally by the grace of God. As a result, the love God has for his children will not be taken away though we struggle with sin and doubts. Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? Who is going to snatch you from his hand?
Because we are secured in the mighty hand of God, it frees us to be vulnerable to with one another. The true preaching of the Gospel begins to develop a culture of vulnerability, because the Gospel teaches us that we are broken and in need of repair. So in your ministries and in your teaching, center it on the Gospel. Remind people the horrors of their sin and point them to the merciful savior whose Spirit makes our adoption secure. As a result we are free to be honest and vulnerable to those around us, because when we are justified before God why would the opinions of mere men concern us?
2. Share Your Own Struggles
One of the best ways to foster a culture of vulnerability is to begin to model it yourself as a leader. Lead by example sharing your struggles with sin – your fight against pride, your struggle for obedience, your grasping for joy in sorrow. Many people put pastors and other church leaders on a pedestal. Many think that they do not struggle with sin or with following Christ. When we begin to drop down our own religious masks and begin to share how the Gospel helps us in our struggle, it will encourage others to do the same.
3. Create Small Groups that Foster Biblical Community
People need to have an environment to share their struggles. They need to have a community that come around them to voice their heartaches and ask for prayer. They need accountability that asks tough questions, while at the same time pointing each other to the hope and identity we have in Christ.
How your church does this can vary widely. This can happen in a sunday school class, small groups, or one on one discipleship. What these groups need to foster is a community of grace that encourages each other to follow Christ. When people have friends and relationships who know them and who love them, it makes it easier to be vulnerable, confess sins, and share our struggles.
4. Get out of the Christian Bubble
Many churches are completely stuck in the Christian bubble and they have forgotten what the real world out there is like. There are a lot of hurting people out in the world who need hope. When a church begins to reach out to those far from Christ, the messiness of people's lives will begin to be met face to face.
Over the course of my life I’ve led two different youth groups. One was with a wild group of kids far from God knowing little about the church or Christianity. The second was a group of kids who were largely raised in the church. Which one do you think was easier to foster biblical community? The first one by far. Why? Well because they had no problem sharing their struggles. It would come out in Bible study publicly that a girl would struggle with cutting or that a guy was sleeping with his girl friend. These kids were lost and apart from Christ, but nobody was hiding anything. It was all out in the open, and made it much easier to share and apply the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Many of those students came to know Christ over the years and the vulnerability that those students begin with continue to this day in their Christian fellowship.
When you begin to reach out to people who are hurting outside of the church, it begins to foster a culture of vulnerability within the church. The secretiveness of sin is brought into the light of the Gospel.
5. Pray for the Spirit to Work
Finally, we must remember that whatever our strategies or methods, we are dependent upon the revival and renewal of the Holy Spirit in the lives of our people. You simply cannot make people be vulnerable. You cannot make them take off their religious masks. You simple preach the Scriptures and the grace of God until the Spirit works.
Labor for a culture of vulnerability and seek to create a church of grace, but at the end pray the Holy Spirit will bring this about through the faithful teaching of His word. God is faithful, and the Gospel still has the power to transform people's lives. A truly vulnerable and Christian community cannot be fabricated but must be birthed by the Spirit’s power.
By God’s grace, may our churches become a place where it is ok to hurt and struggle. May the church be a group of broken, poverty-stricken sinners who have found hope, joy, and salvation in Jesus Christ. I hope these five things encourage you as you seek to create a culture of grace and vulnerability in your church.
Does your church have a culture of grace and vulnerability? If so, how would you encourage us to foster this sort of culture? Love to hear your thoughts in the comments.