We are living in a unique time where pastors and Christian leaders appear to be demonstrating vulnerability and transparency like never before, both in and out of the pulpit.
Few would say that transparency is a bad thing. After all, the Scriptures call us to honesty and authenticity both with ourselves and with others in our churches. Humility is closely tied to honesty. An honest assessment of ourselves and our sin is often the first step toward transformation.
The question is whether we’re walking by the Spirit in the means by which we express authenticity.
Our current climate highly values vulnerability, so many Christian leaders are meeting the demand. Many are acknowledging the great struggles that come with leading churches and ministries as well as the impact this leadership has on them and their families. From the pulpit, pastors acknowledge and reveal their struggles with depression, alcohol abuse, sin patterns, mental illness, and marital problems.
Occasionally, these leaders step down in the context of sharing these struggles. But in many cases, they don’t. They aren’t in any processes of discipline, reconciliation, or counseling with their elders or leadership team. They are primarily concerned with making a connection with their people. What is communicated is: You sin? Me too. Jesus will help us both.
On top of this, we are living in a unique time when pastors and leaders can easily have a highly fabricated image on social media. They are pressured to maintain a platform online, one that puts them in front of their people not only on a weekly basis but even on a daily basis. There’s pressure to produce inspirational quotes, post fun family photos, stay engaged on Facebook, and tweet about current issues. Because of this daily pressure on the pastor, it seems only natural that a measure of transparency is communicated. But are we walking by the Spirit in expressing our authenticity?
Many pastors and leaders spend a lot of time on public self-deprecation, talking about how ungodly they are and how much they need Jesus. It sometimes seems like a race to see who can be the most self-deprecating. So, the focus inevitably turns on a weekly basis to the pastor, his life, his family, his challenges, and his sin issues. Sermons inevitably include long stories on what’s happening that week in the life of the pastor’s family (oftentimes with little emphasis on the exposition of the Word).
The problem is that vulnerability can be deceiving. Vulnerability can even be narcissistic. Excessive vulnerability on the part of Christian leaders can make our leadership seem all about us and not about the gospel. The better option is vulnerability that is truly rooted in Jesus, where, ironically, our leadership seems a lot less vulnerable, because it is built on a rock, on a solid foundation.
A supposed vulnerability causes many pastors to preach, week after week: “Look at me. I am human. Just like you.” And the idea that is often conveyed is “I struggle just like you. I sin just like you. I’m in need of grace just like you.” You fall? “Me too.” You need grace? “Me too.” You fall short? “Me too.”
The idea itself isn’t wrong. But is it enough?