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?
The truth is that we are all ungodly without Jesus. We all do fall short. We all need grace—pastors, leaders, and church members alike. So, all of that is true. But the question is, where does this type of repetitive counsel lead us and our churches?
It often leads us to a place where the depth of our sin is not recognized, essentially minimizing the work of the cross. It often leads us to the place where pastors and Christian leaders are no longer those to whom we look for moral leadership; they are seen instead as merely good communicators with whom we have affinity. It often leads us to the place where we subtly teach that God cannot and will not heal us of our sickness, deliver us from our sin patterns, and bring us times of refreshment.
“Me too” teaching tends to do the very opposite of what it intends. Instead of causing us as Christian leaders to identify with our people at a deeper level, it often causes us to identify with them primarily in terms of our sin, rather than in terms of the good news. It frequently damages community by lowering the bar constantly to the point where there is no distinction between the qualifications of an elder, deacon, church member, and even non-Christian.
Scripture is full of stories about men who failed. Adam fell. Abraham lied. Moses murdered. David cheated. Jonah fled. Thomas doubted. Peter denied. Paul persecuted. This needs to be preached and remembered.
But we cannot forget the second part—that Jesus saves. We cannot forget that God calls us to put on new clothes. We cannot forget to live lives that are “worthy of the gospel” (Phil. 1:27). We cannot forget to pursue holiness. We cannot forget that our corporate gatherings should be fuel for this lasting transformation from the flesh to the spirit, as we cooperate with the Spirit who sanctifies us.
Teaching “me too” is insufficient. It’s a testimony, but one that is often mixed and incomplete. A church full of “me too” may seem transparent, but it is more likely a church that is full of people who will not reach their full redemptive potential. Matt Chandler once said: “It’s OK to recognize we are sinners. It’s just not OK to stay that way.”
As pastors and leaders, we must pursue the hard work of ministry: removing pastors and leaders who are in patterns of sin that disqualify them, exercising church discipline with our members, challenging people towards godliness and holiness, and exhorting them with the Word of God, not merely with personal stories.
It’s hard work, but all of this is a work of grace just as much as communicating “me too.” Don’t just say: “Me too.” Say, “Me too… and now what?”
It’s only in this way that our vulnerability and authenticity achieve the purpose of bringing God glory by highlighting the gospel of Jesus Christ above all else.
Editor’s Note: This post was first published on February 28, 2018.