Risky Leadership

Over the years, as a pastor, I have had the privilege of sitting across the table, standing in a kitchen or in the car with people from various backgrounds, maturity and faith places.  I’ve listened as they share parts of their lives, frustrations, joys, questions and doubts.  I have heard details of life shared in vulnerable and authentic moments and been able to pray with and reassure them that what they share with me is confidential unless they confess a threat of physical harm to themselves or others.  I’ve spent time pointing them to scriptures that speak hope, life, and comfort.

I’ve also done something else, which is always risky behavior on my part….

I’ve risked their judgment, their disgust and the likelihood that they may not hold me in such high esteem.

What have I done you ask?

Why would I risk these things with people I pastor and lead?

What could I say that would put me at such a risk?

Here’s what I did: I became vulnerable.

I opened up to each of these people the realities of my life.  I shared the areas of doubt, the spaces of loss, and the real life grief that change and transition have brought.

I shared moments where I’ve been angry with God. Confessed that I don’t always understand or grasp His plan and purpose; that suffering is ugly and not my favorite-but that God has always been faithful, even when I’ve sat down and told him “no more.”

I’ve become one of those leaders and pastors who allows and wants others to see my humanity.  So I risk it.  I have to and I think all pastors should.  In the church we’ve become much more comfortable with the idea of pastors as “other”, as “set apart”, as almost “perfect” and “untouchable.”

Yet most pastors that I know are still human.  Whether we pastor a church of thousands or a handful, we are still people who are desperately in need of a Savior; just the same as those we lead.

Henri J. M. Nouwen says in his book In the Name of Jesus,

“What discipline is required for the future leader to overcome the temptation of individual heroism?  I would like to propose the discipline of confession and forgiveness.  Just as the future leaders must be mystics steeped in contemplative prayer, so also must they be persons always willing to confess their own brokenness and ask for forgiveness from those to whom they minister.”

So here is my challenge to we pastors: Remember those moments where you’ve walked through doubt, great pain or struggles with relationships and share them.  When someone comes and opens up about what they are facing in life, listen and share that you’ve been there too.


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