|Can Christian Leaders Be Weak?
If I'm reading ads on Christian websites correctly, it seems that the local church wants a pastor who is a combination of Jesus and Superman married to a partner who plays the piano. Soon after hiring an 'ordinary' pastor, the local church sees the person's weaknesses and vulnerabilities. These shortcomings add up and another ad fills Christian websites. Can we find ways to learn, as I did, that a Christian leader can be weak?
Shortly after our second child was born, a doctor diagnosed my wife with postpartum depression. I wasn't worried. If we believed enough, Jesus would overcome. He won the victory over sin and death and we needed to live in that victory. So, we prayed for her healing—and Bonnie still had postpartum. She was not getting any better.
So, in the lowest moment of our marriage, I accused my wife of not having enough faith. A good friend called a few days later. “I've heard what you said to Bonnie about her faith,” he began. I was shocked to hear him continue, “I have depression too and I've learned that some things on this side of eternity do not get healed.” My foundation of a victorious powerful Jesus crashed around me.
I apologized to Bonnie and begged her forgiveness. And, reading 2 Corinthians opened my eyes. I remember soaking in, “God's grace is sufficient for me... In my weakness I am made strong.” I began to read the Biblical narrative with new eyes. God continually made Himself known through the weakest, most dependant people. And in Jesus, I saw a God who comes not in power but in love, humility, and even weakness.
I need to admit I am weak. The cross demands it. But it's a daily challenge. I put pressure on myself and receive pressure from others to be strong and have it all together. And every time I sense I am giving into that pressure, I know I am wearing a mask. I am not being honest.
From the first week of our church plant, we intentionally built in the need to admit we are weak—individually and collectively. We welcome those who are hurting and feel rejected by society. Having coffee with one of our congregants last week, she said, “If you didn't admit you were weak, I would lose respect for you.” But I have friends who are pastors in town. They do not feel that. They wear their masks of having-it-all-together. So, they hurt with me—not with their congregations. One pastor told me that any sign of weakness or sin would give his congregation a reason to get rid of him.
Admitting our weakness is inherently risky. We open ourselves up to rumour and criticism. For years I didn't want to or even know that I should admit weakness; it was easier then for sure. But I have found a depth in relationships that can only come with honesty. I have found that there are many people waiting to admit their weaknesses too—if just given freedom to do so. Can a Christian leader be weak? I hope so.
This article originally appeared on the VMC blog in March 2012.
Gil Cleland is the pastor at Sanctuary London, “a healthy, welcoming community where people who are poor or excluded are particularly valued.” Their community is “an expression of the good news embodied in Jesus Christ." Gil moved to London from Thunder Bay in 2006 to work with Youth for Christ as the director of Streetlight, an outreach program for street-involved youth. Visit http://www.sanctuarylondon.ca/