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Why Effective Leaders are Both Vulnerable and Transparent

Jessica Bealer
Jessica Bealer Tuesday August 1, 2017
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I will never forget my mother’s words to me the day my husband was ordained. She said: “You’ll rarely be able to trust anyone. Don’t give them ammunition. Friendships will be scarce. It’s okay. I’ll always be here for you.” I know what you may be thinking, “Wow . . . that’s cynical.” If you knew my mother, what she’s been through, the betrayal she’s experienced too many times, you would understand her perspective. My mother is practically a saint. My husband often jokes: “If you think the rapture may have occurred, just call your mom. If she answers, you know you’re good.” So how does one of the godliest women I’ve ever known, arrive at such a conclusion? I believe her challenge is one each of us have faced at one point or another.

As leaders, it’s important for us to understand the difference between vulnerability and transparency. The Bible explains in Romans 3:23, “for all have sinned and fall short of the Glory of God.” I’m flawed, damaged, and defective. Yet for years, I operated under the assumption that perfection was a prerequisite for ministry. I absolutely believed in the sanctity of my image. How could God use me if those I was trying to help knew I was just as broken as they were?

It took nearly a decade of ministry for me to begin to understand how vulnerability encourages relationship. It allows for those we work with and those we lead to connect our inadequacies and struggles to their own.

I’m not suggesting you confess each sinful thought or misdeed to everyone you meet. I’m advising you to be real. If we put forth an image so filtered it barely resembles the truth, those we lead may admire it. They may even hope to achieve it someday, but they won’t share candidly. They won’t disclose their setbacks or look for empathy and understanding during times of crisis. Yet, those moments are often crucial. When the families we serve and the volunteers we lead feel powerless, they are more disposed to the supremacy of God.

In Mark 12:30-31, Jesus teaches: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” I’ve often heard Andy Stanley, senior pastor of North Point Community Church ask, “What does love require of me?” As a leader, I believe love requires openness. It means you expose your weaknesses and limitations so that unity in Christ can be found.

You must strive to be vulnerable with everyone, from first-time guests to long-time leaders. Again, I’m not suggesting you walk around in a constant state of confession. Let’s be real. Nobody wants to hang around Debbie Downer. However, empathy requires honesty. Leadership requires rapport. Nothing creates a bond better than saying, “Me too!”

Here are a few examples of healthy vulnerability—statements you might make in an attempt to be more relatable and create unity:

“The first time I dropped off my child, he screamed and clung to me like a monkey. You’re doing the right thing. Every parent of a toddler struggles with separation anxiety.”

“You messed up on stage. It’s okay. Do you know how many times I’ve put my foot in my mouth? Too many to count.”

“I know it was a bad morning and you’re wondering if you’re a good mom. I ask myself the same question every day. That just means we care. We acknowledge our mistakes and try to do better the next day.”

“You yelled at a teammate. That’s not okay, but it happens to the best of us. I shouldn’t yell at traffic, but I did on the way to church this morning. When I’m most angry, I try to pray. It’s not always easy, but it normally defuses the situation.”

Vulnerability is . . . offering the world our imperfections as a sacrifice to build the body of Christ through relationships.

Transparency is . . . allowing a select few to see our innermost thoughts, feelings and behaviors to hold us accountable and grow us as believers in Christ.

Here are a few statements you might make to this select group of people:

“My marriage is struggling right now. We’re going to try counseling, but I need you to hold me accountable.”

“My son is failing in school. I’m stressed out and don’t know what to do. Can you pray for me?”

“I’m resurrecting unhealthy habits I’ve struggled with in the past. Can you find help for me?”

“I don’t know if I’m cut out for this position. I don’t think I have what it takes and I’m scared I’m going to let everyone down.”

Vulnerability helps you lead in a more relational way. Transparency keeps you healthy and moving forward so you can do just that. As a leader, both are required.

Ministry can be lonely or fulfilling. It can isolate or bring unity. It’s been nearly 15 years since my mother spoke her cautionary words. For longer than I want to admit, I kept everyone at arms length. My ministry was mildly effective and completely draining. Ironically, it was my mother who set the example for me. Several years back, she and I were talking on the phone about a new ministry position her and my father had taken. She said: “Jess, I have friends. These people love me for me. There are no ulterior motives. For the first time in my life, I feel like I can open up.”

God was working on me as well. He had placed three trustworthy women in my life, and surrounded me with staff and teams of volunteers who were supportive and protective. It took almost a year for me to work through my insecurities. With intentionality and effort, I began to understand vulnerability and transparency. I worked through what it looks like to be honest and forthcoming in both types of relationships.

I want to warn you: It’s not easy to acknowledge or voice your limitations. There are those who will use them against you. They will exploit your weaknesses. Jesus Himself experienced such rejection. He was Savior, God of Heaven and Earth, and the King of Kings, but He was also human. It was His only weakness and it was used against Him. There are those who will aim to hurt you. However, relationship is the vehicle of ministry. When you play it safe and veil your shortcomings, you’re crippling your relationships and in turn, your calling.

Love requires you to share openly and be honest with those you lead. Logic demands you make your personal health a priority. Share love. Show logic. Be vulnerable and transparent.

Jessica Bealer has led children’s ministry for 17 years, including 5 years overseeing standards, systems, staffing, and atmosphere for the children’s programs of Elevation Church. She has overseen the launch of nearly 20 locations, and is considered a specialist in kidmin multisite. Jessica and her husband, Frank, have four children. You can hear more from Jessica on her podcast for leaders, “Women’s Leadership Workshop with Jess Bealer.”