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Power In Weakness: You Don’t Actually Believe It

Pastors have a hard time admitting their weaknesses.

In this, I suppose, they are much like other people. No one likes to have their vulnerabilities exposed, their misalignment with God uncovered- but it’s especially true for ministers and other church leaders. The reasons are myriad.

  1. Many people in the pew like the idea of a flawless pastor – or at least one whose flaws are minimal.
  2. It helps with book deals and speaking gigs to be well thought of rather than honestly thought of.
  3. Some church folks use it against a minister if s/he confesses who they really are.

But as real as these reasons are, they are all shadows of the actual reason pastors, leaders, and generally everyone you know stops short of admitting their weaknesses:  We don’t actually believe the Bible!

Here’s my proof: The Apostle Paul makes one overarching point in his second (at least third, for folks who know) letter to the church in Corinth. That point? God’s power is made perfect in weakness. Throughout the letter, Paul refers to his own weaknesses and the many ways he’s been accused of not being the best pastor in the world. He also responds to the many ways he’s been criticized. After arguing his case for a while, the apostle burst out the message he has received from God; “But he (God) said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”

As beautiful – and quoted – as this passage is, in reality no one believes it.

The next time you’re flicking through the channels take note of how many TV preachers are ministering from their weaknesses. At the next large “leadership” conference for church leaders, listen to speaker introductions and see how frequently the strength of the presenter (great leader, incredible communicator, etc…) and the strength of their church (read: numbers) is mentioned. When you peruse the bookshelves at your local Christian bookstore, notice how many bestsellers are written by folks who are writing about how God works through their weaknesses rather than their strengths. There’s even an entire work and productivity trend defined by working from your strengths and minimizing your weaknesses. Plus, how many of us blog, tweet and speak in order to “build a platform” (confession)?  And isn’t building a platform simply a fancy way of saying, “building strength”?  You will find some pastors and preachers sharing honestly, but not most. And overwhelmingly, our talk of weaknesses are simply humble-brags; “I can’t believe I speak to 6,000 people each Sunday after struggling with a speech impediment as a boy….”

Our deeply held conviction is the same conviction at work in all of American life: Strength is better than weakness. The sad truth is that those of us working in and leading churches are no better than the false machismo and pomp we see after a wide-receiver scores a touchdown – thumping our chest, screaming to the world, “Look at me. Look at me. See how strong I am.”

We actually believe that strength is better than weakness even though the Bible expressly tells us that’s not the case. Is it any wonder that churches are losing ground? While the scriptures call us to open our weaknesses to allow the power of God to flow through us, we have knotted the hose keeping the Spirit tied up and safe from exposure.

What would happen if we actually believed that God’s power is not just useful in weakness, but made perfect? What might happen if the next time we saw a church leader carting a truck full of accolades and more franchises than McDonald’s, we became suspicious of whether or not s/he was walking with the Lord or just Donald Trump with a 3-point sermon? What would happen if we saw the fact that the cross left Jesus with a tiny organization of unsure followers as the rule rather than the exception? What if for something to be of God it had to look like weakness to the world? What if we have it all wrong?

  • Max Chance

    Great post, Sean. Unfortunately, we’ve all seen bloody intra-church battles, often church splits resulting, when a minister gets THAT real. Even the other guys I know in ministry who are also in “recovery,” hedge and keep a cap on how real they will get about that stuff (outside of an accountability group), unless they minister to a “recovery” church. And there’s some reasonable appropriateness to that, maybe…? But hiding it at all is dangerous to the Recoverer. And yet, it is just so very contrary to human nature for us to follow a guy who’s lost or confused- or falters momentarily- even across the street. We assume this person can’t hear from God, doesn’t care, or is just simply doing something so secretly wrong that he is deserving of God’s punishment (which we read as this evident confusion). Of course, all of that goes on in a momentary flash through the mind, which we smile and cover. 🙂 !! …making a Job of everyone who ministers. I think there’s a lot of squaring-with-ourselves (getting honest) that Christians struggle to do, and seeing these issues in a leader only hits that raw nerve. We wear smiles and nice clothes to cover the hypocrisy we feel over the inner conflict that, Biblically, NONE of us ESCAPES!! I love Romans 7- how confessional Paul is… He’s failing. The good? He can’t get himself to do it. The bad? He can’t stop doing it. Then he cries out in humbled praise to the One who CAN defeat that inner foe. I wonder if the Roman church squirmed when that was read to them! Sad truth is, most of us in comfy modern pews are not in touch with our own fallen nature. Including we who then get up to talk about it! Denial is just too easy an option, until it is removed from the menu. The paradox is, of course, I can’t grow in those broken areas until I get honest and admit they’re there- and if I can opt out of that honesty, I think many of us will- as long as we can. You’re absolutely right in saying, there’s a Biblical disobedience to that. In the end, it is disbelief, or a lack of faith that God’s word is true and/or to-be-trusted.

    • Thanks for this, Max. Honesty is our only path to recovery.

  • Ron Dunagan

    Sean,

    As usual very thought provoking. As a pew sitter I’m not sure how I would react if the pastor started “spilling his guts”, either in public or in private. I think that you’re right in asserting that the idea that the pastor or preacher is expected to be well respected instead of honest is an Americanized, if not Bible Belt, concept. Pastors I think rightly expect a pirrahna like feeding frenzy if they ever reveal their true challenges. However, I believe that if we ever got to the point where we could bolster each other in our walk we would not look at the pastor as the perfect example, a shining symbol, but rather someone flawed like us that we could walk the walk with. Just my thoughts as I face my own challenges and run my race.

    Keep up the good work. Really enjoy your honesty.

  • Great post! Occasionally I will hear people tell me how inspirational and encouraging I am when I speak about the struggles of losing a son. But I worry about telling something of my story too often because I don’t want the sermons to sound like they’re just about Rex. That also comes from my frustration when I hear preachers tell stories that make themselves out to be the hero of the story. Nevertheless, this coming Sunday I am preaching on James 5:13-18 (“The Prayers of Faith”) and I plan to begin sharing my struggle with prayer and this passage which all stems from praying for nine months for a healthy child, only to have my son die.

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