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Taking off the Pretense: Why Weak Leadership Can Heal Our Churches

weak leadership

During the first five years of my life, I suffered and witnessed physical abuse. My earliest memories are tainted by deep, personal trauma. Even after my mum, brother, and I made it to a place where we felt more secure, I was assaulted by another abuser. I was only 9. 

This is why my friendship with the rugged fisherman from Peterhead was so unexpected. My mum had started to take us to a small Baptist church in northern Scotland. It was there where I met him. His glass eye and long, dark beard were jarring at first. But soon I discovered something so undeniable that I was at a loss for words. This man with the thick accent introduced me to the Bible in such a way that it seemed alive—and he did so with a gentleness and affection that seemed to mimic this person named Jesus that he was pointing me towards. 

The gospel broke into my stubborn, cold, dead heart through the help of this fisherman.

The “Thorny” Issue of Weak Leadership

It is not surprising that as pastors and church leaders we want to appear to have it all together. For many of us, the past few years have been like sitting in a cauldron of boiling water over an increasingly hot stove. We are fine; I am fine, we keep telling ourselves even as the flame glows brighter. 

But what if we aren’t? 

The Apostle Paul sure wasn’t fine. He admitted that there were many reasons he could boast of all God had done in and through him. But he also admitted to the “thorn”—that pesky thing sent to demonstrate the power and strength of God alone. We do not know whether this was a physical, spiritual, or emotional affliction. What we do know is that Paul was convinced that weakness does not disqualify us for ministry and leadership; in fact, it is sometimes from the place of weakness that we can serve most effectively.

Not long after I became a Christian, I began pursuing full-time Christian ministry. I planted a church when I was just 24 years old. And I put on the strong man façade. No one knew my story of woundedness, not even my wife. I busied myself trying to minister to others in their brokenness while failing to recognize my own. In the process I hurt others and allowed destructive thoughts and fears to haunt me. I was living two lives, ministering with the appearance of wholeness, and yet rattled by my own insecurities and fears.

 I realized this couldn’t go on. I remembered Paul: 

…a thorn was given me in the flesh… Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me.  But he 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 of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Cor. 12:7-10)

The strong man façade that too many of us wear is antithetical to the gospel and unhelpful to our witness and leadership. God uses weak leaders who are dependent on him and who recognize their own woundedness and brokenness. Jesus modeled this as well. Even though he was not weak, he nonetheless modeled what it means to be utterly dependent upon the Father for strength and courage to face all He came to earth to do. 

Finding our Fishermen

I came to realize that I needed to share my story with my elders. I needed biblical discipleship and accountability. I needed to serve from my brokenness instead of from a pretense of wholeness. Yet, deep down, I was afraid to be truly honest about some of the experiences I had lived through. I was afraid of reliving it and of how others might perceive me were they to know. Remarkably, when I shared about my past, I was not judged, condemned, or silenced. I was embraced as a fellow weak leader who is wholly dependent on Christ to lead a church of other weak humans who are wholly dependent on Christ. I learned that leadership is only strong when our strength comes from Christ alone. 

While I can point to many villains in my own story, I can also see that there are several heroes. I thank God for those godly Christians in my life who accepted me despite my weakness. Those who care for me through my pain and challenge me to find my identity in Christ rather than in what I do for Christ. Most of all, I thank God for that fisherman and my church elders who became my refuge, my place of safety, as they spoke the truth that God could use even my wounds to minister to His wounded people!