Church Planting Lessons: Vulnerability

This is the third in a series of posts about what I’ve learned about multi-ethnic church planting as we near the one-year anniversary of New Community Covenant Church in Bronzeville.  You may be interested in parts one and two.  I’ve added a photo or painting from Bronzeville in each of these posts.

I’m not sure I would have used the word “vulnerability” to describe the process of multi-ethnic church planting until last week.  That’s when, in conversation with my friend Professor Paul Metzger of Multnomah University, I first heard the word used in context of my vocation.  It’s been a helpful way to think about my experience and I’m grateful to him for it.

Like any new endeavor, starting a church carries a certain amount of risk.  I’m incredibly grateful for the strong, gifted, and experienced leaders who are collaborating to lead New Community into existence.  However,even with these leaders the process of pastoring a new church has often felt rather emotionally vulnerable.  I think this vulnerability has been especially poignant given the dynamics of a multi-ethnic church.

On more than one occasion I’ve pointed out this experience to the church by contrasting the predominately African American neighborhood where our church resides and the very white skin in which my own body resides.  This is new, unfamiliar territory to me.  Of course, anyone who participates in a multi-ethnic church – especially one that regularly acknowledges and addresses injustices related to race, ethnicity and culture – is bound to experience vulnerability.  This is the result of addressing those things that are often unacknowledged by both church and culture.

However, as a white man I am unused to deliberately and repeatedly choosing to experience vulnerability.  As I shared with my spiritual director a number of months ago, I’m used to leading with confidence and intuition; feeling vulnerable or exposed would mean I’d taken a wrong turn somewhere.  But pastoring a multi-ethnic church in an African American neighborhood has removed much of my self-confidence and I’m slower to trust my intuition.  Instead, I ask a lot of questions.  And more questions.  And follow-up questions.  I ask our leaders how my ideas sound to them.  I ask them for their ideas.

And yet, I’ve still been called to pastor, to lead.  And so: vulnerable leadership.  Thankfully the cross of Christ provides the model of complete vulnerability.  The future of our young church lies here, at the cross, where God became weak so that we might have life.

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David Swanson
David Swanson is the pastor of New Community Covenant Church [Bronzeville] on Chicago's South Side. He blogs often and has authored countless articles for prominent Christian publications.