In the most normal of times, it takes great effort to establish and/or maintain a culture of trust. It is certainly true as we move through and come out on the other side of the COVID-19 crisis. And no doubt pastors feel the weight of it.  

Pastor leaders hold the anxiety of such a challenge on behalf of the congregation.  It can be exhausting not only on a personal level, but for the church as well. 

Imagine with me, if you will, what you might include in a list of “must haves” when it comes to qualities that a pastor should have for such a time as this. 

Here’s what I often hear from others in my role as a congregational coach—

  • Dynamic communicator/preacher
  • High Emotional Intelligence
  • Effective fundraiser (solve the church’s stewardship issues)
  • Inspiring team leader (good administrator)
  • Vision caster
  • Humble servant

All these are good ones, too. Can you think of any other traits you would add to the list?

Might one “must have” trait be vulnerability?

In her book, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead, Brené Brown takes us to a familiar quote from Teddy Roosevelt in 1910:

“It is not the critic who counts…. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, … who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.”

Brown riffs on Roosevelt’s words, pointing out how seductive it is to present ourselves as the smartest one in every room, as being almost “perfect and bulletproof.”  Maybe you recognize yourself here.

As a minister myself, I often expended energy covering up inadequacies, hiding limitations, or presenting a false façade, too. After failing more than once, I learned that if indeed I was always the smartest one in the room, I was going to need to get more people in the room! I couldn’t do it on my own if the church was to thrive. 

Leading with vulnerability takes tremendous courage.

Here’s what it looks like:

1. Asking good questions rather than giving the right answers.
Educators and psychologists agree that people who ask good questions are much more likely to be intelligent and innovative than those who always have answers.

Always having “the answer” is often nothing more than a cover for low self-esteem, a fear of vulnerability, and a need to dominate a conversation.
Remember Jesus as a little boy sitting among the teachers, “listening” and “asking questions.” As Jesus did, so must we.

2. Building strong, engaged teams with your ministry staff and congregational leadership.
Leaders who present themselves as always having “the answers,” close themselves off to others. None of us, in recognizing our vulnerability, should pretend we are able to “go at it alone.”

When we ask others, “Can you help me with this? What are your thoughts on this issue? Are you willing to work on this together with me?” we are expressing our vulnerabilities in a courageous and positive way that opens the door to curiosity and engagement.

3. Involving people in decisions that affect them.
People want their church to be successful, and when given an opportunity to participate in decisions affecting them, they bring their best thinking and contribute fully. Through engagement, people develop deeper understanding of the issues and goals and become more committed to implementing decisions.

Inviting more people to the table to participate in decision-making creates stronger buy-in, builds leadership capabilities for the future, and increases their level of trust in each other and in leadership.

4. Opening the flow of information.
Technology has changed the landscape.  Information is accessible, whether you want to share it or not. But that’s good news because we benefit collectively when information is freely shared.  Virtual engagement has opened the door to what Rosabeth Moss Kanter calls a collaborative advantage. It will continue as churches embrace new opportunities of communication and conduits of information creating new partnerships for the good of the world.

5. Celebrating and utilizing diversity.
Diversity is the bedrock of innovation. When diverse perspectives are combined, discussions are richer and more relevant. We find better solutions. Conflict and creative disagreement, when focused on issues and not personalities, serve as the “grain of sand in the oyster” to produce creative new ideas, approaches and solutions.

These are just a few examples.  I am sure you can name others.

The pastor’s effectiveness as a leader depends upon such vulnerability.  The presence or absence of it may also shape the church’s future.