by Sam McKeen

Vulnerable Barnstead Christian Church New Hampshire

 Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. – James 5:16 (ESV)

Sharing personal struggles and confessing one’s sin to others is not a common practice in the church today. Lack of vulnerability is a major problem in our churches as it prevents deep and meaningful relationships from forming. It also enables those in the church to function individually from one another which is not how God designed his church to function.

We have developed the habit of hiding our true selves. Even those who profess to know and love God are guilty of forcing smiles and hiding their sin and struggles behind the mask of religion. Why? 

A lot of blame can be cast on our culture and the way it glorifies independence and shames failures. From personal experience, I think many who are a part of a local church are fearful of being judged, instead of experiencing love, grace, and encouragement from their brothers and sisters in Christ. This is heartbreaking as the church should be the most grace filled place in the world. We need to be able to share our struggles and doubts without fear. We need a cultural change in our churches. We are all people who are journeying through this life together and we face many of the same challenges, temptations, and trials. We serve the same God and have the same mission. We are in this together so our interactions should be focused on serving, loving, and building each other up.

The Gospel frees us to be authentic and vulnerable with one another.

The Gospel reveals that we are far more wicked than we can imagine, but at the same time are more loved that we can comprehend. Nobody takes our sin as seriously as God does, yet He loves us with an everlasting love. God demonstrated his love through the person and work of Jesus Christ.  In love, God has reached into your filthy life and washed you white as snow. Because we are secure in Christ, it frees us to be vulnerable with one another. 

We need to embrace the messiness of others’ lives.

There are many hurting people all around us that need hope. When we reach out to others and engage with them, especially those who are far from God, we will experience first-hand the messiness of people’s lives. Those who struggle with lifestyles of sin and who are far from God are often the most open to spiritual truth. Jesus focused His ministry towards the “sinners” and not the “religious”. When people’s lives are to the point where their sin and brokenness is out in the open, they are much more open to hear and apply the Gospel of the Kingdom. They see that the Kingdom of the world has failed them.

When the church reaches out to people who are hurting outside of the church, it helps to develop a culture of vulnerability within the church. Why? Because the church sees the danger of sin that is unaddressed, the brokenness of those trapped in that sin and the transforming power of the gospel.

Conviction, confession, and repentance must be normalized.

I fear that we have forgotten that we are to live dependent upon the Holy Spirit. When God’s people live surrendered lives, then the Holy Spirit will convict and they will respond in repentance. Too often we minimize or justify our sin. Sadly, hearing one of our brothers or sisters give testimony of how they had victory over a sin they were struggling with is not a common occurrence. God is faithful, and the Gospel has the power to transform people’s lives.  A truly vulnerable church cannot be created outside of the Spirit’s power. The church needs to be a place where it is ok to hurt and struggle. A place where broken sinners find hope, joy, and purpose in Jesus Christ. 

A warning about unhealthy vulnerability.

Vulnerability is beautiful and powerful. It cultivates trust and deepens relationships and builds up others in remarkable ways.

However, vulnerability can be negative and harmful when it is motivated by selfishness. Unhealthy vulnerability is when the person being vulnerable has an expectation that others will take responsibility for fixing their problem(s). 

For example someone might think, “I’m going to get vulnerable with my spouse / fiancé/ friend about my innermost feelings and struggles because they will feel pity, and therefore, comfort me, validate me, make me feel better, and solve my problem.”

In this case vulnerability becomes manipulative. This toxic vulnerability pushes others away as it puts the pressure on them to fix everything. It also communicates immaturity and emotional dependence on the part of the one being “vulnerable”. There is nothing wrong with being vulnerable with those close to us; it is the motivation of why we are being vulnerable that is key.

Healthy vulnerability is detached from any expected outcome. Healthy vulnerability demonstrates great humility while unhealthy vulnerability is false humility. When someone lays all their sins and struggles out on the table but is unwilling to take steps to address them, they are assuming the role of a victim and their “vulnerability” is really self-centered complaining. It is important to be aware of this unhealthy vulnerability in our own lives and in the lives of others as it can create significant damage to relationships.

The power of healthy vulnerability motivated by love and humility is undeniable, and it desperately needs to be a part of the culture in our churches. May we all take time to do some serious reflection and work on opening up to those who love us and desire our best. It is a glorious thing to be a part of God’s family. When we are vulnerable with one another, it empowers and enables the church to function as God intended.

“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

– Jesus Christ  (John 13:35)