Weeping With Gang Members
My vulnerability that day was completely unplanned, but God had a purpose behind it. My uncontrollable tears, and the crying it provoked among the young people at the vigil, opened a door that I never could have opened through my own cleverness.
Following the gathering I was able to develop a deeper connection with many of the gang members. They opened up to me. They trusted me even though I had no credibility in their world. I had not shared their gang background or lived through the same experiences. But my vulnerability at the vigil had given me credibility in the neighborhood. I hadn't shared their life, but I had shared their pain. As a result my preconceived ideas about them changed. God gave me a love for these young men I had not experienced before, and God gave them a pastor.
Many of us want a closer connection with the people we minister to. We want them to trust us, to seek us for help or guidance, and to be honest about their struggles and pain. But we should not expect others to be open if we are not open first. As pastors we must model for our communities the vulnerability and transparency we desire from them. I discovered that doing this took more courage than I possess. It took a courage that comes only from Jesus being with me.
Jesus' most frequent command to the disciples was, "Be not afraid," and it was closely linked to his most important promise, "I will always be with you." I feared looking like a fool in front of those tough, dangerous gang members. I was worried about my image and my reputation. I imagine it is a fear shared by many others in church leadership even when they're not surrounded by a street gang. I found the courage to overcome my fear only when I was overwhelmed by the presence of Jesus and his love for these hurting, broken young people.
Since then I've been on a journey of self-forgetfulness. I'm learning to accept that being a pastor means being a fool. I'm learning to trust Jesus more and abandon my desire to be seen by others in a certain way. And I'm learning that the best ministry doesn't happen because I've devised a great plan or calculated an outcome. The best ministry happens when in my fear I pray, "Jesus, what do you want me to do here?"
Paco Amador is a pastor at New Life Little Village in Chicago, Illinois.
Copyright © 2013 by the author or Christianity Today/Leadership Journal.
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