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Embracing Weakness

It pays to be honest about our shortcomings

Christian leaders love to talk about strengths. Want proof? Just ask your pastor to list her spiritual gifts, talk about his areas of passion, or tell you her Myers-Briggs profile (any other ENTJ's out there?). You're sure to get an enthusiastic response. But ask that same leader to tell you about her areas of weakness, and she might be slightly less excited to engage with you.

Don't get me wrong, most of us are happy to preach about weakness, write about weakness, and even encourage others to be open about their weakness. But something about the public nature of our leadership roles, or perhaps our own pride, makes it harder for us to be honest about our own shortcomings. After all, what would people think if they learned that you and I are light years away from having it all figured out?

I was only 24 years old when the title "Pastor" was first printed on my business card. Fresh out of seminary and newly married, my husband and I moved to northern California where I had taken a job as the young adult pastor at a thriving church. My tasks were clear: assume the planning and preaching duties for one of the church's worship services, and develop and launch a brand new ministry for young adults. I arrived on the job eager to embrace my new responsibilities. After all, I had just spent the previous three years studying theology and discovering my spiritual gifts. But I was about to make a huge realization: I may have expended a lot of energy understanding my gifts, but I had failed to consider how to compensate for my weaknesses.

The vision for the ministry took shape quickly. But every week that it grew, I felt increasingly weighed down by the details of getting this behemoth venture off the ground. It felt as if the fine print required to transform our big vision into a living, breathing reality was sucking the life right out of me. One month into the job, I sat at my desk, completely overwhelmed, wondering how to execute the great vision God had given us. That was the moment I realized I needed help—and fast! If I wanted this ministry to thrive, there was no more ignoring, or refusing to admit, the areas where I was not strong. I needed someone else to help fill in the gaps in my ability.

Enter my saving grace—Cheryl, the administrative assistant newly assigned to my area of ministry. Now, there is one thing (among many) you should know about Cheryl—she is nothing short of an organizational genius! While managing details gives me indigestion, handling the nitty-gritty makes Cheryl come alive. In what seemed like an effortless dance with all that fine print, she began to transform my excited musings about vision, mission, and outcomes, into lists, flowcharts, and spreadsheets. Suddenly, it actually seemed possible that our fledgling ministry could move beyond an ethereal dream and become a living, breathing organism!

As I reflect upon my ministry partnership with Cheryl, I can't help but remember 1 Corinthians 12. Here Paul reminds us that the Spirit distributes gifts (or strengths) as he determines. None of us has all of the gifts; therefore, we need to rely on each other. Paul goes on to use the analogy of the human body to explain that without our willingness to rely on the strengths of others to complement our areas of weakness, the church (Christ's body) cannot—and will not—function as Christ intended.

For leaders, the hard part can be identifying our weaknesses in the first place. After this early ministry experience, I learned two questions to ask to help discern areas of weakness. If you're unsure where you may need help in ministry, ask yourself, which types of tasks tend to suck energy out of me, as opposed to give me energy? Are there duties that seem painful to me, but effortless (even enjoyable) to others? Identifying those energy-sucking or painful tasks often indicate our areas of weakness.

After you've identified those areas, the next step is figuring out how to enlist help to overcome them—i.e. how to staff to your weakness. Even if you don't have the luxury of hiring a paid assistant, I have found that there are always people eager to volunteer their time and energy if a compelling need is presented. So go ahead and ask!

Once you've assembled your team (or at least a trusted ministry assistant), be honest with them—explain why you need their presence, help, and gifts to complement yours.

And finally, step back and prepare to be amazed at how excited, motivated, and energized people are as they have the opportunity to put their gifts to use, not to mention how much more you can accomplish and how encouraged you feel to know you don't have to go it alone!

Sara Bentley has worked as a hospital chaplain and held positions as Pastor of Spiritual Formation, Young Adult Pastor, and College Director at various churches in California.

November10, 2011 at 8:42 AM

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