We Need More Vulnerability In The Church

One of the hardest places to work on sobriety is in church.

I say this as a big fan of churches. I absolutely love being part of a community of faith—even with all of it warts and blemishes.

And of those blemishes is that too often, churches do not provide space for people to be genuine, or authentic, or vulnerable. Whether intentional or not, many churches have become a place where we dress up with our clothes (“Wear your Sunday best!”) and our smiles (“Oh, I’m doing just fine!”).

And in a nicely dressed, smiley atmosphere, it is difficult to come just as we are.

I want to emphasize: this may not be intentional. I do not think that most people are blatantly trying to make it hard for people in recovery to attend church. But I think we must understand that our words and our actions create barriers to authenticity. If we are going to allow our churches to become safe spaces for vulnerability, it will take some intentionality on our part.

Several years ago, I was asked to talk about my alcoholism and recovery during the time of communion at our church. I was humbled by the response. But I was also saddened. Because several people—some who were long-time church goers and even church leaders—told me that it was either the first time or one of only a few times they had ever heard someone being vulnerable during worship.

If someone has been attending church for 20, 30, 40 or more years (or even one week, for that matter), they should have heard a LOT of people being vulnerable. They should have been opening up and being vulnerable towards others.

Why are we so afraid to be who we are? Why do we struggle to come just as we are?

We could probably enter a long discussion about all of those reasons. And I hope to address several of them in future posts. But today, I want to make some suggestions. I would like for your church to become a place of vulnerability—a place where people can truly be themselves as they enter into the presence of God and God’s people.

Here are a few simple suggestions:

First, in order to create space for vulnerability, you must be vulnerable. Consider this: do you truly think anyone has it all together all the time? Do you truly think that people around are free from struggle, worry, anxiety, temptation? Do you lose respect for people when they admit they need help?

If the answer to those three questions is no, then why do you think YOU must act as if you have it all together all the time? Why do you think YOU must be free from struggle? Why do you think others will lose respect for you?

Be honest. Share. It doesn’t have to be with everybody. But there need to be people in your life with whom you can open up and talk about those difficulties. Don’t put the pressure on yourself to put on a show for others. If you are sad—be sad! If you are feeling despair—admit that you don’t have answers! If you are happy—smile, laugh, and sing loud so that you can be the voice for the people whose voices are muted that day.

Second, do not audibly gasp when someone admits to having a problem. Again, this may not be intentional. And often, when someone confesses to a sin or a struggle in their lives there is surprise and even disappointment. But when you gasp and tsk and shake your head thinking no one notices…someone is noticing. Maybe not the person sharing—but the person sitting next to you. Or behind you. Or somewhere near you who can see you without you realizing it.

I am not telling you to you should not be surprised. I am not saying you should not feel disappointment. But I am saying if you respond in a way that puts people down, others will be less likely to share when they need to.

There are more suggestions that could help. And there can be (and needs to be) much more conversation on this topic. And more will come. So keep reading!

But what are doing now to help create and promote transparency and vulnerability in your church or other similar type of social setting?

12 thoughts on “We Need More Vulnerability In The Church

  1. Fantastic post… something I’ve been saying for years and will continue to say. Have you ever read anything by Brene Brown? She is a psychologist out of Washington state that does work on vulnerability and resiliency… awesome resource on this!

    • I LOVE Brene! Daring Greatly is a book I have recommended to every human being I know. Her work on vulnerability and shame is so valuable. If you and I keep saying this stuff, maybe people will eventually listen!

  2. I totally agree Paul. Another well written post. And one that is needed at that. So amazing how God works because this is exactly the topic that has been brought up today! I believe that there really needs to be intentional living, trust, compassion, transparency, & most importantly, grace. I can’t wait to read up on what you have to share for the rest of this week!

  3. Hey Paul,

    I definitely think I needed to read this today–it was right on with what I was feeling. The church community can be very judgmental as can family members. I don’t know; I guess sometimes I do think other people have it “all together” and there’s just something wrong with me. I think we all could do better with being a little more vulnerable so that people can see that they’re not alone in their feelings and experiences. Thanks for this excellent post!

  4. I struggle to imagine many healthy ways to increase vulnerability in a large church setting. Those in leadership including those who are asked to speak up front can certainly model vulnerability, and in powerful ways like the one you described; however, I have also seen that done in unhealthy ways. I think the real place for churches to encourage this kind of vulnerability is in smaller group settings. All too often our small groups simply become a place to discuss the sermon and sing a few songs, a microcosm of the Sunday morning gathering. We don’t just need small groups in our lives…we need surrogate family, people with whom we are growing deeply and sharing life together as often as possible. I am part of a house church (not connected to a big church) that is experimenting with exactly these things. We are getting better at it slowly, but it’s still difficult. We’re trying to share our stories, our deepest hurts, our greatest dreams. The ladies from this church were present at the birth of our son, and these were the people who surrounded us when I had cancer. Besides recovery, this has easily been the place where I’ve experienced the greatest amount of vulnerability.

    • I love small groups! The ones we have been a part of have definitely sustained us over the years. And I agree: there are some structural weakness to a traditional church setting in many areas, including vulnerability. I believe they can be overcome, though. And some of that may be through greater small group communities. I am grateful for your group and their heart for God and people!

  5. I’ve been reading The Purpose Driven Life and we are supposed to be open, honest and vulnerable in church. When we fully fellowship with one another, we’re supposed to be transparent. Love this post!!

    • Thanks! I was amazed when I read that book at how much recovery language was included. Then I learned that he helped write the Celebrate Recovery material and it made more sense!

  6. I Need To Talk With Somebody – A Second Time Paul

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