Published Mar 14, 2023
Over the years, I’ve attended my share of conferences and have noticed something about my appetite for knowledge. I crave transparency on the stage. When a speaker starts their talk by spewing formulas, easy-to-implement plans, or one-size-fits-all strategies, my mind drifts to my to-do list. Instead, I’m drawn to the moments when a leader is vulnerable with the audience.
I perk up when a leader takes the microphone and says, “Here are the three biggest mistakes I’ve made in ministry and what I learned from them.” I’m drawn to the raw honesty, and I relate to the struggles.
At a recent leadership gathering, I decided to put this notion to the test. I scrapped the message I’d prepared and instead jotted down three huge mistakes I’ve made over the past few years, along with notes of what those failures have taught me. It was the most unscripted I’ve ever been. I shared from the heart, meandering through the presentation, airing my leadership laundry.
I noticed two results from this experiment. First, people were paying attention. I saw zero quick checks of email, which seems to be the norm these days (at least when I speak!). Second, the number of people who approached me after the message was higher than normal, and the conversations richer. Because I confessed my shortcomings, every person who approached me spilled the beans on their own failures and seemed to feel less alone in their struggles.
I walked away from that talk feeling more connected to the audience. It was clear transparency made the message work for them and for me. As James wrote, “Therefore, confess your sins to one to another … so that you may be healed” (James 5:16, CSB). He was right.
The apostle Paul also talked freely about his struggles. He had no problem letting people know how weak he felt:
“Therefore, I will most gladly boast all the more about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may reside in me. So I take pleasure in weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and in difficulties, for the sake of Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10, CSB).
Do you see what Paul learned over the years in leading people? He gleaned that his pain made him powerful, approachable, and influential. His weaknesses helped him resist self-reliance and kept him close to the power source of God’s strength.
I don’t know what your struggles are at the moment. All of us have assigned thorns in the flesh—pain points that keep us grounded in our dependency on God. Yours may be physical, such as a battle with being overweight. Or mental, like a struggle with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Or perhaps emotional, such as dealing with an easily triggered, hot temper. Indeed, many of our thorns in the flesh overlap categories and affect the whole person.
The takeaway is we all have our weaknesses, and Scripture calls us to let our guard down and share them. One of my teammates at Lifeway recently admitted a struggle with anxiety:
“If worry was an Olympic sport, I would have taken home the gold since childhood. Throughout my walk with Christ, He has been so faithful and patient with me. He knows my frame, that I am merely dust. But daily, I battle with worry in many forms.”
There it is. A thorn in the flesh. A weakness. A human being who admits their humanity. Many people wrestle with worry by imagining worst-case scenarios, rounding down on God’s grace. It’s good to know you’re not alone.
Our weaknesses challenge us to go directly to God and trade them for the strength only He provides. This is why Paul boasted in his weaknesses; the struggles that caused him the greatest pain pushed him to the throne of grace where he belonged.
Does this resonate with you? If so, I offer a closing challenge. As you finish this article, take a piece of paper and write down some of the biggest mistakes you’ve made in ministry. See if you can list 10. Now, circle the two or three that have changed you the most and what you’ve learned as a result.
As you start your next team meeting, share your discoveries. Confess your weaknesses to the people who serve alongside you. You might be surprised that they aren’t checking their email as you talk and that they approach you after the meeting to express thanks. Our weaknesses bring us closer together and closer to God.