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Why Vulnerability is So Important

We all hunger for intimacy; it’s hard-wired into humans. We want to go be known and we want to go deep. But getting to a place of intimacy seems more complicated than ever in our modern world. It requires our vulnerability. I learned that at a recent conference. There I was on stage in front of …
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes

We all hunger for intimacy; it’s hard-wired into humans. We want to go be known and we want to go deep. But getting to a place of intimacy seems more complicated than ever in our modern world. It requires our vulnerability.

I learned that at a recent conference. There I was on stage in front of 300 people who were expecting something profound and leaderly from me. My heart was pounding because I knew that God wanted something that felt very different – He wanted me to lead with vulnerability.

I began in familiar territory – I gave them a passage of Scripture and then began to share its implications in the reasoned tones that one expects from a speaker.

But then I veered off into unfamiliar territory. The Scripture I referenced concluded with an exhortation to repent. It was the last thing I wanted to do, but it’s what I sensed God saying to us. If we were ever to go deeper with Him and with one another, we needed it. So I began to share ways in which I sensed I had failed them.

It felt awkward and I felt vulnerable. I was vulnerable. I was floating out into uncharted waters. What would happen next? There was no script.

We need each other’s weakness

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned I will never get to intimacy with others from a place of strength. To get to intimacy, I’ve got to tap into and share my weakness. Often we need one another’s weakness more than we need one another’s strength. 

When I share my weakness with you, I’m hoping that you will respond in a similar way, not from a place of strength. From that place of shared weakness, maybe I won’t feel so isolated. Maybe in that place, our hearts will touch.

And that’s why we have to harness the power of vulnerability. Vulnerability is the secret sauce that unlocks intimacy. It puts us in a posture to receive grace and to connect with others who need grace from us. Vulnerability sets the table for intimacy.

I posted something about vulnerability on Facebook and one of my friends responded by wondering if there was any biblical basis for understanding vulnerability. My answer pointed her to Jesus’ life and ministry.

Jesus & vulnerability

Jesus was born into a vulnerable body to a vulnerable young couple in a vulnerable place in a vulnerable time and space in history. Consider: Jesus, the son of God, was born in a baby’s body, to parents away from home in a dirty barn in a country under the thumb of a despotic empire. What a picture of vulnerability!

When he hung up his carpenter’s apron for the last time, he didn’t ascend to a throne to rule his kingdom. He got baptized and then went to the desert, away from every comfort, away from food and water. And there in that vulnerable condition, he did battle with his enemy.

Nor did he hide out and rest up when he returned to civilization. Instead, he went to those in Nazareth who had seen him as a boy and a young man and perhaps still saw him that way. And he confronted their expectations saying, “a prophet has no respect in his hometown.”

Their answer was not to pat him on the head. He was a threat to their power structures, so they responded by trying to kill him. He escaped, but not by using power. Instead he “walked through their midst.”

Jesus’ began his public ministry by declaring it was not the religious, but the vulnerable who would receive his ministry. Quoting Isaiah 61, he said he would bring hope to the “poor, the blind, the prisoner, and the oppressed.” (Luke 4)

Preaching on the mountainside, he elaborated on the theme. It’s the “discouraged, the sorrowful, the hungry, the hated and rejected” who are candidates for grace. (Luke 6:20-22).

And then look at what he says our response to evil should be:

Do good to those who hate you, 

bless those who curse you,

pray for those who mistreat you. 

If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also.

If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them.” (Luke 6:27-29)

In other words, be vulnerable.

Or look at Jesus’ whole way of ministry – he travels with nothing. He doesn’t even carry a pillow. If he’s going to sleep in a bed, it’s going to be as a guest. If he’s going to eat, it will be based on whatever God provides that day. Jesus daily makes himself vulnerable. 

From that place of weakness, Jesus begins to set the captives free. And we’re not talking about only those who are demonized or are in the grips of evil. Jesus holds the key to every ankle chain and every prison door restraining us.

This is such a huge and obvious thing, it’s amazing that so many Christian leaders miss it and instead embrace all the trappings of power and entitlement. Leaders need to regularly touch the humanity of those who follow them. They need to lead with weakness.

Spiritual growth begins with vulnerability

This is one reason that AA groups are better church than most churches. They recognize that our spiritual growth begins with our vulnerability. In an AA group, you begin by sharing your weaknesses and failings, thus leveling the playing field and showing that it is safe to be weak.

From that low place, freedom and healing are available to everyone. To experience freedom, all we have to do is show up in a vulnerable space – confessing our sins, not just to Him, but to one another. James 5:16 promises us physical healing if we are sick. But before praying, James instructs us, we should confess our sin to each other.

Why is that? For one thing, it breaks the power of pride. “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble,” James says, quoting a pervasive theme in Scripture. Sharing our brokenness removes any strongholds the enemy may have in our lives. Doing so establishes the reality of truth, no matter how ugly, and breaks the power that secrets hold over us.

Vulnerability is not easy, but it is necessary if we are to get to shared truth and from there to trust. 

Years ago when I was leading a ministry staff retreat, I could sense that many of the staff were in a bad place. They were burned out from a summer of ministry. One lady in particular seemed to have it out for me. I prayed about her. She was critical of me and might have been taking others down with her attitude.

“God, what should I do?” I asked. 

“You should wash her feet,” he replied.

And when I did so, it changed the atmosphere of the meeting. Everything shifted from there. Showing my weakness allowed her to lower her defenses and see my humanity.

Do you long for intimacy? If so, how are you at sharing those broken places in your life where you feel weak? Consider the upside down kingdom that Jesus preached where the weak are strong and the hungry get fed. Consider leading with vulnerability.

Our human hearts long for intimacy. Vulnerability is the engine that can get us there.


If you find yourself asking “how?” check out 5 Ways to Move From Vulnerability to Intimacy

Comments (14)

  • The vulnerability you speak of would be transformational in our churches today. Our daughter has been in church her entire life but now as she launches into the world … real church begins.

    • Why do you think we don’t see this in church? It is perplexing. I don’t think it’s even an expectation. And leaders have never seen a model that includes it. The only reason I learned it was that I’m around such messy people and if we don’t lead authentically, then we’ll never deal with what’s really going on.

  • I have been pondering this since I read your post yesterday. I think we are not seeing this modeled in the church, because we don’t want to be seen. Now, I know that is a dichotomy because we ALL want to be seen. But do we, at the risk of being hurt once again? (fear) When we open (faith) that box for others to catch a glance into, we quickly assess whether that person is safe or not on how they are responding to our vulnerable-ness. Many times we read it wrong because of unresolved prior hurts or insecurity and snap the box closed just in time to stop “being seen.”
    We as Christians must be willing to be vulnerable to gain true intimacy with others, and if our open hearts cause another to gossip or shame us, then we have to wipe the dust off and keep moving.
    Our daughter just landed in Costa Rica … it’s her time to learn the true meaning of community and church and most of all, intimacy with the Father.

  • When Sola and I call you Dad, we do so on account of your proven authenticity over the years. We count ourselves blessed to be fathered by you, a leader whose scars are seen, who despite the scars, mostly from relationships that stabbed vulnerability in the heart, remains accessible. That’s leadership the Kingdom way.

    If the fathers and elders of the Christian faith today hope to bequeath the next generation their greatest treasures, it must be with trembling hands and knees, weakened by true vulnerability. The youth see our flaws and will respond to the Kingdom’s call in deeper ways, when we willingly fall on the Rock of Offence and be broken.

    It’s risky because we need to die in the presence of people, both close and distant; who may not offer us a second chance… an assurance of a resurrection… hope… redemption. But God will and still does!!

    I love you Daddy Seth Barnes. I’ll hang around you, in the company of the unashamed.

    Thank you for opening your bruised heart for many at the Awakening’16

    • Uche – you and Sola are easy to love. Your hearts are so big and your commitment to pay whatever price might be required to love others is so strong. Thanks for reaching out across the ocean to build relationship. And thanks for giving so many young people in a war-torn land a picture of what God’s love looks like.

  • “This is such a huge and obvious thing, it’s amazing that so many Christian leaders miss it and instead embrace all the trappings of power and entitlement.”

    It is a mystery to me how this concept and truth escapes so many, particularly in leadership. Perhaps it is a revelation of hearts that want what they want, and then try to bowtie it with a religous ribbon. True Kingdom leaders are rare, and those who take the narrow road do so knowing real strength emerges from vulnerablity that exposes one’s heart rather than sugarcoating their weaknesses. Humility by Andrew Murray is a classic read.

    • Periodically there have been reformations to correct either heresy or reintroduce orthopraxy. It seems like we need another reformation…

  • “Often we need one another’s weakness more than we need one another’s strength.”

    This is such an upside down way of looking at how we need one another. It’s such a Kingdom perspective. I am learning to walk in vulnerability and what that means, especially in leadership. It is scary but I am finding that no one can truly love you until they know the real you, “warts and all,” as a friend of mine puts it. I am also finding that I cannot truly love others until I can love myself the same way.

    Thanks for sharing! Keep being vulnerable, you’re teaching many of us along the way.

    • Jodon,

      Actually, no one but my own 4 daughters call me “daddy.“ I have known Uche and Sola for over a decade. They are Nigerian and in Nigeria it is normal to give respect to elders. I never asked them to call me “dad.“ To me, that term comes with a lot of weight and potential baggage. They are among the most respectful people I know and it has been easy to love them even with the distance.

      Thanks for giving me the opportunity to once more move into a place of weakness where I can demonstrate again what I’m trying to communicate in the blog.

  • I respectfully remind you of the excerpt below posted on 10/4/2016.

    “I love you Daddy Seth Barnes. I’ll hang around you, in the company of the unashamed.”

    Perhaps I misunderstood what I read….or

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.

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