Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

A great book to read!

Written by: on April 9, 2019

The first time I encountered BrenéBrown, a cartoon had been overlaid over her voice, and a moose, a bear and a fox were discussing the differences between sympathy and empathy. You can watch it here, and you will be glad that you did: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Evwgu369Jw

BrenéBrown is a New York Times bestselling author, known for her Ted Talks and her humorous, honest, research-backed approach to talking about courage, vulnerability, shame and empathy.  In her newest book, Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts., she is back doing what she does best.

In the introduction, she says that the question that she uses with senior leaders in a variety of organizations and settings is this: “What, if anything, about the way people are leading today needs to change in order for leaders to be successful in a complex, rapidly changing environment where we’re faced with seemingly intractable challenges and an insatiable demand for innovation? There was one answer across the interviews: We need braver leaders and more courageous cultures.”[1]

This kind of question is exactly what I am interested in in my own research about changing cultural contexts in the suburban landscape of the United States where many churches are located.  What, if anything, about the way people are leading today needs to change to address the realities of our time and place.

My question is not just about how are communities changing and how do our churches match up or compare with that change.  But the question is, as we notice this, as we learn about it, as we see cultural shifts happening around us, what are the courageous conversations that we (inside) the church need to have.  What are the topics that have been too taboo to touch?  What is the journey of self-knowledge that we need to take? What are the hard truths that we need to face?

A Washington Post reviewer writes, “Some of her takeaways seem entirely at odds with our present moment. Truly daring leaders, she explains, are prepared to be vulnerable and listen without interrupting. They have empathy, connecting to emotions that underpin an experience, not just to the experience itself. They have self-awareness and self-love, because who we are is how we lead. It’s easy to see how Brown’s research easily translates to parenthood. And marriages. And government hearings.”[2]And I would add “churches”.

Vulnerability is a key word for BrenéBrown in a lot of her writing and speaking.  She writes, “Adaptability to change, hard conversations, feedback, problem-solving, ethical decision making, recognition, resilience, and all of the other skills that underpin daring leadership are born of vulnerability.”[3]

When thinking about what this would look like, these hard conversations and honest, vulnerable moments within a team, or between people, or at a church, Brown uses the term rumbling with vulnerability.  The “rumble” is the tough topic or feedback or look in the mirror that isn’t so easy.  But she says, rather than enter into these rumbles between and among the community, with a sense of defensiveness or wearing armor, she counsels that we must be willing to rumble in a vulnerable way.

That means listening more than we talk.  Accepting that not everyone will agree with everything that is being said.  Allowing divergent views to be aired.  And modeling for people what it looks like to really lead within a complex and shifting environment.  In a way, she is asking for the Christian virtue of mutuality (of love, trust, and sharing) to be on display.

One of the principles that Brown emphasizes is power with, which she says, “has to do with finding common ground among different interests in order to build collective strength.”[4] From my pastoral leadership perspective, this is the work that leaders do within congregations.  Most pastoral leaders do not exercise power over, as perhaps some ecclesial leaders do, nor are we simply to be driven by the lowest common denominator, or the desire to avoid conflict.  To the contrary.  With great love for the people in our care, we actively guide them into conversations that will be important for their own lives, and for the sake of the larger church.

An example of this in my own context is a series of “courageous conversations” that we held during Advent this past year, exploring issues around refugees, immigrants, and racial/ethnic differences in our church and our community.  Over the past few weeks of Lent, we held a supper and study program where we read and discussed the Letter from the Birmingham Jail by Martin Luther King Jr.  These were both ways into some hard conversations (especially about race), but they were set up to encourage listening and sharing, rather than debating or blaming.

My encouragement in reading Dare to Lead, is that as my congregation builds the muscles that allow us to have these kinds of talks, there is a lot more room to grow, and to push, and to lead, even into things that I would normally hold back from or keep us away from.  The kind of daring leadership that Brown suggests in her book calls on leaders to be ready to take risks for the sake of the future health and growth of the church.  Hers is the kind of reasonable, challenging, humorous, and loving book that helps me to grow as a leader, especially around topics that are difficult to take on.

She writes that “integrity is choosing courage over comfort; it’s choosing what’s right over what’s fun, fast, or easy; and it’s practicing your values, not just professing them.”[5]  This is one of my growing edges as a leader, and BrenéBrown has put her finger right on it.  It was a great book to read!

[1]Brené Brown, Dare to Lead: Brave work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts (New York: Random House, 2018), 6.

[2]Mary Beth Albright, review of Dare to Lead: Brave work. Tough Conversations. Whole HeartsWashington Post, October 6, 2018, Books, https://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/books/brene-brown-knows-what-makes-a-great-leader–and-most-politicians-wouldnt-make-the-cut/2018/10/15/876433ac-c7fa-11e8-b1ed-1d2d65b86d0c_story.html?utm_term=.6e32f3139ce5.

[3]Brené Brown, Dare to Lead: Brave work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts (New York: Random House, 2018), 43.

[4]Brené Brown, Dare to Lead: Brave work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts (New York: Random House, 2018), 97.

[5]Brené Brown, Dare to Lead: Brave work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts (New York: Random House, 2018), 220.

About the Author

Dave Watermulder

6 responses to “A great book to read!”

  1. Great post, Dave!

    What a great video! Honest confession. I had never even heard of Brené Brown until this assignment. It was interesting to hear her perspective on empathy vs. sympathy. The text as well as the video, challenge us to step into one another’s shoes and operate from a place of authentic vulnerability. Do you find that this type of leadership is easier or more difficult for monocultural churches?

    One thing that I’ve noticed about ministering in NYC is the tendency for many churches and organizations to lean towards Liberation Theology. It’s the crux of a lot of programs, sermons, and activities. However, one of the downfalls of this theology is the emphasis on purpose. Faith takes on the position of doing and people take on the task of performance. This limits people’s ability to be real with one another and to express vulnerability. How can we encourage purpose and still give time for personal reflection? How do we encourage the church as a whole to lead from a place of vulnerability?

  2. Dan Kreiss says:


    I think you captured this text and applied it well not only to your own specific context but the wider church. We have read several books this semester that encourage us to ask different questions and then be prepared to listen intently. It seems that you have been doing just that in your context and also encouraging your congregation to do the same, even when it causes some discomfort at times. This, I believe, is the type of leadership Brene’ attempts to foster and exactly what the church needs to practice more consistently.

  3. Greg says:

    It does seem as though it going against the common thought from any leadership book to emphasize vulnerability; unless it was a Christian book. I am in agreement with you that leadership in govt., business and definitely churches should hear and follow these examples. So often we have followed business practices within the church rather than modeling leadership.
    I will admit that I dislike the term “rumble” but really like the practice of freely discussing and voices that often contrary thoughts. It was interesting to hear how she used those practices even within her own organization.
    Dave you are challenging your people to grow beyond what is comfortable. In discussing the “hard” topics you are not spoon feeding but helping some in your location to flex their spiritual muscle that I hope will lead to greater moments of love.

  4. Jean Ollis says:

    Dave, so good to hear you are hosting difficult conversations – and a great season to lean into those is lent. I’m curious how your congregation responded and if you unearthed any hidden biases? If so, how do you move forward still nudging people?

  5. Yes Dave it was a great book to read, and your blog was a great blog to read. 🙂 There were so many gold nuggets in the book and you highlighted some of my favorite. I wrote tons of notes when I heard her speak in Colorado last February and the book reminded me of many of the things I jotted down. Your “courageous conversations” sounded amazing and I am so impressed that you provided this opportunity for your congregation to engage in difficult topics in a safe environment. Way to go…I wish you were my pastor! 🙂

  6. Shawn Hart says:

    Hey Dave…well, at least you were the first one to get your post in this week. LOL.

    Great post with some thought provoking insight. Empathy vs Sympathy…is there a time for both? So your post made me think about the change you posited: The leaders need to change. Correct me if I am wrong. I could not agree with you more; however, my concern is that it is not the leaders changing in this modern world, but rather what the leaders are changing that presents the problem…Scripture. I’m all for recognizing that we are always in need of recognizing the needs of the people, I just do not want to be guilty of over-accommodation to the point of altering the Word of God in the process.

    So just a question to provoke thought on your part; Jesus had a number of conversations during His ministry; I have chosen 3. Would you tell me what characteristics Christ is expressing in His technique of people-communication?

    1. Matthew 7: “Hypocrites! You know how to discern the face of the sky, but you cannot discern the signs of the times.”

    2. John 4:17: “You have well said, ‘I have no husband,’ for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you have is not your husband; in that you spoke truly.”

    3. John 8:7: “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.”

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