DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Jesus was vulnerable but differentiated

Written by: on October 21, 2019

I strive to be a leader that creates space for all those around me to feel as though they can be whole persons, and bring all they are to the table each day. A lot of this I took from my mentor, Brené (and yes, she and I are on a first name basis. She doesn’t know that, but we are). In many spaces, she talks about the power of vulnerability and showing up. Each time, it strikes me as powerful because I’ve realized that I need space to be vulnerable. I need space to walk into the office and bring the chaos of the morning drop off with me. I need space to transition into the work day. Brené says, “Choosing to own our vulnerability and do it consciously means learning how to rumble with this emotion and understand how it drives our thinking and behavior so we can stay aligned with our values and live in our integrity. Pretending that we don’t do vulnerability means letting fear drive our thinking and behavior without our input or even awareness, which almost always leads to acting out or shutting down.”[1] Now, I recognize that vulnerability is not oversharing[2], and I do my best to maintain an appropriate amount of vulnerability with those in my office. In fact, Brené also says, “Some of the most daring leaders I know have incredible vulnerability rumbling skills and yet disclose very little.”[3]


At first glance, it would appear that much of Friedman’s work in Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of Quick Fix that was published posthumously, seems to disagree with the work of vulnerability that Brené advocates for. But the more I settled into the work of Friedman, the more it felt like the idea of vulnerability and differentiation were two sides to the same coin. Friedman describes a well-differentiated leader as, “Someone who has clarity about his or her own life goals and, therefore, someone who is less likely to become lost in the anxious emotional processes swirling about. I mean someone who can be separate while still remaining connected and, therefore, can maintain a modifying, non=anxious, and sometimes challenging presence…No one does this easily, and most leaders, I have learned, can improve their capacity.”[4]


I have learned over the years that no matter how vulnerable I am, at the end of the day, not one colleague needs me to dump all my emotional baggage on them. Sure, there’s power in shared experience that can be helpful, but we see even in scripture that Jesus was not dumping everything on his followers all the time. Jesus took time to remove himself from situations, have words with God (or sometimes the devil) and rejoin the group. Jesus had enough self-awareness to know that in order to lead well, he needed to understand himself and his own emotions well. And from that understanding came vulnerability. When he understood himself and what he needed, he was able to lead from a place of vulnerability and abundance. He understood that his presence affected the emotional processes of those around him[5], as Friedman points out, and he cared enough about his followers to understand his own self, and portray vulnerability through his own differentiation.


[1] Brene Brown, Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts. (New York, NY: Random House Publishing, 2018), 23.

[2] Ibid., 34.

[3] Ibid., 34.

[4] Edwin H. Friedman, A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix. (New York, NY: Church Publishing, 2017), Loc 416.

[5] Ibid., 3798.

About the Author


Karen Rouggly

Karen Rouggly is the Director for Mobilization in the Center for Student Action at Azusa Pacific University. She develops transformational experiences for students serving locally, nationally, and internationally. She completed an MA in Intercultural Studies at Fuller Theological Seminary and is passionate about community development, transformational service and helping students understand vocation and service. Karen is also an active member at the Vineyard Church Glendora where she is a small group leader and serves on the teaching team. She is also a mom to two sweet boys, wife to an amazing guy, and loves being a friend to many.

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