According to Brené Brown, researcher and author of Dare to Lead, courage and vulnerability are inextricably linked.
I couldn’t agree more. Case in point: Jesus—the epitome of courage and vulnerability.
So why does it seem like mission organizations struggle to learn from leaders like Brené Brown? She’s saying many of the same things that Christ said, and in a way that we can so easily apply to our lives and circumstances. And yet, the resistance to vulnerability in the world of missions is strong.
In Christianese, we might use the word “submission” when talking about a chosen vulnerability. Without submission there is no courage. Given our recent reading, we are all quick to think about the word submission as it pertains to wives and husbands; however, the call to all believers is a call to mutual submission.
Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Ephesians 5:21
But there are many other calls to submission, each one an act of courage.
We are called to submit to submit to our church leaders:
Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you. Hebrews 13:17
We are to submit to more mature believers:
You know that the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and they have devoted themselves to the service of the Lord’s people. I urge you, brothers and sisters, to submit to such people and to everyone who joins in the work and labors at it. I Corinthians 16:15-17
We are called to submit to our earthy leaders:
Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority I Peter 2:13
And just like vulnerability, submission is not something that can be imposed on one person by another, it is only something that be offered up, unforced, as a gift.
Before I got married, back when I was a complementarian, I was talking to my mom about what it was like to be submissive to one’s husband. She said something I have never forgotten: “It’s easy when you know he’s right.” The unspoken words hit me between the eyes. I realized that there would be times when I knew my husband was making a poor decision, and I would need to submit. Times when I would know he’ wrong. It doesn’t get more vulnerable than that!
None of us struggle to submit when we are in total agreement about the direction that leadership is taking us. It’s a totally different story when we disagree. Take the current political climate in the United States. I can’t tell you how many Christians I know refused to submit to President Obama’s health care plan. I can’t tell you how many Christians I know refused to recognize President Trump as their president. They refused because they felt vulnerable. In fact, it seems to me like most of the US Press corps preys on people’s fears of being vulnerable. People think they are being brave by “standing up to power,” but I’m not sure we should consider a stinging post on Facebook “standing up to power.” I think we can do better.
What if all those who are prolife reached out to pregnant teens or took in a single mother? That would be vulnerable/courageous.
What if all those who are against the building of a wall invited a refugee family for dinner? That would be vulnerable/courageous.
What if Christians started trying to figure out how to make sure every sick person get the care he or she needed, rather than focused on changing the laws? That would be vulnerable/courageous.
What if we all reached out to those who vote differently that we do and tried to find common ground and build genuine friendships? That would be vulnerable courageous.
And every one of those things is an act of radical submission. Submission to the Word of God, which actually, literally, calls us to do all of things.
My research is on missions in the 21st century, and I believe that we are called to stop doing missions TO or missions FOR the other, but missions WITH. Missions with is completely dependent on mutual respect and submission, and will only work if people are willing to lay down authority, and trade it for vulnerability and courage. There are peoples and cultures that are much better at this than North Americans. Will we step aside and let them lead so that we can learn from them?
In order for us to do missions with, the missionary must submitting to the national partner by coming to serve and by being teachable; the national partner must recognize the gifts that missionary brings and invite the missionary to put those gifts to use. There is a mutual yielding, an attitude of mutual respect and deference. This is the body of Christ.
But there is a lot of push-back from North American sending agencies, many of whom are not ready to relinquish their power. They resist becoming vulnerable, and of they refuse to change, they will miss out on being brave.
 Brené Brown, Dare to Lead: Brave Work, Tough Conversations, Whole Hearts (New York: Random House, 2018).
 By the by, as a complementarian, I was called to submit. As an egalitarian I am still called to submit. But now I am also called to lead, if and when my husband should choose to submit to me.