Vulnerability is a word I have always had trouble pronouncing and sometimes difficulty practicing. Growing up in an urban environment, vulnerability was associated with weakness and weakness will get you killed. It is not that I grew up in such a bad neighborhood, but it is just that vulnerability implies trust, and trust is not a commodity that is easily given away.
In Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts., by Brene Brown, she discusses how there is a myth that one can go at it alone; it is a myth because we are hard-wired for connection (Brown 2018, 25). However, admitting that you need connection means admitting that you are lonely which brings one back to vulnerability. It does take courage to admit that as leaders, we can get lonely. I often fall in the trap of thinking if I admit the things that I am struggling with as a leader then I should not be in a leadership role because leaders are supposed to be tough or so I was taught. I realize that I was letting fear guide me as well as shame. As Brown says, I was listening to the “shame gremlins whispering you don’t belong in this job, you study leadership but you can’t lead” (Brown 2018, 51).
Perhaps working with children and youth is a way to not have to deal with vulnerability or loneliness in many ways. Children do not judge you when you sing off key; they are just happy to be singing with you. Children do not have expectations of how much Bible you know, criticize you if you did not pronounce a Biblical name correctly, or have a lukewarm response to the sermon you slaved over. I think these are many of the reasons I like working with children. The only problem with this is these children have parents that I need to work with.
Leading children means leading and teaching the parents as well and being vulnerable. I have to have the courage to speak truthfully to the parents but first develop a level of trust with the parents and listen to their feedback. For this, I found the BRAVING tool helpful (Brown 2018, 224-225). Respecting each other’s Boundaries includes me letting the parents know that I am not a baby sitter, but I love to minister to their children. Being Reliable means I will do what I say, including going to children’s events when I say I would. Being Accountable means owning my mistakes when I misjudge or make a mistake and I apologize. Being a Vault means not sharing with others the family problems of the children and practicing Integrity. Nonjudgement means I can ask what I need to run the ministry and the parents can ask what they need from me. Finally, extending the most Generous interpretation of the parent’s intentions will help to build trusting relationships with both parties.
Vulnerability may always be counter-intuitive for me, but it does not have to get me killed. Using the proper tools can help me learn to lead with courage and maybe lead to whole hearts in children’s ministry.
Brown, Brene. Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts. New York: Random House, 2018.