The Strength We Don’t Believe

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Church leaders have a hard time admitting their weaknesses.

I suppose everyone does. No one likes to have their vulnerabilities exposed and their misalignment with God uncovered. Church leaders, though, have a few distinct reasons:

1. Many people in the pew like the idea of a flawless pastor – or at least one whose flaws are minimal, like s/he overeats at potluck.
2. It helps with book deals and speaking gigs to be well thought of rather than honestly thought of.
3. Some church folks use it against a minister if s/he confesses who they really are.

As genuine as these reasons are, they are shadows of the actual reason pastors, leaders, and generally everyone you know, stops short of admitting their weaknesses. The truth? We don’t actually believe the Bible!iStock_000012442006Small

Here’s my proof: The Apostle Paul makes one overarching point in his second letter (or third, for folks who know) to the church in Corinth. That point? God’s power is made perfect in weakness!

Throughout 2 Corinthians, Paul refers to his own weaknesses and the myriad ways he’s been accused of not being the best pastor in the world. He’s no speaking tour, mega-church, huge podcast, leadership conference speaking, book-writing, superstar. So Paul writes 2 Corinthians as a response to the various ways he’s been criticized (none of which he denies being true).

After arguing his case for a while, the apostle detonates the message he has received from God; “But he (God) said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”

As beautiful – and quoted – as this passage is, few of us believe it.

The next time you’re flicking through TV channels take note of how many TV preachers are ministering from their weaknesses. At the next large “leadership” conference listen to speaker introductions and see how frequently the strength of the presenter (great leader, incredible communicator, cultural architect, entrepreneurial leaders, etc…) and the strength of their church (read: numbers) is mentioned. When you peruse the bookshelves at your local Christian bookstore, notice how many bestsellers are written by folks who are writing about how God works through their weaknesses rather than their strengths. At many churches, when you join their ranks, they’ll even give you some kind of “strengths finder.”

What’s more, how many of us blog, tweet and speak in order to “build a platform” (confession)? And isn’t building a platform simply a fancy way of saying, “building strength”? You will find some pastors and preachers sharing honestly, but not most. When we do, our talk of weaknesses are simply humble-brags; “I can’t believe I speak to 6,000 people each Sunday after struggling with a speech impediment as a little boy….”

We are strength addicted! Our deeply held conviction is the same conviction at work in all of American life: Strength is always better than weakness. Those of us working in and leading churches project the same false machismo and pomp we see after a wide-receiver scores a touchdown. We thump our chest and scream to the world, “Look at me. Look at me. See how strong I am.”

We actually believe strength is better than weakness even though the Bible expressly tells us otherwise. While the scriptures call us to open our weaknesses and allow God’s power to flow through us, we have knotted the hose keeping the Spirit from cascading through us.

What would happen if we actually believed that God’s power is not just useful in weakness, but made ‘perfect’? What might happen if the next time we saw a church leader carting a truck full of accolades and more franchises than McDonald’s, we became suspicious of whether or not s/he was walking with the Lord as Paul did or was just Donald Trump with a 3-point sermon? What would happen if we accepted the fact that the cross and suffering of Jesus was the Spirit’s most powerful moment.

The cross was a moment of seeming weakness; a tiny organization of unsure followers yet that’s when God’s strength was most on display. What if for something to be of God it had to look like weakness to the world? What if it looked like weakness to us?

What if we have strength and weakness all wrong?

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