(Clayton King and I have been friends for more than two decades. He's my accountability partner and a constant source of encouragement to me. He wrote this post about the importance of vulnerability in leadership and is absolute gold.)
My father was a blue collar businessman. His was the classic American story of someone who grew up with nothing and through hard work and tenacity, built a business and a life for himself and his family. I adored my dad, becoming like his shadow. Little did I know that following him around his farm and his motor shop as a young boy would later prove to be foundational in my development as a minister and a leader.
One thing I learned in those formative years was how personal transparency framed my father's leadership style. He was an intelligent man with great skill, but it was his humility as a person that earned him the love and dedication of his employees.
The fastest way to know if someone is really a leader is to see if anyone is following them. Some leaders gain a following through fear, others through their big personality, and others through manipulation or hype. But in ministry, it is humility, not ability, that makes you a true leader worth following.
Ability is important, but humility is essential. To paraphrase the great C.S. Lewis, humility is not thinking less of yourself. It's thinking about yourself less. It is an approach to life and ministry where the focus is on helping others become who they were created to be. It's a way of leading that is motivated by love; love for the gospel, the church, and those far from God.
In ministry, personal transparency is leadership currency. The tendency in ministry leadership is to project strength and authority. The assumption is that people will follow your lead if you look like the expert who knows everything. So for many pastors, there's a tangible pressure to perform for the people, to give out religious information, to keep the machine running and keep everyone's attention. Yet more and more ministry leaders are finding this approach to be both emotionally draining and spiritually empty. It's hard to keep up the image of strength and expertise when on the inside, you feel weak and overwhelmed with the task of leading God's people.
It's refreshing to hear a pastor do more than run through an outline and tell a few stories from the stage. It's also extremely rare. Yet we all know intuitively that we connect on a deep, heart level to a leader who will be vulnerable with us about their humanity, their struggles, their failures, and their need for grace. That's why personal transparency equals leadership currency. If a leader wants the attention and the affection of the people, the key is being vulnerable with the people about the things that make you feel unqualified to lead. This sounds crazy on the surface, but we know it's true in our hearts. The more unqualified we feel, the more God will use us, because it is His Spirit that empowers and enables us to lead.
Leadership authority flows from personal vulnerability. When a leader is honest with God about their regrets, their weaknesses, and their shortcomings, God meets them in those broken places and gives them strength. And when that leader will show their scars from the stage, they communicate to the church that God can use fallen, imperfect people to accomplish great things for His glory.
This is one reason I love Perry so deeply. Since we first met in 1990, I've watched him model this leadership principle. He doesn't attempt to project power or strength. He simply and consistently opens up his heart from the stage and let's the people see inside. This removes the pretense from church. It takes away any assumptions about appearance or performance. It elevates the need for grace for everyone in the church when they can see and hear the pastor sharing about his own failures, fears and struggles. It removes the stigma from church when people realize they don't have to fake it on Sundays, and they don't have to pretend to have it all together. When Perry opens up honestly, on the stage in front of thousands of people, he is communicating to the church that it's ok not to be ok, but it's not ok to stay that way. God's grace in Jesus is what we need, not a pretty new Sunday outfit, not all the right answers to all the hard questions, and not a perfect performance to show God how great we are. God doesn't care about appearances or performance. He wants His children to be real with Him, to love Him and come to Him with all their junk. A good pastor models this for the people.
Your leadership authority flows from your personal transparency. When you're humble enough to be vulnerable to God and those you lead, you will find God empowering you to lead with excellence.
For more great wisdom and Biblical insight on how to lead from a place of honesty, get a copy of Perry's new book. I promise you're gonna LOVE it!