CS Lewis Vulnerability

If church leaders could wave a magic wand over congregations that would grow more fruit of the Spirit, I think whatever percentage of the budget would need to be allocated to buy said wand would gladly be given. More love would make so many things a whole lot easier. Why is it so hard to come by?

Love seems to have become so rare that many in the church have resigned themselves to its absence. The resignation of prominent pastor of a large church last week generated a lot of commentary. This pastor had been under investigation by church elders for arrogance and abuse. Upon the resignation of the pastor, a statement by the elders of this church was released emphasizing the pastor quitting was not because of immorality. Others, witnessing this situation from the outside, have questioned when arrogance and abuse (attitudes and actions many would consider unloving) stopped being considered immoral. I guess love has been removed from ethical standards for leaders, too.

Loving relationships are hard. It is probably because one of the chief ingredients is vulnerability. C.S. Lewis wrote in his book The Four Loves, “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal.” No one likes to get hurt. In the church, especially, we want to avoid hurt. People come into the church, often, because they are hurt. So (to paraphrase Brueggemann) we want the church to be the happiest place in town. As a result, it is the least honest place in town.

Jesus demonstrated his love through vulnerability. Passages like John 13 and Philippians 2 demonstrate the way in which Jesus showed love by putting himself in a very vulnerable position with people. Washing feet was a degrading and inferior act. Yet it says Jesus wanted to express the full extent of his love (John 13:1). It had to be a risky thing to do, to demean himself like that. He ran the risk of the disciples feeling things were getting a little too wacky and deserting him.

What did Paul point to when he was dealing with a church whose fruit-of-the-Spirit-tank was on empty? In Philippi, Paul tried to reestablish connection in a community experiencing disunity. He said their attitude should be the same as Jesus. Jesus was God, Paul said, but made himself nothing. Jesus became a servant, he humbled himself, and became obedient to death—even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:6-8) It is hard to get any more vulnerable than that.

Why is love so hard to come by in our churches? I would submit we may be too strong and happy. What it takes to grow love is vulnerability. Vulnerability may open us up to being hurt and broken. It is hard to maintain a position of strength when we are in need, weak, and the one serving others. Madeleine L’Engle wrote, “When we were children, we used to think that when we were grown up we would no longer be vulnerable. But to grow up is to accept vulnerability. To be alive is to be vulnerable. I love, therefore I am vulnerable.”

I’m not suggesting washing feet and giving oneself up for crucifixion is the route of vulnerability for church leaders. The way of vulnerability for each of us will be highly contextualized. I am suggesting that If you want your church to produce more fruit of the Spirit, you must ruthlessly remove the things that get in the way of being vulnerable.

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