Have you ever been asked a question that caught you by surprise?
This happened to me one day at work a few years ago. While working for a local university, I supervised a team of six students. We worked closely together and often had conversations navigating romantic relationships, future plans, stress, anxiety, and even faith. In these conversations, my faith would impact my answer to their questions and often lead them to ask even more questions, many of which were both insightful and difficult.
One day, a student of mine came to me with a heartbreaking question:
“Katie, how can you stand to go to church when it’s filled with so many hypocrites?”
I remember my heart sinking in that moment, deeply saddened.
Christians have a bad reputation for hiding our flaws and flaunting our righteousness—of hiding our sins behind our Sunday best. We can be known for “talking the talk” but not “walking the walk”—similar to how Jesus describes the Pharisees in the gospels: as white-washed tombs, pristine on the outside and dead on the inside (Matthew 23:27–28).
If we want to fulfill Christ’s mission for us as His Church—to go and make disciples—we must come face-to-face with this stereotype and follow Paul’s lead in 2 Corinthians 12:7–10. In this passage, Paul describes a weakness, a thorn given to him in his flesh. Paul does not try to hide this weakness or sweep it under the rug—he boasts in this weakness as if it were a strength. Why? Because in Paul’s weakness, Christ is strong. If we want to break this stereotype, we too must learn that our weaknesses remind us of our ever-present desperation for Jesus.
What if this kind of humility defined our church culture? What if the church was comfortable sharing our weaknesses and embraced vulnerability?
As we reflect on 2 Corinthians 12:7–10, we see that the gospel breaks down the barriers keeping us from being vulnerable. We do not have to be worried about the opinion and approval of others. Why? Because our approval has been secured by Jesus. By His death, resurrection, and ascension into heaven, our sins are forgiven and His righteousness becomes ours. We do not have to earn God’s approval. Christ’s grace is sufficient for us.
Therefore, our weaknesses remind us that we could never earn God’s favor without Christ Jesus. Our weaknesses are canvases for His strength—they are where we see Christ move, work, and transform. We can be open about our weaknesses, for they showcase Christ’s work within us.
But vulnerability is always easier discussed than lived out. Where do we start?
Here are four ideas to consider incorporating into your small group:
1. Create ground rules for your small group:
These ground rules are not made to restrict your small group. Instead, they are designed to create a comfortable, safe environment that fosters vulnerability, grace, and compassion. Here are a few ideas (but feel free to make your own)!
- Use “me” not “we” statements. (We may avoid answering difficult questions by generalizing our answers so that they could apply to all Christians. Instituting a “me” not “we” rule helps to get those in your small group thinking about how God’s Word impacts them personally.)
- Do not offer advice unless someone specifically asks. (With a heart bent toward helping, sometimes our first inclination is to offer advice when someone shares their struggle. Instead, encourage your small group to listen first and thank them for their willingness to open up.)
2. Go first:
If you desire your church community to grow deeper in vulnerability, consider taking the first step. Be honest about your sin struggles, your failures, and your lessons learned. Ask for prayer, even in situations where you may feel exposed. You never know when your courage to be vulnerable will spark a “Me too!” or “I have felt the same way!” response out of someone who has felt alone.
3. Invest in fellowship time:
Sometimes one-on-one or group fellowship time provides a more intimate space to have real conversations. Try to incorporate one-on-one time with those in your community or organize relaxed hangouts that provide plenty of space for conversation.
4. Ask good questions:
Good questions can help people feel welcomed and safe in conversation. These questions can be deep and personal, or light-hearted and fun!
These ideas are by no means a perfect roadmap to infusing vulnerability into your communities, but they are a great place to start. May our interactions with those in our circles boast not in our accomplishments or strengths, but in the strength of Christ in us.
When my student asked me that question about hypocrites in the church, I don’t remember exactly what I said. But I do remember that the conversation sparked several more questions about Jesus.
If I could respond again now, I might say something like this: “Because I am a hypocrite too. Aren’t we all in some way? But by the grace of God, He loves even hypocrites.”
My prayer is that by the willingness of the church to be vulnerable, ask good questions, and proclaim Christ through our weaknesses, we may be known not by our strengths but by our humility—not as white-washed tombs but as clay pots holding great treasure—feeble vessels filled with the light of Christ.