“I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling” (1 Cor. 2:3). That’s what Paul says, he came to the Corinthians as an apostle, as a church planter, as a pastor and spiritual father, but he came as one who was weak. He came as one who had fear and who trembled before them. Not only did he come that way, but when he writes to them later he is more than happy to remind them that this was how he came. He was happy to remind them because his weaknesses served them well. Paul is a good example to those of us who are pastors today. He demonstrates for us that it is both okay to be weak, and it is good for those whom we serve to be honest about those weaknesses. Pastors, your church needs your weaknesses.
The Corinthians are an arrogant congregation. They love themselves, boast in themselves, and create factions according to their own interests and pursuits. Paul offers them a better example, “boast in the Lord” (1 Cor. 1:31). Paul’s weaknesses were an occasion to do discipleship. The Corinthians needed Paul’s weaknesses, just as your church needs yours.
Pastors are often viewed as super Christians. Some of it is the perception of immature believers, some of it, however, is the fault of pastors themselves. We are fearful to be honest about our struggles, to open up our wounds, to confess our failures and weaknesses. But superman pastors don’t serve the church nearly as well as they think they do. There are three particular ways that a pastor’s weaknesses can be helpful to the church.
Being honest about our weaknesses can help to cultivate a culture of humility and authenticity in our churches. Congregations take the shape of their pastors, which is both encouraging and terrifying. One of the realities we must wrestle with as pastors is that the people we serve look to us as examples. Arrogant pastors breed arrogant Christians. Honest and humble pastors will encourage those their serve to be open and authentic. We can shape the culture of our church by acknowledging our weaknesses, asking for accountability, inviting prayer for our struggles. As we do we will give our people freedom to be honest about their own struggles. Pastor, your weaknesses can encourage your people to be honest about theirs.
Pastoral weaknesses also remind a congregation that sanctification is a process. There are no perfect people in churches. As I speak honestly about my weaknesses I am reminding my people that I have not arrived, that I am still a work in progress, that I need help and encouragement. This is good news for those in our congregation who consistently struggle and, as a result, doubt their own salvation. As we demonstrate for them what it looks like to grow and progress, to fail and to get back up again, we are encouraging them that they are not alone. All of us are incomplete in this life. We remind them that they can be hopeful in the midst of their temptations, in the midst of even their sin. As I share my struggles, my church is reminded to be a Christian does not mean to be perfect. Through my imperfections they are reminded not to put too much weight on their own. Pastor, your weaknesses can remind your people that sanctification is an ongoing process.
Finally, and perhaps most fundamentally, pastoral weaknesses point people away from pastors and towards Christ. This was Paul’s ultimate goal in reminding the Corinthians of his fear and trembling. Paul writes:
And I, when I came to you, brothers,did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. 2 For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3 And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, 4 and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. (1 Cor. 2:1-5)
Paul’s weaknesses were exposed “so that” the Corinthians’ faith “might not rest in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.” My weaknesses remind my people not to trust too much in me. My weaknesses remind my people that I am sinful man. My weaknesses remind my people that hope does not come from what I can do, but from what God can do. My weaknesses point my people away from me and towards Christ. Don’t rely on me too much, don’t trust me too much, don’t put your hope and confidence in me too much. I will disappoint you. I might even hurt you. I am a sinner. Trust in Christ. Trust in the same person I am trusting in; look to Jesus. Pastor, your weaknesses point your people to Jesus.
Your church needs your weaknesses. You cannot be a superman pastor, and attempts to do so will harm both you and those you serve. Being honest about your failures, mistakes, sins, and struggles serves them so well. Our goal as pastors ought always to be to demonstrate the mercy, grace, and power of God in the gospel. My weaknesses can do just that. Your church needs you to be weak.