Instead of hiding and denying our weaknesses, we need to learn to recognize them. We need to learn to share them. And we need to learn to glory in our weaknesses.
If God is ever going to use you greatly, you’ll walk with a limp the rest of your life. I have struggled with a handicap all my life. I was born with a brain disorder. My staff knows about it. My church knows about it. My prayer team knows about it. I was born with a disorder in my brain chemistry that makes public speaking excruciatingly painful for me. It is a genetic problem that is resistant to any medication.
In a nutshell, my brain overreacts to adrenaline. I’m allergic to adrenaline. First I get very dizzy. My vision blurs and then it blacks out. Sometimes I get headaches—severe headaches and, sometimes, severe hot flashes. Any of you who have ever seen me speak have seen me wipe my face. But the most common reaction to this is an absolute sense of irrational panic. Sometimes I’m speaking and I cannot even see the audience.
One of the things I’ve figured out is that God has used this to build a praying church at Saddleback. I wouldn’t think of preaching without having my prayer team praying for me during the message. And they pray for me during each service through the entire service. What’s the lesson? God uses weak people! Paul had a handicap and he said, “I glory in my weakness.” It is an absolute myth that you must be a superhuman being to be effective in ministry. The goal is to last. What kind of ministries last? It’s the ones that are real and authentic and vulnerable and honest and non-hypocritical about our weaknesses.
I believe that there are two great pillars of ministry: Paul’s confession and Peter’s confession. These are the two great pillars of ministry. Peter’s confession was, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Obviously, ministry is built on that one, which is found in Mark 8. But Acts 14:15 is just as important, which is Paul’s confession at Iconium where he says, “We are but men.”
I have met many pastors who are very interested in declaring their spirituality. But I haven’t met too many pastors in my life who are interested in declaring their humanity. But your humanity is actually one of your greatest strengths.
God loves to use weak people to work his life through and work His work through. Why? First Corinthians 1:27 says, “God purposely chose what the world considers nonsense in order to put the wise men to shame. And what the world considers weak in order to put powerful men to shame. He receives glory.” God puts His greatest gifts in ordinary containers so that He alone gets the credit.
What are the benefits of weaknesses in our lives?
If you’re going to have a Christlike ministry, it means that sometimes other people are going to find healing in the wounds that are in your life. Who can better help an alcoholic than someone who is a former alcoholic? Who can better help a childless couple than a childless couple? Who can better help than the person who’s been there? I believe our greatest life messages come out of our deepest hurts.
Your weaknesses can only help the people in your church if you’ll have the guts to share them. There are things you have never told your church that they need to know so they can pray for you. Vulnerability enhances your leadership. All of us are a bundle of strengths and weaknesses.
I have some very great strengths. I also have some very great weaknesses. And so do you. Humility is not denying your strengths. Humility is being honest about your weaknesses. Humility is not me saying, “I don’t know how to preach.” I do. I know how to craft sermons. But humility is saying, “In addition to those strengths, let me tell you a few things about myself.”
We’re all combinations. Paul was honest about his strengths because he was honest about his weaknesses. He wasn’t claiming perfection. He was just saying, “At least I’m making an attempt to live for Jesus. Follow me.” How you handle the weaknesses in your life will determine whether they help you or hinder you.
People want to follow a pastor who’s real. You don’t have to be super gifted to grow a church, but you do have to be real. The more honest you are about your weaknesses, the more you’re perceived as being real. The more real you are, the more credibility you have. The more credibility you have, the more influence you have. The more influence you have, the more you can get done.
Maybe it’s time to get real.
Rick Warren is the founding pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., one of America's largest and most influential churches. Rick is author of the New York Times best-seller The Purpose Driven Life. His book The Purpose Driven Church was named one of the 100 Christian books that changed the 20th century. He is also founder of Pastors.com, a global Internet community for pastors.