On the journey you become aware of your vulnerability
Some years ago, I hiked the Na Pali coast on the island of Kauai with my wife and young adult children. From previous hikes, we knew a rainstorm on the mountains can cause hypothermia. Failure to drink plenty of water leads to dehydration. Each day on the journey you are made aware of just how fragile and vulnerable you are.
On the first day of our journey in Hawaii, before beginning our trek, our daughter caught her foot on a lava rock on the beach. Her big toenail was completely ripped off. We questioned whether we should continue on the journey because of the seriousness of her injury. Unable to get the foot into her boot, she traded the boots in for sandals. We reduced the load in her pack and supported her commitment to go forward.
The Kalalau Trail was one of the toughest trails I had ever experienced. While it did not climb to extreme heights, the trail was treacherous, with drops of 800-1000 feet. On several occasions one of us would have fallen to our death if the person following behind had not grabbed us.
I like to think of myself as a strong athlete. I work out. I try to stay in shape. But in the wilderness, I discover my fear of heights and how vulnerable I am to the natural elements. Like anyone else, I need the encouragement and ministry of others.
Often spiritual leaders fail to experience the full measure of God’s love, because they are not willing to become vulnerable. In order to minister effectively, we must allow others to minister to us.
We are not the healers, we are not the reconcilers, we are not the givers of life. We are sinful, vulnerable people who need as much care as anyone we care for. The mystery of ministry is that we have been chosen to make our own limited and very conditional love the gateway for the unlimited and unconditional love of God. Therefore, true ministry must be mutual. When the members of a community of faith cannot truly know and love their shepherd, shepherding quickly becomes a subtle way of exercising power over others and begins to show authoritarian and dictatorial traits . . . It is servant leadership—to use Robert Greenleaf’s term–in which the leader is a vulnerable servant who needs the people as much as they need him or her. (Nouwen, In the Name of Jesus, pp. 44-45)
At Rockbridge, staff, faculty, and students are encouraged to be transparent and vulnerable. In our discussion forums and course updates, faculty members are encouraged to not only share their successes in ministry, but also their failures. We also expect our learning community to be a safe place where what we share is valued and treasured. Vulnerability takes humility and courage. Who are you allowing to minister to you?
As we minister, we should pray the words of Henri Nouwen, “may the same Lord who binds us together in love also reveal himself to us and others as we walk together on the road.”