I was in a prayer meeting with trusted brothers and sisters in Christ, and yet I squirmed! I’d been encouraged, inspired, and drawn toward the Lord so many times through this specific gathering, but that morning was different. When unneeded details were shared about a physical condition in the context of a prayer request, the unexpected vulnerability triggered feelings of awkwardness and embarrassment in me.
Perhaps you’ve found yourself in a situation like that before—where the most intimate details of a trial were shared in such a way that suddenly you found yourself distracted from approaching the Throne on behalf of a sister in Christ instead of drawn toward it.
I wonder: are experiences like mine why some women resist the idea of cultivating a culture of transparency and openness in their ministries? Why it’s thought that we should keep our “secret sins” secret? Why we’re tempted to believe that testimonies should major on “victory in Jesus” and shy away from admitting “I’m struggling and needy of Jesus”? How could knowing the details of my true struggles help anybody?!
But can it?
The idea of vulnerability is a hot topic these days, leading many Christians to believe that our worship services, home groups, and women’s Bible studies need to feel like open mic night. That anyone should be invited to share anything about what’s going on, especially the raw places of pain. Exposing ourselves, unfiltered, is thought to be genuine, healthy transparency.
But is it? And how much is too much? As we look to the pages of Scripture, I think we’ll find that being vulnerable about our struggles and sin is valuable and that we should minor on the intimate details of our sin and major on using it to point women to the One who conquered every sin.
Vulnerable Stories on the Pages of Scripture
It’s stunning to consider how God, through inspired authors, regularly exposed the failures and foolishness of people in the holy Scriptures! From Genesis to Revelation, God allowed the sins of people to be confessed and shared for all to know.
- Adam and Eve. Need I say more? Gen. 3:1–15 exposed their sin, nakedness, and shame, and they had no say in the matter.
- Sarai's horrific treatment of Hagar is right there in the pages of Scripture.
- Achan’s sneaky sin of seeing, coveting, and hiding as well as the devastating communal consequences that followed are revealed for millions of Bible readers.
- Judas' betrayal, Peter's fearful denial,Ananias and Sapphira's deception, and of course, the woman caught in adultery have all been recorded. The New Testament is just as revealing as the Old.
However, in each of these stories, God gives us the general contours of weakness and sin, without giving us nitty gritty details. We get the idea of what happened without unhelpful images planted in our minds. But why did God allow the pain and shame of others to be exposed for all of history? Understanding the answer to this question gives us a model for cultivating transparency in our small groups, women’s ministries, and friendships.
Vulnerability for God’s Glory
As in Scripture, we can cultivate a culture of godly transparency and vulnerability. Let’s look at two ways the Bible’s “exposure” of the real-deal in people’s lives points to God’s merciful love and how we can apply it personally.
1. Honesty about sin and struggle can serve as a warning.
Paul’s letter to the Corinthians unabashedly calls out many sins of their forefathers. He wasn’t trying to sensationalize sin or create tantalizing sermon illustrations. Simply, he encouraged the believers with this,
Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. Do not be idolaters as some of them were. (1 Cor. 10:6–7)
Later on in verse 14, Paul, like a true spiritual father who loves them says, “Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.”
Leaders, when we open up our lives, sharing the general contours of temptations and sin, it can serve as a merciful warning to the women we lead. Remember, we’re not advocating for an open mic night where you spill out all the details of marital difficulty, sexual and emotional temptations, or the specifics of your sinful thoughts. We do not create environments that encourage women (or ourselves) to share publicly what we aren’t willing to share in more detail with godly, trusted friends.
We’re all at risk of falling asleep spiritually, slowly making friends with temptation or sin, rather than running from it so as to kill it. When women hear you describe your own ongoing need for Jesus and that you are desperate for the gospel of grace on a daily basis, it serves to wake them up.
Leaders cultivate healthy transparency among their communities by modeling it because they’re motivated to warn women about the reality of sin.
2. Christ-motivated transparency can woo women toward Jesus.
How many of us have been drawn to God’s merciful love through David’s confession in Psalm 51? Who else has been strengthened and motivated to persevere through Paul’s honesty about suffering and personal struggle? He allowed the Corinthians to know he had been afflicted and burdened (2 Cor. 1:1–10), and that he had a thorn in the flesh to keep him humble (2 Cor. 12:7).
Notice that the takeaway from reading Paul’s vulnerable testimonies isn’t the specifics of his afflictions, nor the Corinthians’ own. His goal was to point them to our great God, the Father of mercy and compassion, and to His Son Jesus.
Should you encourage your teachers and small group leaders to share about their lives in this way? To honestly reveal areas of suffering and pain in such a way that points beyond ourselves toward Christ? To be vulnerable in a way that simultaneously elevates and normalizes our call to identify with Christ in his sufferings? Yes! Women will be wooed toward the Lord as a Savior who understands and is not shocked by our struggles when we consistently demonstrate courage to be honest about our lives. Christ-motivated transparency allows women to see us as real people, at the same time allowing them to see through us to the One who redeems, heals, transforms, and gives hope!
For This Life Only
Paul famously described the Christian life as a crackable, unimpressive clay jar made glorious because of the treasure it contained. While we live now, we humbly bring into the light our cracks, weaknesses, and struggles. The goal, sisters, is to point to the Treasure within, who one day will make all things new and known.
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Cor. 4:16–18)
We prepare for eternity by warning and wooing women toward the worthiness of trusting God with our pain and turning from sin. Communities focused on Christ-centered, Christ-motivated transparency point toward eternity as we confess and celebrate through our afflictions that this life is temporary; real life is yet to come!