My dear friend Mark was ordained into the pastoral ministry on Sunday in the Chicago area. As is the custom, the newly ordained pastor speaks the benediction at the end of the service. Just before that, Mark paused: "I'd like to share a few things."
He proceeded to speak words of love and thanks to family, mentors, and those gathered. He was sincere and heartfelt. And in front of the entire congregation, he cried.
There is an unspoken expectation that a pastor is superhuman, somehow above emotion and attachment. In my Lutheran heritage, our traditional models of pastoral ministry are reserved and stoic in demeanor. There is a strong sense duty and service, often at the expense of vulnerability and sincerity.
To be vulnerable is to be open, not only to give, but to receive. Yes, we give: time, leadership, care, counsel, the Word of God, etc. But we are part of a larger body, and we must receive the care, comfort, and gifts of those other parts. Our giving to others is diminished if we are too proud to receive from them as well.
Pastors are not invincible. There are appropriate times for self-disclosure and admission of weakness. This vulnerability is not attention-seeking, nor is it self-pity. Paul demonstrated appropriate times to expose his weakness:
On a recent Wednesday night, I walked a hallway in our church building. Sarah stopped me and wanted me to know about her ailing father's health struggles. He is a mentor of mine, and I welled up with emotion. Standing in the hallway, with others passing by, I attempted to bottle the feeling. But my heart succumbed and tears flowed. She let her pastor cry and gave me a hug.
The longer I'm the pastor of a local congregation, the more I love them. The more they love me. It's a rich experience. Pastor. People. Place. I continue to learn what it means to live together as a local body of Christ. This includes vulnerability. And sometimes, vulnerability means a pastor cries.