Brave and Broken: Missionary Vulnerability

The American culture views vulnerability as a bad thing.  Being vulnerable may lead to hurt.  Or being in a vulnerable position may be an indication of some wrongs in your life.

Missionaries make daily decisions regarding their own vulnerability.  Imagine on any given day a missionary or church planter relating to a local in the host culture, a supervisor, a parent and a financial partner.  You can see that there are various levels of vulnerability that would play out in each relationship.  Being emotionally broke is bad.  Being broken before God and certain others is good.

Vulnerability Is Good – Even Biblical, in The Right Contexts

God is sensitive to and understanding of cultural dynamics.  Jesus revealed certain aspects of his personality to the twelve disciples, things that he would not share with the crowds.  He also had an inner circle where he was more intimate and perhaps more vulnerable.

We can take from Jesus’ actions and examples of his earthly predecessor King David and earthly mother Mary that appropriate levels of vulnerability exist based upon culture and relationships.

God Exposes Missionaries

Most missionaries realize at some point that God is as concerned with reaching them as he is their neighbors.  Unfortunately, it takes some missionaries years to figure this out, while some never do.  Missionaries are no different than regular people, however, when it comes to the way God treats them.

God is the great exposer of all of our hearts.  His motive is to heal our hearts and to express his love to his people.  He wants fellowship and relationship with us and he desires for us to express love back to him.  Have you told God “Happy Valentine’s Day” yet today?

Because God’s number one goal is to conform each of us to the image of Christ, he is in the business of exposing our hearts to the sin within and to the vulnerabilities all around.  Each of us, once exposed, has the opportunity to embrace God’s work or to run from it.  Now imagine this happening to you in a foreign culture, with a language you don’t speak, cultural norms that are unfamiliar to you, in a neighborhood where you aren’t exactly sure where to buy bread.

The exposing by God of our vulnerabilities is a benefit to being a missionary.  Sometimes it takes moving halfway around the world to be exposed in a way that brings glory to God and change to our hearts.

Missionary Life By Nature Conceals Vulnerability

Missionaries are viewed as spiritual leaders, rather than the normal people that they are.  Don’t hear me wrong.  Normal doesn’t mean ungodly, unconcerned about protocol or lazy about the opinions of others.  Normal means missionaries react to life in similar ways as anyone else does.

Missionaries face the real temptation of never being vulnerable – ever.

Not being vulnerable with the host culture because you are trying to share certain standards and perspectives (the gospel) with them.

Not being vulnerable with teammates because you don’t want them to have the upper hand.

Not being vulnerable with a spouse because you want to be strong for your family.

Not being vulnerable with your pastor back home because you don’t want your financial support to be cut.

A lack of vulnerability in our lives leads to a lack of being genuine with others and honest with ourselves.  Choosing NEVER to be vulnerable plays into the hands of the evil one.  “You don’t need community.  You can do this by yourself.  You can handle this on your own.”

Discover Your Vulnerability

Over the years I have learned how and with whom to be vulnerable, and I am still learning.  Appropriate vulnerability is good for the soul.

If you are a missionary, find a friend with whom to be completely vulnerable.  If you are married, you must become vulnerable with your spouse.  Missionaries also need to find safe senders – pastors, friends, counselors – with whom to make yourselves vulnerable.

You need to share your needs in appropriate ways.  If you don’t, you will make decisions that are unhealthy and wrong.

Help Missionaries to Become Vulnerable

If you are a sender, make vulnerability accessible to your missionaries.  Be a safe place for them.  Bring them down off of the pedestal.  Ask them key questions about their lives and ministries and care for them when they open up to you.

What’s the difference between missionaries who are brave and show appropriate vulnerability versus missionaries who are broken and conceal their vulnerability?  The brave missionary is the wise one who trusts God, knowing that their weakness is part of his plan.  The broken missionary lacks wisdom and trusts in self, choosing to retain a broken heart, rather than becoming more like Jesus.

Thoughts on Vulnerability

from Sherwood Lingenfelter and Marvin Mayers

in Ministering Cross-Culturally:

An Incarnational Model for Personal Relationships

Paul argues that vulnerability is potentially a great source of strength to the believer.  Just as Christ was crucified in weakness yet lives by God’s power, so believers “are weak in him, yet by God’s power we will live with him to serve you” (2 Cor. 13:4).  Personal vulnerability also helps us to find strengths in others.  Paul says he is glad when he is weak but others are strong, and he prays for their perfection (v. 9).  To accept one’s vulnerability is to become open to the strength and support of others.  Further, seeing weakness as an opportunity to impart strength prompts one to build up others rather than to tear them down.  All too often people see weakness and failure in the church as something to be destroyed.  Paul not only accepted weakness in himself and others but wrote to the Corinthians that the Lord had given him authority “for building you up, not for tearing you down” (v. 10).

p. 110 (italic emphases mine)

Previous Articles in the Brave and Broken Series

Missionary Adjustment

The Brave and Broken Missionary Heart – Overview

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4 Comments on “Brave and Broken: Missionary Vulnerability”

  1. Ivan Veldhuizen Says:

    Love the post, Brian! Good stuff.



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