Vulnerability and Limitations

This summer I have been reading “The Vulnerable Pastor,” by Mandy Smith. I was assigned this book as part of my summer class and internship. I will admit, I do not like to read and I do not like feeling vulnerable (I cannot imagine many people do). It just so happens that one of my goals for the year 2019 was to embrace vulnerability. Being assigned this book has allowed me to understand more of what that means. Even though I love guarding myself and putting up walls, I have realized that my best and worst moments have come when I have allowed myself to be vulnerable. 

On the cover of this book it says, “how human limitations empower our ministry.” After looking at it, I was skeptical. I do believe vulnerability can bring us closer to God, but how can my limitations be used to empower my ministry? Before the book gave me an answer I first had to admit my limitations I have in regards to ministry, or at least what I perceive my limitations to be. 

Well, to start the list off, I am not the “stereotypical prospective minister.” I am a woman. While the world is changing and allowing more roles for women in the pulpit, I think most people can admit that the church is still a work in progress for these roles. Depending on how one reads and interprets the bible, one may believe it is a sin for a woman to preach. There is no doubt that this belief has ramifications for women. Even churches who do accept, allow and provide a platform for women in ministry can have ramifications and setbacks--whether that be through comments or actions, intentionally or unintentionally. 

A potential limitation is that I have my hair dyed an unnatural color and 2 tattoos. I personally do not view it as a limitation to serve, but I do have to take it into consideration because some people do. Some people like my hair and tattoos and some people don’t, and that is ok. I understand that tattoos have had alternate meanings in the past and again, depending on how one reads and interprets the Bible one may think tattoos are wrong. Therefore when people see them on ministers (and I know a lot of ministers who have them) they may feel unsure or uneasy.

The limitation that I deal with every day is my mental illness. I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression 6 years ago. Some days are great and some days are not so great. I never know when a depressive episode will come or how my anxiety will act up. Sometimes I know what caused it, and other times I make it worse putting what little energy I have into trying to figure out why. Therapy and medication have helped me cope with my mental illness. Our beliefs around mental health are still in a place where sometimes it is not ok to seek professional help. Improvements have been made and it is talked about more, but there is still this sense of forbiddenness, guilt and shame when we reach out for help. It is not something that someone can talk about and not experience that eerie and uncomfortable silence. 

The hardest limitation I deal with is my introvertedness. I struggle being an introvert. Ministers are supposed to be very talkative and outgoing. I am definitely not that. I am quiet and  reserved. I prefer to sit back and watch everything. Ministers are supposed to have all the answers and be able to give reflections and ideas at a moments notice. I reflect on potential answers and ideas often days after the conversation has ended. Ministers are supposed to have all this energy and get more energy by surrounding themselves with more people. I need a rest after being surrounded by people, so I can recharge. It is hard being an introvert in a job that requires me to be more of an extrovert.

I do not want to give off the impression that I do not like my job or my calling. I would not be pursuing it if I did not feel called and was unable to find joy in it. I am just saying it can be hard ministering to humans when you are a human yourself. Writing this has allowed me to embrace vulnerability in my limitations, and reading this book has allowed me to reverse my perspective on my limitations. 

I am a woman in ministry. I can provide new ideas. I can pave the way for future women. I can relate to situations that women experience. I can be an example of how people are equally called. I can be an example of how women have always played a role in ministry throughout history, dating back to Phoebe and Priscilla, who helped Paul. 

I have unnatural color in my hair, and I have tattoos. It makes me more relatable. I can stand out. My tattoos tell a story and if someone asks, I can share my story. It allows me to show my artistic side through self-expression. 

I am diagnosed with a mental illness. It helps me connect and relate to those who are also diagnosed. I can be an example of how one can live and thrive with mental illness. I can share what has helped me with my mental illness; like journaling, therapy, and medication. I can be an advocate for those who are also suffering as ministry, and let them know it is ok to listen to their own body.

I am introverted. I observe. I listen. I am going to reflect on what I want to say and how I want to say it. I am ok with silence. I take my social encounters very seriously and will not fill them up with small talk. I want genuine and honest encounters. These are all good qualities in a minister. 

Annette Coe. Woman. Colored hair. Tattoos. Mental illness. Introvert. I am still called by God, through all my man-made limitations, that some may say hinder me from fulfilling my call to ministry. These are not simply limitations. When I embrace them, these become my assets. 

I invite you to do the same. What are your limitations? What can they provide for your church, vocation, work, or family? How can you come closer to God and others around you by embracing your vulnerability and humanity? We are all children of God and our weaknesses are made strong in Christ.

Annette Coe