Speaking in Authority with a Willingness to be Vulnerable

A few years ago I was really affected by Andy Crouch’s Four Quadrants from Strong and Weak (below). It's simultaneously freeing to implement it and also restricting. It means asking myself the question before I share anything: Do I have authority to share this? Am I being vulnerable in sharing it?

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I’m learning to reframe vulnerability from simply weakness or transparency, or what Andy calls emotionally manipulative vulnerability (there just to force others into the outcome I want), to "Am I willing to share this and be misunderstood?" Not simply risk being misunderstood or venture the possibility of it, but truly understand that no one will perfectly understand my words, meaning, implications, or heart. I just have to be faithful.

I’m also learning to reframe authority from merely knowing about something or knowing the right words around something to having a lived experience and faith that what the Word of God says is true. We often times walk around like we have authority to speak into situations in people’s lives, or offer trite words in response to their sorrows, but we haven’t lived through significant sorrow ourselves or haven’t really seen God’s word stand firm in the midst of our own trials. We have information, not authority.

If I don't have both authority (by experience and in the Word of God) and vulnerability (a willingness to misunderstood, hurt, or risk a different outcome than I wanted) in a careful tandem dance, I have not love, not really, and my words won't lead to flourishing for myself or for others.

God's word says he has set "pleasant boundaries" around us. They should free and restrict us at the same time. And if we only feel "free to be me" without the temperance of the fruit of the Spirit, or only feel constricted, bound, held back without the freedom with which we've been set free, we'll constantly feel like we’re suffering or we will cause others to suffer. This shows up in ministry, in marriage, in parenting, in work, in dating, in roommates—everywhere people are in relationship with another, this shows up. And the hardest part is that only we are responsible for our actions. I am only responsible for how I conduct myself in both authority and vulnerability, not how someone else does.

One of the parts of the Writing Mentorship I run is a phone call with each of the participants and almost without exception, one question they ask me is, “How do you exercise vulnerability in your writing without being gratuitous?” I don’t know if I do it well, but I always point them to Andy’s Four Quadrants because my flesh so often wants to run in the three bottom and left squares, but I know true flourishing for myself and my readers exists in the upper right square. And the Spirit reminds me again and again and again of it.

I’ve been mulling over a passage from Mark this week, where Jesus is talking about the descruction and persecution to come. Amongst a litany of the ways his people will be treated unjustly, Jesus says this, “When they arrest you and hand you over, don’t worry beforehand what you will say, but say whatever is given to you at that time, for it isn’t you speaking, but the Holy Spirit.” It reminds me of the words of E.B. White, “Writing is an act of faith.” I’ve changed his words a bit too because sometimes, for me, “Not writing is an act of faith.”

Sometimes speaking is an act of faith, and sometimes not-speaking is an equal act of faith. Perhaps because we don’t have the authority to speak about the subject or maybe we have the authority, but not the vulnerability we need to be heard or remain humble. Or maybe we only feel our vulnerability and no authority and it’s time to let others speak on our behalf—trusting the Lord, not them, that they will. Either way, we are Christians who live by faith and in the power of the Holy Spirit, not in our own good works so that none of us can boast. He has given us all authority to make disciples and he is ultimate healer of all our wounds and fears—we have been entrusted and we can trust him.

* I recommend you buy and read Andy’s book. It’s short, to the point, with Andy’s trademark clarity and helpfulness for his reader. He unpacks the quadrants far more eloquently than I can here without risking plagiarism.