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The Power of Vulnerability to Transform Stewardship

These days, it’s not unusual for preachers to stand on the level of a congregation and use a music stand for their sermon notes. But in days gone by, before microphones and screens, it was common to place pulpits high above the congregation. Preachers had to walk up separate flights as they climbed up into the pulpit, towering above their flock below. As the old saying goes, a preacher could be 5 feet tall, but “ten feet above contradiction.”

Our writer today takes a very different sort of approach to stewardship leadership, exploring Brené Brown’s fine book, Daring Greatly. I think Shelby is onto something. We need stewardship leaders who are willing to climb down from their lofty perch and be vulnerable.

Yours truly,

Adam Copeland, Director, Center for Stewardship Leaders

The Power of Vulnerability to Transform Stewardship

Shelby Etheridge

Several months after I started at my first call, I was asked to share with the congregation my answer to the question “why I give,” as part of a series of testimonies set up by our stewardship team. I was “invited” to stand before the congregation and share, for three to five minutes, why I give to the church. Even though I had been in the life of the church for a long time, no one had ever asked me, “why do you give to the church?”

I was terrified. Talking about money is difficult for me, it makes me feel weird and icky. There is nothing more uncomfortable than talking about money, especially with the people who have the power over me. As pastors, when we get up there and talk about stewardship of money, it exposes us; it’s a risk.

I got in the pulpit at the end of the service, when I’d already preached a sermon and led worship, to share why I give to our church. I had labored over an answer, and yet I found myself in that moment with tears in my eyes, realizing how much I was emotionally tied to financial giving. And since that moment, stewardship season has always been a season of vulnerability for me.

In her excellent book, Daring Greatly, Brené Brown says vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Vulnerability is uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. To me, it turns out that vulnerability is the epitome of life in the church.

Uncertainty: We never know what will happen on Sunday mornings, we don’t know what the next phone call holds, we can never be sure how our new ideas about worship, about Christian education, about practice and theology will be received.

Risk: Risk is a regular part of life in the church, and for a follower of Jesus Christ. Jesus asked the disciples to drop their nets and follow him. They had no idea what that would mean or how that would work, but they did it anyways.

Emotional exposure: Whether we let others see it or not, being a spiritual leader is being emotionally exposed. Examples of vulnerability could be: sharing an unpopular opinion, asking for help, calling a congregation member whose child just died, admitting we’re afraid, asking for forgiveness, trying something new.

These are the challenges of the church, and these are the challenges of being alive, of being in a relationship, of being connected. We are alive, we are connected, and so vulnerability is unavoidable. But we do have a choice to make: How will we respond when confronted with uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure?

Following Brown, if we want to reclaim the essential emotional part of our lives and reignite our passion and purpose, we have to learn how to own and engage with our vulnerability and feel the emotions that come along with it.

As a pastoral staff, we have remained committed to the practice of vulnerability since reading Daring Greatly during Lent 2014. And this commitment has changed many of ways we “do church.”

That question, “why I give,” has transformed our stewardship and giving season. Hearing from fellow members of the congregation has changed the way that we view and approach stewardship. It’s no longer a two-month slog of hearing the pastor preach sermon after sermon “on money,” but a time to look forward to hearing from someone you might not know so well, but who shares your experience of being a single mom, of struggling to find a job, of giving while saddled with student debt…. The stories go on.

The greatest change often comes alongside the most challenging questions. Answering “why I give,” beyond the obvious answer of obligation, is not easy. But when we engage that question from a place of vulnerability, courage, and openness, it has the potential to transform the way we talk about stewardship.

More Information

Rev. Shelby Etheridge Harasty is the Associate Pastor for Christian Formation and Family Ministry at Saint Mark Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) in Rockville, MD. She lives in Rockville with her husband Matt and loves worshipping with kids, bringing the power of vulnerability to people, a nice glass of red wine, and a great novel. 

Stewardship Speaker Series: Join us on campus this summer (June 16, July 21, August 18) for breakfast as we hear from groundbreaking stewardship leaders practicing distinctive, top-notch stewardship. Come to one ever -- or all three! All events are free and open to the public. For more information, and to register, visit

Executive Certificate in Religious Fundraising: Luther Seminary, in partnership with the Lake Institute on Faith and Giving, is hosting a four-day intensive course, October 17-20, 2016. For more information


Author information was updated as of the article's post date. Author profiles may not reflect author's current employment or location.

Put Your Heart Out There image by Cassandra Rae, Creative Commons Image on Flickr.

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