Muskingum Valley Presbytery, PO Box 946, New Philadelphia, OH 44663

Theme 1

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“Friendship and love are impossible without a mutual vulnerability.”

Great doctors of the church appear in the generations of the faith. Henri Nouwen is certainly one of those who provided powerful insight and guidance to the faithful. 

Before the research demonstrated it, Nouwen experientially knew that fostering an enviroment where it is safe to be fully present, and share one’s honest self is the root of friendship and love.

Whether we are trying to bring vitality to our congregations or tackling racism, developing a community of mutual vulnerability is essential to our success.

On this page, you will find a growing collection of resources that you can use to help grow a healthy, legitamate, and mutual vulnerability in our churches.

Matthew 11 is a collection of 6 leadership themes that lighten the burdens of our people and help them move forward in faith. Pastoring and eldering do not require us to tie up burdens too heavy to bear. Instead, our call as leaders is to be like Jesus, and lighten the load.

Four Reasons We Need to Develop Mutual Vulnerability

Some people will be fearful of developing a mutual vulnerability within the life of the congregation. This is ok.

In fact, you may find it best to be more intentional about devolping mutual vulnerablity without using the phrase! Yes. There is no need.

However, if some of your leadership team need a little encouragement, you may find these four reasons helpful.

Discussion Questions

Sermon & Bible Study Ideas

Vulnerability is not a Biblical term but it is a profoundly important concept in the Bible. What would our faith be if God was never vulnerable, if Jesus was never born, if Jesus never came to serve? Below you will find some helpful passages and lessons. For more information on Focus and Function statements, call our resident preaching professor, Rev. Chip Hardwick, PhD. You can reach Chip at The Synod of the Covenant.

“Celebrating the Other

Luke 15:1-10 

Focus Statement: The real work of the community of Christ, the church, is welcoming and celebrating the lost, not saving sinners. God saves. We celebrate and welcome.

Function Statement: Ways to celebrate and welcome the “other” include: put effort, energy, and love into personal relationships; listen but don’t pry; eat together; do something fun together

Submitted by Rev. Benjamin George.

Photo by Dóra Klenovszki.

“Fearlessly Still”

Psalm 46

Focus Statement: God is always helpfully present as our refuge and strength, confronting our fears, dismantling our defenses, and inviting people to know God and recognize God’s presence through stillness.

Function Statement: Being still before God is a way to listen and grow in faith so that we can fearlessly share mutual vulnerability in Christian community. A few ways to practice being still include: listening to the book of Psalms on Spotify as you tend to daily cores; practice the Jesus Prayer which is rooted in scripture-this practice started as early as the 5th century by the Dessert Fathers and Mothers; work with a Spiritual Director

Submitted by Rev. Jeffery Bergeson

Photo by Linda Powell.

“Safely Exposed”

Genesis 32:1-31

Focus Statement: God prepared Jacob to mend his relationship with his murderous brother, Esau, through a divine encounter and blessing that redefines Jacob’s life. 

Function Statement: We can be open to God’s encounter with us through a variety of means, including: sharing our struggles; seeking our own healing; being a present witness of grace to others

Submitted by Rev. Matthew Skolnik.

Art by Marc Chagel.

“Odd for God”

Mark 6:7-13

Focus Statement: Sharing our faith with strangers is both a directive from Jesus and a place of incredible vulnerability.

Function Statement: Disciples of Jesus are sent out to spread the Good News of the Gospel, ultimately going to places of uncertainty and forging relationships with strangers. We enter this vulnerable space together successfully by adopting a willingness to share testimony anywhere and everywhere–bearing witnesses to the transformative power of the Cross.

Submitted by Rev. J. Caleb McClure

Photo by Diocese of Olympia.

“Entering with Love”

John 1: 1-18

Focus Statement: There is no greater act of vulnerability for God than becoming flesh that cries, gets hungry, bleeds, and dies.

Function Statement: Just as God can enter into a vulnerable existence to demonstrate love, we are invited to do the same. We can demonstrate this kind of love through acts such as: “dwelling” with people as they walk through difficulties; asking for help; being willing to leave our comfort zone

Submitted by Rev. Matthew Skolnik.

Ethiopian depiction of the birth of Christ.

“More than Accessible”

John 13:1-17

Focus Statement: Jesus gave himself in a way that, at times, offered the disciples complete and total access. (He also had times of private prayer and Sabbath.)

Function Statement: We can offer others appropriate access to us through healthy intimacy in different circles of influence including: the public, small groups, and trusted loved ones. Each circle of influence has a different level of healthy access.

Submitted by Rev. Matthew Skolnik.

Art by Bhanu Dudhat.

“Hot Pursuit”

Psalm 23

Focus Statement: God pursues creation and humanity with goodness and mercy.

Function Statement: Ways to help others experience God’s pursuit of goodness and mercy include: learning not to flinch when others personally share their story; offer encouragement in times of stress, frustration, or confusion; celebrate small steps of healing or wholeness

Submitted by Rev. Benjamin George.

Screen shot from “Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit Remastered.”

“Last, Least, Lost”

Luke 7:36-50

Focus Statement: Even Jesus was touched spiritually and emotionally by the outcast, how much more so should you be?

Function Statement: It is the model of the Christian life and one of our sacred duties to reach out to the last, the least, and the lost. But who is transformed in this ministry? Naming our privileges and our biases helps us to become vulnerable as Jesus is, remembering that we too are sometimes last, least, and lost.

Submitted by Rev. J. Caleb McClure

Sculpture “The Homeless Jesus Statue” by Timothy Schmalz.

A Place at the Table

For just and unjust, a place at the table,
abuser, abused, with need to forgive,
in anger, in hurt, a mindset of mercy,
for just and unjust, a new way to live,
and God will delight when we are creators
of justice and joy, compassion and peace:
yes, God will delight when we are creators
of justice, justice and joy!

Glory to God, #769, verse 4

Add your resources to Matthew 11!

Let us know:)

The Power of Vulnerability

Brené Brown studies human connection — our ability to empathize, belong, love. In a poignant, funny talk, she shares a deep insight from her research, one that sent her on a personal quest to know herself as well as to understand humanity. A talk to share.

Recommended Reading

This book comes highly recommend by Elder Joani Brode.

Joani writes, “As I was listening/watching your message this morning, I immediately thought of a book I’ve read by Molly Baskette- Standing Naked Before God: The Art of Public Confession. She describes using a time of personal confession before the congregational confession as a way of allowing our vulnerability be a method of comforting the newcomer as well as those in the congregation who have issues they are afraid to talk about.”

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If individuals or groups do not admit that they need help or are affraid to not know something.


“Joys and Concerns” during worship, Bible study, or fellowship groups moslty focus on acceptable forms of need, such as during a time of death or  suffuring from cancer.


While pastors need not and should not share every struggle they are experiencing, there is a time and place to model appropriate sharing. When pastors do not feel safe sharing meaningful struggles, members of the congregation will not feel safe to do so either.


When perfection is expected, everyone has to fake it, and is not free to be imperfect. By the way, how many shots did Michael Jordan miss in his career? How many serves has Serina Williams missed in her championship runs? How many notes did Yo-Yo Ma not play perfectly in his life? How many interceptions has Tom Brady thrown? 


When teens feel like they can’t ask significant questions about faith, life, money, sex, poverty, and race, a congregation lacks mutual vulnerability.


The practice of theology is an exploration within orthodoxy. When local theology allows litte room for variance, people do not feel safe to be vulnerable. One way that this plays out is that Bible trivia is more important than discipleship.

Belonging Cues

Healthy vulnerability is built when people feel they belong.

According to Daniel Coyle, belonging cues are non-verbal signals that humans use to create safe connections in groups.

Basic characteristics of belonging clues include:

there is energy invested in the relationship
individuals are valued for who they are
signaling that the relationship is sustainable

Healing Care Ministries

Recommended by Pastor Kathleen Adams

Over the past decade or so many of our leaders have learned, grown, and healed by participating with Terry Wardle at Healing Care Ministries. Sometime we are not ready to be mutually vulnerable as a church because we are too wounded. If you need help healing on your journey, let us know. We can help cover some of the costs.

Healing Care Ministries

Key Language

Developing a healthier culture in our congregations includes sharing key language. It may be helpful to teach and regularly share key phrases in Christian community.


Everyone has a seat at the Lord’s table.


Everyone has something to offer.


We all need one another.