I gave a talk on weakness early last year. It was, as far as I could tell, biblically based and true to life. But something was missing. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I knew that I hadn’t captured the nuances of an important topic.
I now know what I missed. I discovered it by reading Andy Crouch’s new book Strong and Weak: Embracing a Life of Love, Risk and True Flourishing.
The premise of the book is simple. We are meant to flourish, and flourishing requires two things that at first don’t seem to go together. “Here’s the paradox: flourishing comes from being both strong and weak.” Or, to put it in a form of a 2 by 2 chart, we’re to embrace both authority and vulnerability.
It’s easy to miss this paradox. In my talk, I’d focused on the grace that’s found in weakness, reflecting on the Lord’s words to Paul: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). I’d inadvertently glorified what Crouch calls the withdrawing/suffering quadrants, missing the quadrant of flourishing (authority and vulnerability). Crouch’s model helped me understand that we’re meant to be weak and strong in equal measure.
Flourishing, though, isn’t about health, wealth, growth, affluence, and gentrification. We know this because Jesus, our model for flourishing, didn’t live an affluent life. Flourishing means that we care for our communities, especially those who were most vulnerable. It means that we avoid the temptations of withdrawing into safety, or grasping for power, just as Jesus did.
I was most moved by how Crouch weaves the gospel into this model. The path to flourishing is a path that takes us through suffering:
Surprisingly, rather than simply moving pleasantly into ever greater authority and ever greater vulnerability, we have to take two fearsome journeys, both of which seam like detours that lead away from the prime quadrant. The first is the journey to hidden vulnerability, the willingness to bear burdens and expose ourselves to risks that no one else can fully see or understand. The second is sacrifice, the choice to visit the most broken corners of the world and our own heart.
“Without a doubt,” Crouch writes, “this is the greatest paradox of flourishing: it is only found on the other side of suffering— specifically, our willingness to actively embrace suffering.”
The implications for leadership are profound. “Leadership does not begin with a title or a position. It begins the moment you are concerned more about others’ flourishing than you are about your own. It begins when you start to ask how you might help create and sustain the conditions for others to increase their authority and vulnerability together.”
Strong and Weak is a book that manages to be both simple but profound. It’s worth four dozen self-help books. This book helps us understand the right path to flourishing, and how to help others take it too. It’s a path that Jesus took before us — a path that looks like dying, but one that leads to real life.
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