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A review written by Cecil Van Niejenhuis, part of a newsletter for Regional Pastors.

About a year ago, I read a book that continues to keep my wheels turning. It’s a book which explores one of the very basic and essential dynamics of our Christian faith, and is highly relevant to anyone in leadership. It’s about what Crouch calls the “paradox of flourishing.” And what he means is that we are called to be both strong and weak.

The book is Strong and Weak, by Andy Crouch.

There are a few things in particular I like about this book.

The first is that it honors the complex, often elliptical shape of truth. We hold things together which seem incompatible … like divine sovereignty and human responsibility … like grace and truth. Remember those two proverbs? Answer a fool according to his folly … and … Do not answer a fool according to his folly … (Proverbs 26). Or perhaps, thinking about God’s transcendence and immanence … there are many instances where truth is not about choosing one or the other, but about holding both one and the other. Strong and weak are like that.

In fact, what I really love about this book is that the words strong and weak are nuanced so that we get thinking about authority and vulnerability.

Folks who engage as leaders of Christian communities, and folks who engage with leaders — like regional pastors do — can only benefit from the thoughtfulness of this little book. It gets us thinking about what it means to be images of God, and what it means to deal with power and also the lack of power. At the heart of the Christian faith is the matter of power and how it is used. Crouch deftly gets us thinking about the whole length of the Scripture narrative, from creation, through the fall, into redemption. Thinking about the fall into sin as a moment which highlights a distorted imbalance, seeking authority without vulnerability…

Second thing, which I think is helpful in reflecting about leadership especially, is the observation that vulnerability is more than a personal, emotional, dynamic —it has to do with a vulnerability which accompanies taking risks. How do authority and vulnerability interact? What does this look like in the act of preaching? What does this look like in the practice of pastoral care? What does it look like in the council room?

There is a wide-ranging set of conversations which this book could stimulate. And they would be so close to the core of life as image-bearers, and life as imitators of Christ. How did Christ use power? How does God the Father do so? The Spirit? How does the balance of authority and vulnerability play out in the gospel story, and how might it play out in our churches? There are tie-ins for Safe Church issues, and tie-ins to our core identity as body of Christ.

Third thing I love about this book is that the interplay of authority and vulnerability happens in community. This is not just about what it looks like in a person, but what it looks like when it involves people together … pastors and congregations together. Crouch observes that leadership begins the moment you are more concerned about the flourishing of others than your own. And he explores what that word “flourishing” means, and does not mean.

There’s more. Lots more. Hidden vulnerabilities … suffering. It’s a book easy to read, but not easy to ignore. And it will catalyze conversations worth having. Risking vulnerability, I recommend it highly!!


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