It’s all our pretending to be perfect that breeds inauthenticity in the church. Rich Mullins
“I’m not used to hearing pastors talk so honestly about their lives. It’s refreshing.” This was a comment David got recently after speaking at a church. What people seemed to take away that day was not his outline or his theology, but his relatability.
Most of us value authenticity. We’re attracted to “real” people who don’t come across as the fourth person of the Trinity. So, why does it often seem hard for leaders to be authentic?
Lots of reasons, but here’s a quick take on it.
As Christians, we follow a perfect God who loves every person perfectly.
And while we, the imperfect, are doing our best to be like this Perfect God—a loose “imitation” is as close as we can ever hope to get. Deep down we all know this, but from somewhere we got the idea that we have to hold ourselves, our families, our leaders and churches to the standard of … flawless.
First, it’s crazy to expect anyone to come close to attaining perfection. And second, it’s wild we feel the need to pretend all is always well with us when this has been the life story of no person ever.
The standard is impossible to attain, yet, we get mad, disillusioned, punish and shame people for falling short of the glory of God! No wonder we have trouble admitting weakness or speaking about our mistakes.
The two of us feel most at home around leaders who are secure enough to talk about their sincere but flawed attempts to follow Jesus, not some sanitized version of their spiritual journey.
“To believe you must hide all the parts of you that are broken, out of fear that someone else is incapable of loving what is less than perfect, is to believe that sunlight is incapable of entering a broken window and illuminating a dark room.” Ian Thomas
What hope is there for the rest of us, if our leaders’ life is only ever painted with a halo above it?
Inauthentic leadership breeds:
- envy (“Wow! Where do I sign up for your amaaazing Instagram life?”)
- mistrust (“I can’t believe anyone can actually be that perfect.”)
- discouragement (“I can’t live up to them no matter how hard I try.”)
What if our goal was to reflect wholeness, not perfection? Wholeness compassionately allows for both our darkness and light, our beauty and places of brokenness.
It’s from our human wholeness we are most able to identify with others and point them to God.
Dan Allender says, “Too often we think sharing our weakness will cause us to lose respect…the more you tell the truth about yourself, appropriately, winsomely, age-appropriately, within a context, the more effective your leadership will become.”
To err is human. And to admit we’re not perfect takes knowing and standing in the absolute truth that we are so much more than anything we could ever do on either our worst or best days. For us, this is the key to authentic leadership.
- How can you more authentically represent who you actually are in your everyday life without resorting to image management?
- What is keeping you from speaking and leading with more honesty?
- What needs to change for your leadership to reflect wholeness instead of the ever-positive spin?
- How can you instigate more authentic conversations among your friends and co-workers?
- Start telling yourself the truth. (Pay attention to ways you distort, deny or repress the truth within you. Denial doesn’t change the facts. What are you hiding from yourself right now?)
- Speak your truth to a safe friend, fellow leader or counselor. (Who can you talk most honestly to? If the answer is “no one” befriend a counselor- like yesterday.)
- Open up to your family, small group, and co-workers about things like your fears, doubts, reactivity, anger, envy, mistakes, drivenness, and stress. (Start with the little things but don’t stay there. If your spouse is not a safe place to share you need to work that through together and probably do it with a counselor.)
- Speak publicly from your scars, not your wounds. (If the wound is too fresh you will not have enough distance from it and it may do more harm than good. Let some time pass so it won’t come across as a cry to your audience for help.)
- Jesus was right when he said, “The truth will set you free.”
Not only will it free us from faking it, but it will also take a lot of pressure off those we love and lead. It will set them free to be the wholehearted humans God designed all of us to be.
God does not dwell in anything that is not real. Paul Young
From David & Caron Loveless