Transparency. Authenticity. Two buzzwords often used, but often misunderstood. Today, an insightful post from Jaime Hlavin that brings better understanding of these words, and hopefully healthier behaviors along with it ~ John.
The van bounced along the bumpy, rural road as I attempted to engage our driver in rusty Spanish conversation that I hadn’t uttered since college. I was on my very first Missions Trip – in spite of being in my early 30s at the time and the wife of the Lead Pastor. This combination of facts was embarrassing to me as it made me feel inadequate and inexperienced. Therefore, my attempt at self-deprecating humor to diffuse what I was sure the entire team was already thinking included declarations of what a “terrible pastor’s wife I was” followed by a list of my other pastoral shortcomings.
Across from me sat a young, dating couple. The man chuckled and shared a knowing glance with his girlfriend – as if what came next had been a conversation they’d been having for some time.
“We like you. You’re not a stiff. You don’t act like you have it all together,” the young woman said.
“Yeah. You’re authentic,” said the man.
In an instant, I was filled with a sense of relief and then, very quickly, pride. I was authentic. The younger generation related to me because I was transparent and didn’t act like I had it all figured out. My shortcomings had suddenly become virtues!
Authentic. Transparent. Real. These are the characteristics modern Christians long to see in one another and their leaders. And when we are described as such, a sense of pride swells our chests. We have arrived. We are relatable. We have nothing to hide.
Soon enough, those words began to concern me, a woman in ministry, as I lived out my authentic life in front of people. Some of my more “real” characteristics weren’t very Christlike, and some of the people I led were seeing that as a breath of fresh air. When I thought about it like that, I suddenly felt very gross.
John Cooper, from the band Skillet, recently wrote in response to some prominent Christian leaders tragically deciding to denounce their faith, “Why do people act like ‘being real’ covers a multitude of sins? As if someone is courageous simply for sharing virtually every thought or dark place. That’s not courageous. It’s cavalier. Have they considered the ramifications?”
The Bible is very clear about the ramifications. Scripture places high responsibility upon those in leadership roles. For further understanding, please feel free to read the following Scripture: Acts 20:28; Ephesians 4:11-12; 2 Timothy 4:2; Hebrews 13:17; James 3:1; 1 Peter 1:2; Titus 1:6-9.
Was my authenticity and transparency teaching others that it’s okay to stay the same rather than become more like Christ? Again, that gross feeling crept in. I think culture conflates “being who God made me to be” with “this-is-how-God-made-me-so-get-over-with-it” because dealing with our sinful nature is difficult. We don’t like difficult. When leaders exhibit authenticity without an effort to grow and change, it seems easy – thus giving license to those they lead to follow suit. And that can be dangerous.
So, how do we live out a life that is authentic and transparent, yet leads others to the Cross while remaining relatable and down-to-earth?
First, I would propose that we examine the actual definitions of the words “authentic” and “transparent” rather than the modern meanings that we’ve attached to them. I’m reminded of the timeless truth of Inigo Montoya in The Princess Bride, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”
Please take a moment to very carefully read the following definitions. (The bold text is my emphasis)
- of undisputed origin; genuine.
- made or done in the traditional or original way, or in a way that faithfully resembles an original.
- based on facts; accurate or reliable.
- relating to or denoting an emotionally appropriate, significant, purposive, and responsible mode of human life.
- (of a material or article) allowing light to pass through so that objects behind can be distinctly seen.
- easy to perceive or detect.
- having thoughts, feelings, or motives that are easily perceived.
Reread the bold items here:
“…in a way that faithfully resembles an original…”
“…based on facts; accurate or reliable.”
“…an emotionally appropriate, significant, purposive, and responsible mode of human life.”
“…allowing light to pass through so that objects behind can be distinctly seen.”
Since those definitions sound a lot like what scripture teaches, I would then propose we compare our current thoughts, actions and attitudes to the Word of God, and bring them in alignment with it. We have to make sure our authentic transparency is getting the Romans 12:2 treatment: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – His good, pleasing and perfect will.”
When I’m tempted to vent my thought, feelings, struggles, and character flaws to those I lead, I need to evaluate by asking myself the following questions:
- Does this behavior/thought/attitude I’m about to share faithfully resemble the original (original = the author of my faith)? Essentially, is Jesus like this?
- Is this behavior/thought/attitude accurate or reliable? Emotions don’t always accurately determine truth, so does this square with truth (Word of God)?
- Is what I’m about to share a good way to direct someone in an emotionally appropriate, significant, purposeful, and responsible mode of Christian life? Or, will this behavior give someone license to stunt the sanctifying work being done in his or her life?
- Have I allowed the light of God’s Word to pass through this area of my life to expose what needs to be rooted out?
If the answer to any of these questions is no, (or in the case of question 3b, yes) I should probably pause before acting or sharing. Or if I do choose to express that “real” behavior or thought, I must consider the ramifications and follow up with how God is working that particular thing out of me, therefore making me more like Him.
Those feelings of inadequacy and embarrassment at my “shortcomings” during my early years of ministry helped me learn a valuable lesson about living authentically as a leader. The lesson is twofold: 1) I am flawed and pretending that I’m not doesn’t help anyone. And 2) my flaws can be rectified if I allow God to grow me by doing the work, while being honest with others about that. I believe that is how a leader lives a transparent, authentic and real life.
P.S. That young couple on the van so many years ago . . . they’re married and serving as missionaries now. Phew. I’m so glad that story ended happily rather than served as a sad cautionary tale.
I’m rooting and praying for you ~ Jaime