the shape of leadership

Keeping It Real

Four keys to leading your church with authenticity

Rebecca Burtram on August 10, 2018

A quick Google search reveals that authenticity is a hot topic today. Business, psychology and religious publications seem to agree that authenticity is necessary if we desire personal and professional growth.

A call for authenticity is rising from a generation that, after growing up with social media, is weary of superficial relationships, insincere communication, and airbrushed images. This particular generation is seeking something real and deep — though these terms have become almost cliché in their overuse and ambiguity.

In essence, this generation's members are looking for the opposite of all that is fake and shallow. They are tired of seeing those who claimed moral high ground exposed for secret vices. They’ve seen enough of news feeds that present impossibly perfect pictures of people who are secretly struggling. They are tired of spending more time worrying about comments and “likes” than forging personal relationships.

Many who don’t attend church cite religious hypocrisy — the antithesis of authenticity — as a reason for staying home. While this is not a new criticism, it is an especially problematic one in today’s culture. Of course, a church that reflects the heart of God is authentic: “Let your love be genuine” (Romans 12:9, ESV).

An authentic church starts with the leadership; there are things you can do to keep from confirming people’s negative suspicions about the Church and its people. You aren’t perfect, and that is OK. The people God used in Scripture were flawed. Perfection is not a requirement of leadership. In fact, if people perceive you as flawless, they are less likely to relate to what you say. They will write you off as someone who doesn’t understand what they are going through or struggling with.

Here are four things you can do to keep your leadership real, lead your church into greater authenticity, and point people to a genuine faith in the living God:

The easiest way to reassure people your church is a place to experience God’s grace is for them to see you too are a recipient of that unmerited favor.

Be Open About Your Faults

We’ve all come short of God’s standards. Admit that you have struggled and failed.

On the staff page of the Redemption Church Charlottesville website, my husband and I have an eight-minute video sharing our testimony as a couple. Those who visit us after viewing the site often tell us that our authenticity is what drew them to come check out the church. In the video, we share doubts we’ve struggled with, difficulties we’ve faced, and mistakes we’ve made — testifying of God’s miraculous grace through it all.

People want to see that their doubts don’t disqualify them and we won’t reject them because of their failures. The easiest way to reassure them your church is a place to experience God’s grace is for them to see you too are a recipient of that unmerited favor.

Be Open About Your Need to Study

Some people assume church leaders know everything about the Bible. But there is great value in admitting when you aren’t 100 percent certain about a theological point or an interpretation of a passage.

Talk about how you search for answers through prayer, Bible study, and reading the works of other scholars. This not only allows people to see the real you, but it also models study habits for those who are new to the faith and have never received instruction on how to approach the Word of God.

Be Straightforward in Your Outreach

Be sure your promotions and social media posts are accurate depictions of what your events will be or what your church services look like. In other words, don’t pull a bait and switch.

I was at a church that advertised an egg hunt but not the 15-minute devotional occurring before the event. The community guests who participated felt duped because there was no indication they were signing up to hear a sermon. It wasn’t the end of the world, but it didn’t help to build trust either.

Someone who won’t come to your church’s event if they know you will preach probably won’t be receptive to the words in that moment anyway. We can’t trick people into finding Jesus.

Don’t Try to Be Someone You Aren’t

Perhaps most importantly, remember God called you to lead the church you are at in this moment. He knows exactly who you are, and He isn’t asking you to look or act like the megachurch you have been following on Facebook. He called you — with your style, your personality, your failings, and your strengths — to lead in the context where He placed you.

Don’t be afraid to let others see who you are, because God chose you to minister, not your idea of what you should be.


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