March 26, 2018

Authenticity: More Than Speaking Your Mind

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“For your life is hidden with Christ in God”
Colossians 3:3


“What I really see here is a lack of humility.”

“He just talked the whole time, talking at me and not to me.”

“He seemed to think he had all the answers and didn’t care what we thought.”


How do you receive feedback? Are you more…

Or maybe a little more…

I have been trained to handle feedback in a particular way. Acknowledging that our brains tend to exaggerate the negative, I am well-practiced in the art of explaining negative feedback away. “There’s one in every crowd.” “They just didn’t get me.” “This must be an age thing.” So, while I am quick to say that I am rigorous about feedback (I am), I also have to tell the truth that feedback takes a while to get through my defense mechanisms and into my heart.

The three sentences at the top of the article are three pieces of actual feedback I received in a fairly short period of time. The exact wording may be off, but the ideas and the energy captured are very real. And it is not fun to share them. After all, you hear them enough and you realize it might be true. Being authentic is not only about telling the truth, it’s also about hearing the uncomfortable truth from others.

Authenticity is a buzzword today. In 2015, the Harvard Business Journal even said that “Authenticity is the gold standard of leadership.” But what is authenticity? Is it simply telling the truth about what you are thinking, as though the end goal is a lack of brain-to-mouth filter? I suggest not, lest we find ourselves taking our leadership cues from Hugh Laurie’s famous TV character “Dr. House.”

I think authenticity means that we are getting increasing access to all of who we are. That means seeing my blind spots, it means painful and embarrassing feedback. It means telling my story and letting other people do the same. It means sharing my hopes and dreams while also being real about my fears and doubts.

I coach a lot of pastors and leaders. One of my mantras in coaching is that “authenticity is a gift.” When a person comes to greater clarity about who they are, about their “life hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3), it is a gift to everyone. Here are some reasons why, although you can probably think of more:

  1. Awareness or revelation is the first step to transformation, telling the authentic truth about your awareness is the second
  2. Authenticity builds community. While there may be a voice in your head screaming that telling the truth about the whole you will alienate people from you, the reverse is often the case
  3. When you tell the truth to someone, you gain accountability and support for your transformational journey
  4. You telling your story helps me tell mine

Authenticity is a gift. Both the experience of telling the truth about who you really are and the experience of receiving feedback to fill in those blind spots can be painful yet liberating. The risks of inauthenticity are also great. The #MeToo movement has shone a spotlight on the incredibly damaging aftermath of cultures of abuse and secrecy. The Church in North America has seen scandals ranging from power-hungry and controlling leaders, financial corruption, sexual abuse and more. The stakes are high.

As you consider authenticity and its role in your ministry, I invite you to consider a few questions (these questions work for individuals and congregations):

  1. Who knows you completely, warts and all? How can you let more people see more of who you are?
  2. How does your prayer life reflect a growing authenticity with God? What holds you back from God?
  3. What is your rhythm of receiving feedback and checking your blind spots? How can you grow in your capacity to receive feedback with grace and humility?

A prayer: Creator, we can be authentic with you and others because you love us to our inmost being. There is nothing that can take us away from your love. Grant us revelation to see what we cannot see and courage to express it back to you and others. May your Church be a place where people can be welcomed as they are and given space to grow. Thank you that the one who started a good work in us will bring it to completion in Christ Jesus, in whom we pray. Amen.

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