Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Authenticity

I was asked earlier this year what I thought had to happen in order for executives to lead a particular firm through significant and expeditious change. What is the one trait that leaders need in order to attract followers? I answered with one word: authenticity! Socrates once said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” What did he mean by this? I think that question is a good parking lot candidate that we will come back to later. I do not wish to get into the abstract complexities that surround authenticity as a technical term either psychologically or philosophically. I wish to talk about authenticity at a more practice level. What does authenticity mean and what does it look like in the life of leaders? While this question was posed to me in a business environment, authenticity is of extreme import in the church. If business executives must be authentic in order to be effective leaders, how much more should those leaders in the church be authentic? I am not talking about authentic leaders here. I am talking about authentic people. We are human before we are leaders. Authenticity is one trait that a leader cannot do without if he is to be an effective leader. We can measure a leader’s effectiveness in the business world with metrics, goals, and even 360 surveys. However, how do we measure effective leaders in the church? Good question!

What is authenticity? If you look up the definition in the dictionary, it means not false, or copied, genuine, real. Authentic carries the connotation that a thing is what it claims to be. Take art for example. We could say that this is an authentic Rembrandt sketch or it is a fake, that is, not authentic. Think of the Rolex watch and all the fakes that exist. Think of currency. This is an authentic $100 dollar bill, or it is a counterfeit $100 dollar bill. When we apply this to a person and we say that this person is authentic, we are saying that they really are how they present themselves to be. They are who they say they are. They mean the words they speak. They actually do what they tell others they should do. The try to live by the standard that they say they try to live by. If they are an executive, they do not say that layoffs are not coming when they just left a meeting determining how many people will be losing their jobs. People may not like the news, but at least they respect the one bearing it. And they will follow him because they can trust him. When he says something, they honestly know that he means it. He is genuine. He is authentic.

Authentic leaders examine themselves all the time. Am I who I say I am? Do I really believe what I say I believe? Will I really stand up for what I say I will? Am I the kind of person who means what he says? Do I really try to do the right thing and live by the standards I say I do? Can people believe me? Is internal integrity more important to me than even my job, my family, and everything else I hold dear? Do people get the sense that I am genuine? Am I just another utilitarian leader who searches for the easy path, the path of least resistance and takes it? Do I say what I think people think I should say, rather than what I really believe? If you are an authentic leader, then people get what they see. In other words, you do not just talk about loving others; you do it. Authentic leaders regularly ask themselves, “Why should anyone follow me?” Are you pointing men to Christ or drawing men to you? Are you concerned about the kingdom or about your church?

The opposite of authenticity is hypocrisy. HUPOKRTES is the Greek word for hypocrite. It appears some 18 times in the NT. In essence, hypocrisy means playing a role, playacting if you will. You are pretending to be something you are not. The hardest thing for hypocrites to see sometimes is their own hypocrisy. The reason the world holds contempt for the church in western culture has just as much to do with the hypocrisy they witness as it does anything else. The church reminds them of Washington politics. No one is actually what they say they are. At least that has been their experience. We need authentic Christians that want to be authentic light to a very dark world. In order to do that, unconditional obedience to God’s word is required. That unconditional obedience begins when people in the faith community love one another the way Jesus loves us. Where there is no love, there is no Christ!

Paul describes authentic Christians in Eph. 4:25-32:
Therefore, laying aside falsehood, Speak truth each one of you with his neighbor, for we are  members of one another. 26 Be angry, andt do not sin let not the sun go down on your anger, 27 and do not give the devil an opportunity. 28 He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need. 29 Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. 30 Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.

Pastors, elders, teachers and other leaders, the only way to foster authentic Christianity in your local assemblies is for you to demonstrate it in every aspect of your life, not the least of which is how you lead. Preaching sermons or teaching Sunday school lessons on authenticity without actually leading people with authentic behavior yourself is the most effective way to ensure that your people will continue to live counterfeit Christian lives. It may make you feel good about things, but it will only make a bad situation worse. It is a mockery of Christianity to parade around the idea of authenicity while at the same time tolerating what you know is outright ungodly behavior in your congregation or in your fellow brother or sister and do nothing about it. We don't need more sermons about authenticity. What we need are more authentic leaders with the courage to stand up and do the right thing out of a love for doing the right thing. That will give sermons and lectures far more weight and credibility when the time comes to address the lack of authencity in our communities.

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