Authenticity is simply being true. You are not playing a role and you are not wearing masks.
Church leaders are stuck between a rock and a hard place. A narrow hallway with very little room for error. Every word and action possible scrutinized. I write this as a former church leader myself and as I mentioned in the previous post, this is not an accusation. It is an encouragement to both them and those who consider themselves to be the church.
There are many reasons why a church leader might hold back on telling the whole truth, being vulnerable and authentic. There are barriers that make it difficult for them to be honest about their own reality, their own faith journey, their own struggles, challenges and fears.
Let me suggest 4 reasons that contribute to this. We’ll consider 2 of them today and the other 2 next time.
Church run like a business makes it difficult
In many ways, and in some cases much more than others, the church today often operates more like a business than as a relational and transformational community. This is especially true of churches that rely heavily on a central building and are primarily driven by programs and services. Before I go any further I would like to draw your attention to the fact that I did not say church buildings and church programs are wrong. I’m just pointing this out as one reason that can contribute to the problem.
Church leaders can be under a lot of pressure to perform and deliver the goods. The pastor often becomes more like a CEO or a dedicated professional sermon machine. In worst cases, a performer. The leaders/staff are under the same pressure to deliver their part to ensure success. The church needs to draw people in and keep them interested and coming back. The building needs to be paid, programs need to be financed and the salaries … ohh, the salaries! The pastor relies on the salary to live and care for their family. It becomes that much more risky to lose favour with the congregation and those who call the shots and give their money. In some cases the members are also the ones who decide what the leaders salary will be. They also decide year after year if the pastor should receive a raise.
They say pastoring is a calling. That’s probably debatable but regardless, for many it also becomes a job and source of income. For those who don’t rely on the income, there are always the requirements to fulfill and the machine, big or small, to keep running.
There can be an expectation for them to have it all together and to remain steadfast and mostly unchanged. Unless of course, the change has a direct benefit for the congregation : better sermons, great ideas, more availability, better listening, not asking for to much, and not straying to far from expectations.
Church has become synonymous with buildings and organization. What it is, though, is a community of people joined together around the idea that the message of Jesus is worth following, or at least considering. It requires some sort of organisation if it is to be caring and relevant in it’s community. Organizing is not the problem. Losing yourself in it is. It can quickly become difficult for leaders to be authentic, vulnerable and honest in the midst of all that.
What’s interesting is if you were to interview church people, it is likely most would tell you how appreciative they are/would be to hear their leaders be more open and vulnerable about their own journey. The paradox is that we also, perhaps unknowingly, contribute to the culture that makes it difficult and sometimes impossible for them to do so.
Is church also church for its leaders? I think it should but often is not. There’s no quick fix here but there is an opportunity for leaders to take a step back and ask what might be lost in the midst of running this business called the church. There is an opportunity for church people to take a step back and ask what it is we truly value in our leaders and why.
They think they can’t
They can’t admit to being vulnerable, to struggling, to messing up, to not always being loving, etc. Why? Because that would mean they are potentially unsuited to be a leader.
“I’m a pastor! I’m supposed to have all my shit together.” (of course they won’t say this out loud) After all, the Bible is pretty clear that in order to become and remain a church leader there is very little wiggle room. Take for example this passage from the apostle Paul :
1 Timothy 3 says that “If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, they desire a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, married to one person, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. They must manage their own household well, with all dignity keeping their children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage their own household, how will they care for God’s church?“
Wow. All that? All at the same time? Can we negotiate? Is there a passing grade I can aim for or is this ‘A’ student stuff. I mean this is a tall order. I don’t know a single church leader who fits the bill. I certainly didn’t. We can spin it many ways but the reality is, we just can’t live up to this consistently. We can grow in maturity. We can learn to overcome certain things. Sure, self-control is a thing and we can all apply some of it. However, as we go through stages of life and as stuff happens, we falter, we change and we grow. All the time.
If I’m ‘above reproach’ it means that reproach is beneath me. It is something I have surpassed. I’m in another league. Taken at face value this causes one of two potential problems : 1) a very unhealthy culture where the leader is ‘above reproach’ meaning untouchable. The leader knows best and can not be accused of doing wrong, even when blatantly doing wrong! 2) a very unhealthy culture where the leader does not dare let on any sign of weakness for this would be to fall under reproach, be possibly reproachable.
You see, these pastors have a lot that is expected of them and every church has at least some people lined up to make sure they don’t step to far off track.
I’m not casting aside the importance of leaders leading by example. The problem is that church culture, in many cases, has lifted those passages up and put them, figuratively (sometimes literally), on the wall. We want our leaders to be examples of what? Keeping it all together with unwavering faith and complete discipline? What I’m saying is that the only way we can truly lead by example is by also being an example in regards to not being able to live up to that standard.
Yes, when looking at that passage most will agree that Paul is painting the picture of a model, something to be walking towards and that would be correct. However, in practice, we have made it difficult for leaders to honestly walk that road. And, if we’re to be honest, we’ve also made it difficult for any of us to honestly walk that road. But more about that in the next post.
Leaders should be examples of what it looks like to ‘be heading in that direction’ but they should also be encouraged and allowed to be normal.