When Authenticity Becomes Awkwardness

May 19, 2014, 2 Comments

In our churches today, a premium is put on the idea of being:

  • Real
  • Transparent
  • Genuine
  • Heartfelt
  • Authentic

In years past, I remember hearing the arguments back and forth about how transparent should a pastor be about his personal life. As a young man, it seemed to me that leaders put a high priority on communicating how well everything was going in their lives and in the church. Many times, I witnessed church leaders putting a positive spin on very negative events. From my limited vantage point, the façade of “everything is just fine” was the priority. In the vein of creating a people who have an eternal hope for the future, leaders continually spoke positively about their lives.

Today, I think the winds are blowing in the other direction. The premium is now put on authenticity; especially from the pulpit. The drive to be genuine has become the willingness to describe church life, cultural events, and even personal experiences as unvarnished as possible. However, it has also become the opportunity to “air one’s dirty laundry” for the whole world. In the vein of creating a confessional people, leaders are at the forefront desiring to show what such a life might be.

With all leadership traits, cautions are needed. Moving to one end of the spectrum or the other has inherent flaws that we need to guard against. With the strong urge toward authenticity, we can eventually create such an environment that many will find off-putting. Leaders must guard the church’s authenticity from becoming an awkwardness that damages the very journey of faith we are trying to encourage. Here are four cautions that I would offer to church leaders.

1. Don’t be the class clown. Humor is hard. Leading with genuine heart is risky. When the two are unnecessarily combined by a leader, the result is the “class clown” who does not know when to be quiet. When uncomfortable, many often cover it up with an attempt at humor. But most of us are not very skilled at humor and, in the pulpit, we can drive the joke too far and come of looking immature. The sermon is not the place for a constant stream of jokes.

2. Self-deprecating humor that is a mask. Sarcasm is a prevailing mode of humor. If overly-applied to ourselves, however, it can get a lot of laughs at first and cover up a great deal of transparency in the end. In the bid to be authentic, we can find an issue in our lives that everyone thinks is humorous and continually make fun of ourselves about it. By doing so, we are just entertaining rather than being confessional about the true issues that we struggle with in life.

3. Revealing details that inflict pain rather than heal it. Every leader must find the line between being confessional and dredging up pain in the lives of others. It is a difficult decision but one that should be made. Should every pain in your life be available for public consumption? What will happen in the lives of those listening to you if you share “that” thing? The settings in which you are authentic about some arenas of life will differ from issue to issue. In our authenticity, we must never degenerate to being shock jocks.

4. Confession that borders on egotism. The biblical injunction that we are to be a confessing people is a life to be lived, not a point to be made. As a pastor, transparency should come with no ulterior motives. As those who stand with a platform and a microphone, we must constantly guard against our own egos taking control. A love for attention can drive us to an “I’ve been more real than anyone else” syndrome of arrogance.

The two solutions that can bring a resolution for all of these foibles are simple.

First, carefully plan your words. Revealing private details before your church family should be as carefully planned as the rest of your sermon. Secondly, put the needs of others before yourself. The feigned humility that comes from being the “most real” person in the room will help your leadership credentials for a very short season. We should consider how our candidness helps or hurts the church family listening to us. Our authenticity should never be used as an awkward crowbar to leverage the same from others. Rather, offer yourself as a living sacrifice to Christ first and then allow Him to lead you into faithful community with the church.

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  • Reply Chris September 24, 2014 at 10:32 am

    While this is good advise for pastors in the institutional church, clergy/laity system, I would also think that authenticity about yourself, to your speaking audience is not needed. Your focus should always be on The King and His Kingdom and spare your audience the focus on self.

  • Reply 5 Types of Preaching | March 4, 2015 at 8:43 am

    […] Transparency: I’ve written before about how excessive authenticity leads to awkwardness. The preacher must present himself as a real person with real struggles. Any hint of a plasticized […]

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