As people born and bred in an eastern society, we’ve been taught to portray the strongest and most successful versions of ourselves due to the highly competitive times we live in. Our lives tend to revolve around building a positive reputation and image of ourselves in our circles. Even in Christian groups, we are forced to walk in this mould or this image of someone who is of a certain spiritual standard by throwing in some “Christian-like” jargon in our conversations, or emulating certain body movements in worship and much more, even when it doesn’t come from a place of truth. We have created “patterns” and “moulds” to fit into as a “Christian leader.”
The problem with these moulds is that we lose the gift of connection with the people we are called to influence and lead. We become epitomes of perfection that are too good to be true and there is no room for anyone to see how God can work through brokenness, imperfections and flaws which is at the core of every human being. They cannot relate to someone who has the seemingly perfect life, especially when they are vulnerable and broken.
Brené Brown, a renowned author and researcher, very rightly defined Authenticity as “the daily practice of letting go of who we think we are supposed to be and embracing who we actually are.”
A customer report study done in 2017 among 2000 millennials in the US, UK and Australia reported that over 90% of these millennials craved authenticity in brands and their choice of products or services. If this is the case in a world of consumerism and materialistic pursuits, how much more authenticity are these millennials and those much younger, craving from a group of leaders who profess the truth and carry light!
When God created man and woman, He intended for an intimate relationship with them. The first place of creation mentioned is a “garden.” This stands for all those long evening walks, the many conversations and laughter, the big dreams and above all, an authentic friendship with mankind. Sin came in and turned the tables, but not for long. If you notice in Genesis, Adam and Eve‘s first response to sin was to cover themselves with leaves and twigs. They were aware of their nakedness and felt shame for the first time in history. So, they took steps to cover it all up with a man-made covering.
This corresponds perfectly to how we tend to live our lives today as well. We easily put up this veil of success and strength, even if it’s a lie, just to show a version of our ideal self and not our true self because we know our true self comes with all the flaws and imperfections and brings us shame. This in turn causes us to want public approval, engage in people-pleasing tendencies, become more attention-seeking and lose our true identity and purpose. Like in John 10, we end up allowing the thief to steal, kill and destroy the truth that God has placed in our hearts.
When we allow the “veils” and “coverings” to mask our true selves, we tend to lose direction, purpose and to an extent, even identity as well. Sin causes us to cease from being authentic. This may happen for reasons like pride, shame, guilt, self-protection etc. When Jesus died on the cross for us, He took away our sin and the shame that came with it. The veil was torn in the temple and in our hearts, too. We don’t have to let sin and shame make us sew our garments of leaves. Instead, we can be clothed in garments of salvation, praise and robes of righteousness like what is written in Isaiah 61:10, because, at the end of the day, our righteousness is but filthy rags. The robes that our Father has for us when we repent of our folly and return to Him, is eternal, that allows us to walk in freedom and victory and in the truest version of ourselves, which is in Jesus – saved, sanctified, set free, set apart and surrendered fully to Jesus for His glory.
After many years of striving to hold this image of perfection together, God took me through a journey of absolute brokenness and healing. I remember the first time I truly shared my story to a girl much younger than me who poured her heart out to me and shared her struggles with me. I remember exactly what I thought – “She is going to change, now that she’s known me. I am going to make myself look so tainted.” But I just knew, in that moment, that God was leading me to break my jar of clay for the treasure to come out. I shared my brokenness, my inexcusable acts of folly and how God chose to fiercely pursue me, redeem me and set me free. With tears in her eyes and disbelief, she responded by saying, “I always thought you were perfect and you had it all together and that is why God was pouring His blessings out on you. But now I know that if God could redeem you from that mess and pour out his grace on you, He can definitely do the same for me.”
There has been no shame ever since. As God leads me, I am able to walk in complete freedom in sharing about my life, where my heart is at and what God is doing. In the pursuit of authenticity in my relationships, I do get frustrated sometimes with the facades and the shallow conversations that creep up once in a while, but God is teaching me to walk through them, as those also play a part in adding up to a deeper level of connection someday.
A few steps that can help us walk towards being more authentic as leaders are:
Being honest with God and yourself: Take time out regularly to do a heart check with yourself. Take yourself out on a date and reflect on where your heart is at and ask God to expose everything that is in the dark, so that His truth can permeate and bring transformation.
Embrace weakness and vulnerability: Once you learn to practice honesty with God and yourself, you will uncover areas in your life that are messy and broken. You don’t have to ignore it or be victimized by it. Instead, embrace that weakness and allow God’s strength to perfect it. Speak openly about it with people (as God leads you to) and always end on a note of hope that God can work through any challenge or issue.
Accept, don’t judge: Give yourself the grace that God gives you and do the same for others.
Loosen up: Take time to be silly and unwind.
Stay grateful and grounded: When the going gets tough, find reasons to be grateful. Carry a gratitude journal with you. At the same time, when you are experiencing pure bliss and success, stay grounded in the fact that God’s goodness brought you there. Keep your heart from pride and give God the glory due to Him.
My model of true and authentic leadership is Jesus. He had no shame in being identified as a carpenter’s son. He did not let age or His parents stop Him from discussing matters of the Kingdom with scholars at the temple. He slept peacefully in a rocky boat because He knew who His Daddy was. He wept for a dear friend, laughed with the children, dined with the worst of sinners, took the whip for corruption and injustice, carried the cross for humanity, expressed His grief and anxiety to His Father and most importantly, lived His life on the earth with His eyes fixed on eternity, not just for Himself, but for the entire world.
Let us break free and walk in the truth of who we were made to be in Christ and let us lead people into that truth and freedom as well.