On a recent Friday afternoon I had the privilege of connecting with Wayne MacBeth and Kerry Kind, two friends and leaders in The Wesleyan Church. They work together in creating “Wesleyan Life,” a communication vehicle for the Church that seeks to inspire and equip ministers and congregants for missional effectiveness. On this particular day we focused our discussion on one of the “7-pack” of values and priorities for the movement, “Authentic Christian Leadership.”
The three words form an interesting combination not always found together.
- Not all…authentic people are Christian or Leaders
- Not all…Christians are authentic or leaders
- Not all…leaders are authentic or Christian
Not wanting to tackle the interrelatedness of all three, I’ve been giving thought to the first and how it may lead to the other – “authentic.”
There are different ways to describe authenticity, and one is to think of it in relation to its opposites. One might be “duplicity,” or double-mindedness which James says contributes to spiritual instability (1:8) and to interpersonal conflict (4:1-8). In this sense authenticity would be congruity between inner and outer life.
Another opposite has been used to clarify the vision of Kentwood Community Church in becoming a multiethnic Church – the contrast between “cosmetic” diversity (the appearance of different colored faces) and “authentic” diversity (where people of all ethnicities are welcomed into power-sharing decision-making and culture-shaping for the Church). Not just superficiality, authenticity points to something deep and pervasive that transparency reveals.
A complicating factor is one’s perception of authenticity may be culturally or generationally conditioned. A 20-something may see raw and unrefined leadership in worship as authenticity, while the 60-something considers it a distracting manifestation of poor planning. An African-American may view strong and emotive expression of perspectives as authentic, while an Euro-American may consider it unwarranted emotionalism or even anger.
Assuming authenticity is consistency between one’s private world and one’s public world, is it an all-or-nothing proposition? Or can a person grow in authenticity, become more authentic? As our MDIV students progress through the spiritual formation process embedded throughout their educational endeavors, can they increase personal authenticity?
If there is a pathway to being “authentically” Christian (and perhaps then exercising Authentic Christian Leadership), I think Romans 12 would be one place to pick up the trail. After Romans 1-11 reminds us that the foundation of authenticity is redemptive work of God, we’re reminded of its transformative and pervasive source (12:1-2), the need for faith-filled self-reflection and contribution without having to do all or be all (12:3-8), and appropriately responding to others in a broad relational “range” that includes conflict resolution (the rest of Romans 12).
Authenticity flourishes where gracious accountability is sought and shared. John Wesley understood that “social holiness” fostered by small groups appropriate to one’s stage of spiritual development helped someone to become authentically Christian, as well as provided a laboratory for leaders to emerge – Authentic Christian Leadership. An inspected life leads to a respected life, and we all need safe places and people to create the context for the transparency that nurtures authenticity (by the way, transparency still benefits from discernment – there is an appropriate time and place for disclosure). My accountability partner and I have just marked 28 years of “spiritual friendship,” meeting every other week to encourage one another to “seek first the kingdom of God” (Matthew 6:33) through reporting on our commitments and responding to the question, “So how is it with your private world?”
I believe the Church in all of its denominational and global expressions desperately needs leaders, and am so grateful to be part of a Seminary that is committed to raising them up. But the best thing for Christians is leadership that comes from a deep within, the outflow of an inside-out life. And that is best nurtured within a person who is authentic – Authentic Christian Leaders.