According to Brandon Cox’s recently popular article over at Pastors.com, “5 Ways to Cultivate Authenticity In Your Leadership Culture,” a church leader faces two options:
1) maintain a squeaky-clean, problem-free image and LOSE people from your congregation
2) be real, be “open” and authentically CONNECT with people in your congregation
No Christian rightly advocates being fake, but the question of “how much do I share?” is one that many find perplexing. With the good intention of “being authentic” some develop the habit of oversharing to their own harm (and the harm of others). Others take the route of icy self-protection. Both diminish the gospel.
The Apostle Paul, in Ephesians 4:25 (also see vs 15) says to Christians: “…put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.” While there are no perfect Christians or perfect pastors, there are biblical grounds for exercising discernment when confessing problems and sins to one another. Brandon Cox’s short post is helpful to the extent that he highlights traits and practices that wise leaders model well.
1) Ask “How’s your soul?” not “What have you produced lately?”
2) Model openness
3) Make room for flaws
4) Repeat the language of authenticity often (such as “None of us has it all together…”)
5) Hammer it home (i.e. make it abundantly clear “We’re going to be real here. That’s just who we are.”)
A wise leader will model these traits well. But what about that not-so-wise Christian who takes an undiscerning and less careful approach to “being open?”
Ardel Caneday’s article at CredoMag.com argues that nowhere does Scripture urge Christians or Christian leaders to adopt a policy of complete openness with regards to confession of sin. Such an approach may, indeed, cultivate a more “authentic” church environment, but he states: “Is it not obvious that such practices have several injurious consequences? Is it any wonder that gossip blights churches, that relationships are destroyed, and that reputations are ruined? And some injury to reputation is self-inflicted by confessing secret and private sins to individuals who have no need or right to know.”
He states further:
Evangelicals tend to …privatize publicly committed sins that affect many, especially sins that pastors and leaders commit, and to publicize privately committed sins that should be confessed either to the Lord alone or to one or two individuals against whom the sin was committed.
Evangelicals teach believers to confess secret sinful thoughts to others, not to the Lord alone. They also teach us to confess to others those sins that we have privately committed against a single individual alone.
How seductive it is to fall prey to the therapeutic notion that secret sins should be publicly confessed to “accountability partners” who have neither any right to bestow forgiveness of such sins nor any need to know (cf. Psalm 90:8; 19:12). (Read the whole article here.)
Caneday’s reference to the “therapeutic” aspect of confession means that openness can, at its worst, become a “gospel substitute.” That is, a person can become more dependent on the good feeling that follows “getting it off my chest” instead of trusting fully in the substitutionary work of Christ, which alone removes sin (Hebrews 10). Said another way, a great danger of emphasizing open confession is that can produce a so-called “authentic” church, but might do so at the expense of being a gospel-centered one.
What about you? Do you find it difficult to “be real with others,” or do you sometimes share too much? Does your church model both authenticity and gospel-centeredness? Is it possible to do both well?
Alex Crain is editor of Christianity.com