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How to Cultivate Authenticity In Your Leadership Culture


photo credit: psd

Be real with people, or be prepared to lose them. It’s hard. As Pastor Rick Warren wrote in a recent article, we all fight against three particular fears: the fear that we will be exposed for who we truly are, the fear that we will be rejected, and the fear that we will be hurt again.

We overcome those fears by deciding to walk in the light, rest in God’s love, and by allowing God to give us a new heart. But knowing that authenticity is absolutely key to connecting with and leading people, how do we cultivate authenticity among those whom we lead who in turn lead others? How do we create a more authentic staff or more authentic volunteers? I have a few thoughts.

Start with the soul. “How’s your soul?” “How’s your life?” Those questions are far more important than “what have you produced lately?” Most leaders are driven toward the goal of success, and in the pursuit of success, we often fall into the bad habit of seeing people as a means to getting ministry done. But the very people we use as a means are the ministry.

Model openness. This one might seem obvious, but we all struggle with it. I can remember once having a disagreement with my wife. I became discouraged that I, a Pastor, couldn’t get along perfectly with my bride. A few days later I was listening to Pastor Chuck Swindoll on the car radio and he said, “My wife and I have the same fights you do.” I was a little stunned and greatly relieved. His openness helped me greatly.

Make room for flaws. It’s one thing to allow for failure, but healthy leadership cultures celebrate failure, within sensible limitations. The way someone answers a question like “how are things going?” will be greatly determined by how much the leader feels she needs to put up a front. In a culture where it’s okay to mess up, leaders can get real, learn from mistakes, and boldly take more educated risks.

Repeat the language of authenticity often. If “vision leaks,” then “culture fades.” It’s far easier to slip into our autopilot – which means self-protection – than to embrace openness. Leaders hold the power of repeating the words and phrases that keep a culture strong. None of us has it all together… We move toward the messes… Everybody has a story and every story matters… And so on.

Hammer it home. If authenticity is a core value for you, make it a core value for those whom you lead. Write it into your story and keep it front and center. “We’re going to be real here. That’s just who we are.” Make it abundantly clear.

One of the reasons being on the staff of Saddleback Church for a year changed me was that it was an atmosphere in which everyone’s story was appreciated. Pastor Rick would often say you couldn’t work at Saddleback unless you had the qualification of having experienced pain.

Be real. Give people time. Openness is scary and won’t become a part of any culture overnight. But in the end, the ability to relate to people where they are is far more valuable to your leadership than maintaining a squeaky-clean, problem-free image.

Six Traits of the Best Small Group Hosts

Some churches raise the bar when it comes to recruiting small group leaders. You need to be a member for X amount of time, well versed in the church’s doctrinal statement, agree to a lifestyle covenant, etc. The more qualified the leader, the stronger the group will be… or so goes conventional wisdom. But is that really true?

My friend Ron Wilbur, one of Saddleback’s Small Groups Pastors, once told me I’d probably make a terrible small group leader. It wasn’t that he was trying to discourage me. Ron taught me something valuable when he said, “your tendency will be to teach and answer all the questions, and you’ll kill the discussion and short-circuit the relationship-building process.” Now that I lead a small group in my home, I have to agree with Ron. If I’m not careful and intentional, I’ll be the bottleneck that holds my group back from being a healthy micro-community.

So if we’re not looking for long term members and Bible scholars, who makes the best group hosts? Most commonly, new believers in Christ, but I would expand that criteria to include anyone with these key characteristics.

ProfessorThe Best Hosts Are Facilitators, Not Lecturers

I’m all for one-to-many communication, and I think preaching is getting sidelined a bit too much in our modern obsession with one-on-one discipleship. But a small group isn’t the arena for a lecture, it’s a conversation in a circle of chairs where everyone asks questions and everyone speaks up. Good hosts understand the power of leaving good questions unanswered and throwing them back into the ring.

The Best Hosts Include People Far From God

Rather than seeing a small group as a holy huddle or a gathering of the frozen chosen, great hosts remind themselves and their group that we have a common mission to accomplish – including everyone in God’s family so they can encounter Christ in an atmosphere where they are accepted by friends.

The Best Hosts Are Fellow Students, Not Experts

Small group leaders who facilitate growth in their groups don’t have all the answers, and don’t try to appear to have all the answers. Instead, they are fellow discoverers who participate in the group’s journey into greater knowledge and spiritual depth. How then are we to protect groups from doctrinal errors spread by well-meaning new believers? We trust the pastors, to whom the assignment of guarding the flock was given, to mentor leaders to a more thorough knowledge of biblical truth.

The Best Hosts SPEAK Human

Instead of speaking Christianese, they speak human. My Pastor gave me an acronym to remember a basic approach to human conversation…

S – What’s your story?

P – What’s your passion?

E – How can I encourage you?

AAsk, what can I do to help you?

K – Who do you know that I should know?

The Best Hosts Don’t Have It All Together

Not only do they not have it all together, but they’re willing to be open and honest about not having it all together. Life change only happens as masks are removed.

The Best Hosts Dream of Multiplying

Great small group hosts realize that group time is not just a social hour or a Bible class. It’s a time when God’s people get together to do life together, and to live missionally together. So the host is always looking around the group and asking, “who can I pour into next so that we can send out a leader to launch another group?”

The world around us is not impressed when we’ve amassed knowledge without living differently as a result. But as long as Christians are impressed with the same, we’ll never create a small group culture conducive to involving the surrounding world in the conversation. The best small group hosts love Jesus and love people, but are also real enough to relate to people and build genuine friendships.

I’m not the best small group host. But perhaps you’ve got what it takes? There’s only one way to know. Go start a group.

Photo by katiew

Ir-rev-rend: Christianity Without the Pretense

Ir-rev-rendPastor Rick Warren has often said that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and an ounce of pretense is worth a pound of manure.” Fake faith is a pet peeve of mine, and it is certainly an issue God addresses rather directly in Scripture. I believe God is serious about it because ultimately, Christianity with pretense hurts the reputation of the gospel. So, it’s a huge relief when someone comes clean and speaks with brutal honesty about the Christian life.

Brutal honesty, plus hilarious anecdotes and some inspiring stories of redemption at work changing lives is what I encountered when I read Ir-rev-rend: Christianity Without the Pretense. Faith Without the Facade. by Greg Surratt.

As a church planter who is trying to figure things out on a week-by-week basis, I loved Greg’s opening chapters in which he relayed plenty of advice about how NOT to plant a church, all learned in the laboratory of his own experiences planting Seacoast Church in the Carolinas. Greg would almost have us believe that the church came into being in spite of his ministry there. Nothing could be further from the truth, of course, but Greg is that brutally honest about how he learned things the hard way.

Ir-rev-rend is not just a book for ministry leaders, though. It’s the kind of book you’ll want to put into the hands of people who have a problem with the faith. We live in a skeptical culture and we’re handing people plenty of ammunition against the authenticity of our faith. Greg doesn’t dodge any questions. He tackles perceptions about our legalistic tendencies, our hypocrisy, and our sometimes meaningless traditions. On numerous fronts, Greg re-directs us back to a simple, understandable, and very biblical faith.


I’m glad Greg chose to write the book, and I know he wants you to buy a copy. He even gave you ten reasons to do so on his own blog post about its release:

  • The writing style is kind of like Ann LaMotte meets Donald Miller in a Shack
  • It cost about the same as three Starbucks coffees but it lasts longer and has greater eternal value
  • The chapter on Sex is worth the price of the book
  • My wife and children will love you forever
  • You may recognize yourself in one of the chapters
  • It’s written for people who have a hard time finishing an entire book
  • You can start on any chapter you want and create your own adventure
  • You are having trouble coming up with the perfect Christmas gift for that special somebody
  • You think a lot of Christians take themselves a tad too seriously
  • God just might use it to change your life, stranger things have happened you know

If you want to laugh… if you want to get real about your faith… if you want a great model for communicating Christianity in a post-Christian culture, grab Ir-rev-rend: Christianity Without the Pretense. Faith Without the Facade. by Greg Surratt.

Buy via Amazon

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You Are Not Who I Think You Are, and Neither Am I

There are two things that will test a person’s character more than anything else: criticism and praise. Here’s the thing you probably don’t know about me. I’m pretty good at being pretty good when things are pretty good. But when the pressure is up, I sometimes fall apart. Ever happen to you?

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