It wasn’t until four years ago that I realized there was an “official” young minister’s uniform. If you don’t believe me, try this experiment: Go to Christian conference. It was at a conference in Southern California I first saw “the uniform” – designer, distressed jeans, something akin to Buddy Holly glasses, a plaid shirt with pearl snaps, about 1,000lbs of hair gel, and a Moleskine journal. It’s kind of a cool look. The clothes say, “I’m hip, relevant, and in touch.” The glasses and Moleskine Journal say, “I studied Greek and Hebrew and know a lot of words that end in -ology.”
I like the uniform.
When I discovered there was a uniform I simultaneously discovered that I wear the uniform – save the hair gel. My natural taste, consciously, and desire to fit in, unconsciously, had delivered to my closet trappings of the young pastor uniform. I’m fine with it. After all, every occupation has typical couture that most folks wear.
But I also noticed there were some gals and guys for whom the uniform didn’t fit – though that didn’t stop them from wearing it. We can’t all wear, do, and be everything that everyone else is doing. For instance, I don’t wear skinny jeans. I can’t wear skinny jeans. I saw folks whose frame, build, and quite frankly, age-bracket, made the uniform uncomfortable to look at. And, I imagine, uncomfortable to wear.
Once I knew a pastor with 40 years of ministry experience. He had grand kids. Yet ever time I saw him he was sporting the uniform – a soul-patch, pearl snaps, and a faux-hawk. He was a great guy.
He was a great guy who looked ridiculous, though.
He looked like he was simply trying too hard to be something he wasn’t.
He was too old for hair like that.
All this makes me think about authenticity in ministry and why Christians leaders struggle so often to be genuine. The uniform, obviously, is a metaphor for a seeming lack of authenticity. Perhaps the greatest temptations for church leaders is to try and be someone else. Someone more effective. Someone more likeable. Someone loved. I get it. Been there. Done that.
Yet it’s a temptation that can and will weaken if and when we embrace 4 simple truths:
- You Are Already Loved. God loves you intensely and immensely. There’s nothing you can do to change that – even if you wanted to. Your church may grow. It may impact the community. Heck, your church might change the world. Or not. It won’t change God’s love and esteem for you. You are good enough already. When you learn to rest in God’s love, you will finally learn to rest.
- Get a New Perspective. In her book, Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith, Barbara Brown Taylor relays a wonderful piece of advice she received from a friend. A mentor told her, “The people who love you don’t love you as much as you think they love you, and the ones who hate you don’t hate you as much as you think they hate you.” We spend a lot of time attempting to impress people and it’s all for naught. Whether you are universally loved or despised, at least be loved or despised for being you, not some silly version of you.
- Listen To Stories. Get out of the office and listen to the stories of your church members. Hear about how they fell in love with their spouse, allow them to talk about their children; their hopes, failures, disappointments, and successes. Whatever story people want and need to share, lend your ears to them. Why? Once you know the stories of those in the pew, you’ll allow their approval or dismissal of you to mean much less. This is about coming to terms with the fact that all people are scared, broken, and at least a little insecure. We are not all that different.
- Embrace Your Doubts and Fallacies. A major cause of inauthentic behavior is our desire to look great at everything! We’re simply not that competent and trying to look like it actually undermines our integrity. Acknowledge your humanity and the fact that you cannot be all things to all people. Only particularly prickly people would expect anything else from you.