Modeling Authenticity

I use to think that if something was “authentic,” it had to be spontaneous, in the moment…raw. But I’ve learned that like many leadership qualities, it is something that can be developed and honed. As athletes train to excel in competition, so leaders can prepare for modeling authenticity in their groups.

authenticity1Authenticity is worth this investment because it’s oftentimes the tipping point to biblical community. There are practical steps you can take that will enable you to become genuinely more authentic in how you lead. As a result, people will feel more of a connection with you and want to be around you more. The Lord will use your ability to be real to free others to be themselves.

So let’s look at how you can develop authenticity in your leadership and model it in your group life:

  1. When you ask a question, be ready to be the first to answer it. The more prepared you are to answer…the more ready you will be to take risks. So as you review questions you’ve chosen to use for your group’s study, envision how you would answer each and consider how to be transparent.
  2. Slow and steady The more you know people, the more open you can be. When people do not yet know each other well, take your time, but be intentional. In other words, don’t bare your soul with people you’ve just met or you might just scare them off! Note the natural progression of Jesus’ openness in His conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4).
  3. The earlier the better – plan to share more personally toward the beginning of your group’s time together because this will encourage more open communication throughout.
  4. Communicate biblical truth and your personal response to it. People like to know what other people think and how they feel in response to something. When you as the leader can express both, it invites others to deeper levels of participation. For example, “I know how important it is to have a devotional time each day, but there are seasons when I struggle with this…lately, I’ve let other things take priority in my life and I want this to change. Please pray for me.” Though some might view this as vulnerability that shows weakness, it is the exact opposite. Here’s what it shows:
    • A truth: Spending time with God each day is vital to our spiritual growth
    • You’re human: Nobody has it all together and does what is right all the time
    • You want what God wants: To develop your relationship with the Lord
    • You need help to respond in faith: We need God and community for life transformation to really happen!

So be the first to acknowledge that you’re only human, and despite your imperfections and idiosyncrasies, you want to follow Jesus more closely. People are more likely to be open about their personal needs when they hear others express struggles they identify with – God uses authenticity to generate ministry moments in your group life.

  1. Grace unlocks authenticity. Grace has a way of drawing out authenticity. Conversations about God’s amazing grace and our dependency on Christ have a way of encouraging greater authenticity in your group life. Leveling the playing field and equalizing your need for grace releases more realness in your group participants.
  2. Err on the side of risk. It is not unusual to have thoughts you question sharing. In your own mind, ask the Lord to help you discern if there is any reason why you should not share something that might be vulnerable or feel like a risk. Your authenticity is most effectively communicated when you put your personal interests aside and take risks for those listening.
  3. Apply the “Socratic Virtues” in your group discussions:
  • Listening – When people feel like they’re being heard, they want to share.
  • Patience – When shier people experience love expressed as patience, they will participate in time.
  • Trusting one’s doubts – If it seems like something is missing in what another person is sharing, carefully weigh if you should call it out in the group by asking questions or if you should talk another time outside the group; either action can help to build authenticity.
  • Talking frankly – Barriers to authenticity are removed when you share without hesitation or fear.
  • Postponing one’s judgment – You may not always be in favor of each one’s point of view, but you can always show your advocacy for the person sharing, especially when they are being transparent. Give people time to share their heart and don’t be quick to draw conclusions. People will not feel safe enough to share their heart if they feel rushed or judged. You want to really hear them so you can understand their heart. When people feel understood, they are more likely to be authentic. Seek first to understand because people who feel understood are more likely to be authentic themselves.
  • Willingness to revise one’s opinion and respect other points of view – Your communication style shows your value for community. If you become more intentional about inviting others to share their points of view and really listen to them when they do, you will become more effective in modeling authenticity. Willingness + Respect = Authentic attitude. An authentic attitude draws out authenticity in others.
  1. Don’t spin. When you get something wrong, acknowledge it openly and maintain a positive attitude versus trying to put a positive spin on your mistake. Be real without being hard on yourself. Beating yourself up for getting something wrong raises the stakes for others to share openly. With a smile on your face, simply share what you thought, that you learned differently, and you’re glad that you did! This makes your group even more of a safe space for people to open up.
  2. Forgiveness nourishes authentic relationships Unforgiveness disables authenticity. We don’t hold onto grudges…they hold onto us. Grudges and unforgiveness toward others (whether they’re a part of the group or not) create barriers in relationships and make it more difficult to be authentic. It’s imperative for us to be right with people if we want to be real with others.

As you model authenticity, people will be able to see Christ in you and it will inspire them to follow your example. The Holy Spirit can use this to break-through to real community, deepen relationships, fuel disciple-making, and compel your group members to impact their world with Jesus’ love and message.

Authenticity in Group Leadership

The people who have made the greatest impact on me and my spiritual formation were authentic. They were real about their lives and struggles. They weren’t insecure or territorial. They weren’t image-conscious or secretive.

Rather, they were humble risk-takers for the Kingdom, selfless advocates, and potential-seers. They weren’t threatened by other leaders or competitive with them because of their own insecurities. Instead, they tended to be self-effacing, preferring to elevate and celebrate others instead of themselves.

Authenticity is a trait that almost every human-being admires and desires to emulate, but it can be scary for many of us to model because it makes us feel vulnerable. However, this vulnerability is well worth the risk because next to prayer, authenticity is the key to success as a group leader. It’s an essential ingredient for creating the conditions for biblical community to grow.

“The irony of masks is that although we wear them to make other people think well of us, they are drawn to us only when we take them off.”
– John Ortberg, Everybody’s Normal Till You Get To Know Them

The health of a group can be directly linked to how free people feel they can be with one another. People will gladly spend their time and energy to be someplace where they can be themselves and most people can only be themselves when they feel safe. This kind of safe environment is born out of authentic leadership that builds trust by telling the truth. Truth and trust feed into one another – as one grows stronger, so does the other.

There is no greater influence on the dynamic of a group than how real the leadauthenticity2er is with the participants. By way of example, the effect of a group leader’s authenticity is not unlike that which a mother duck has on her ducklings: Demonstrated transparency from leadership has tremendous “imprinting power!” One of the beauties of authenticity is that it’s contagious! As you model authenticity, you will see that it inspires others to do the same.

I believe that one of the reasons group members complain of the group not being “deep enough,” is not so much due to shallow curriculum, as it is the lack of relational depth among participants. Authenticity deepens relationships and results in group discussions that have more depth and challenge to them.

Authenticity builds community, earns credibility, breeds safety, and helps relationships grow deeper. People can smell authenticity…and the truth is…God is more easily found in a community that tells the truth about themselves. There are practical steps you can take to grow as a leader who models authenticity, which I’ll share in the upcoming post.

Building Relational Ministry Teams

Take the time to help your ministry teams function more like groups because healthy ministry flows from healthy relationships. By adding some intentionality to building community among people who serve together, a leader will see powerful outcomes they would want everyone on their team to experience. Members of relational ministry teams…

  • Are naturally motivated to invite others to serve alongside them
  • Feel a deeper sense of belonging and purposeservingtogether2
  • Are more inclined to remain committed to serving
  • Ooze more joy while serving, resulting in greater impact together

So how can your team experience more of the life-giving dynamic we see in Acts 2:42-47 so it can have even greater ministry impact?

  1. Appoint somebody on the team to compile everyone’s contact info and then distribute to the members on that team. Consider setting up a group on Facebook so people can stay in touch between times of serving together.
  2. Pray for one another before your ministry task together. Prayer knits people together and makes the combined effect of their service together even greater. You can keep this shorter if members are staying in touch with each other beyond your serving times. Again, you can appoint somebody on the team to help champion this.
  3. Periodically host a social gathering (e.g. 3-4x/year). Prioritize having fun together because that goes a long way when times of need or hardship arise. Find ways to spontaneously express appreciation.
  4. Find out B-days, anniversaries (in marriage and ministry) and celebrate them with your team by gifting that person with one of their favorite treats. Your communications person (see first point) or somebody else on your team can help to look after this.
  5. Stand together, facing outward. Help one another think and operate evangelistically. This can happen by praying for the lost each week, welcoming others on the team, engaging in a local service opportunity together a couple times a year, etc.

Team members who experience community while serving together are more likely to catch the vision of groups in your church and be champions of serving within them. Taking the steps above will help your teams function more like groups so that everyone can experience the joy that comes with fulfilling the church’s mission together.

Benefits of Groups

For years I would tell people how awesome groups are and why they needed to join one. I figured I would see greater results with more “stage time” and energy put into encouraging people to connect. However, the extra emphasis rarely yielded results that were much better than normal. This prompted me to rethink how to help people catch the vision for biblical community and become intentional about growing spiritually with other believers.

As with many things in our Christian faith, the most powerful actions are the ones that are simple to take. For example, I came to realize that instead of delivering just the right words with gusto, I needed to pray, asking the Lord to convey the vision to people’s hearts and inspire them to lead or connect in a group. In the process, I found that God would give me something to share that I didn’t plan on originally. Here are some other tips to help explain why Christ-followers should say ‘yes’ to being in community:

  • Avoid “selling” groups – God inspires next steps. People’s best efforts in coercion usually only result in temporary change anyways. Besides, community is not so much about what people can get from it, as it is what they can give to it. As a result, they’re blessed with more than they could have imagined.
  • Start with the ‘why’ – Answering the fundamental “why questions” for people speaks to the heart; otherwise, they’re just going to hear the un-motivational message of what we think is good for them to do. Groups are the means (or strategy) to the end of biblical community. Focus on the content of biblical community rather than the container in which it grows.
  • Emphasize purpose over need – People want their lives to count and to fulfill their God-given purpose. Think invitation over promotion. People are not inspired to get involved when groups are promoted as something that fills a personal need. Rather, biblical community enables people to be a part of something they could never do alone.
  • Have faith that God is building His Church (Mt 16:18) – Never forget that it’s God who is continuously and victoriously building His Church and making things grow (1 Corinthians 3:7). We just need to be faithful in working hard and praying hard.

There are numerous benefits to being a part of life-giving biblical community. In fact, if you dig deep into the passage that gives us a blueprint of what the early Church looked like at Pentecost in Acts 2:42-47, you can find over two dozen positive aspects of this super-natural gathering of believers. It’s helpful to have a some of these benefits in mind to share with the people you get to influence, whether it’s a few friends or an entire congregation. As a result of engaging in a group, people can expect these transformational outcomes:

  1. Fulfill your God-given purpose
  2. Engage effectively in God’s mission in the world
  3. Enrich your understanding and application of God’s Word
  4. Results in greater consistency and depth in spiritual practices like prayer, reading and reflecting on God’s Word, etc.
  5. Builds healthy spiritual friendships that are vital for encouragement and accountability
  6. Enables believers to be faithful in living out the ‘one anothers’ of the New Testament[i]
  7. Mobilizes God’s people to reach more people with the life-changing Good News
  8. Facilitates meaningful connections where each one can function as the part of the Body of Christ that God has made them to be by discovering, developing, and deploying their spiritual gifts
  9. You know God more personally and intimately in community than you ever could alone because Jesus reveals Himself through the love of other believers (1 John 4:7-12)
  10. Develops and multiplies leaders so all believers can experience full-bodied discipleship and play an active part in living out The Great Commission together (Matthew 18:18-20)

You could unpack each of these ten benefits, revealing so many more empowering outcomes for believers who are rooted in Christ-centered community. Beyond the impact at the individual level, groups build up the church and support its paid staff immensely. When groups are the basic building blocks for every ministry area in the church, more people feel a sense of belonging, stay involved, and serve together! Church staff receive necessary support, congregational care is strengthened, giving increases, and the local church can live out all the vital functions of the Church during the week!

All of this just skims the surface of the inextricable significance of biblical community to the mission God has entrusted to His people (2 Corinthians 5:16-20). An eternal ripple effect is initiated when believers pursue their God-given purpose in life-giving relationships with Him and others. The invitation into a group then is really an invitation to join in God’s mission and it’s how we can be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power (Ephesians 6:10-18).

So when we talk about the benefits of believers connecting in community, it’s not so much that THEIR needs will be met…it’s more so they can be effective in the purpose to which God has called them: To make disciples. To join a group is to join in God’s mission.

[i] There are nearly 60 references to the phrase “one another” (or “each other”) throughout the New Testament; a fourth of which is to love one another. Community makes it possible for us to be faithful to these biblical commands and exhortations.

Multi-site Church Groups Check-up

The Executive Pastor of a large multi-site church trying to revitalize their “life group ministry” once asked me what needed to happen in order for them to do groups well. I summarized the conversation thinking some insights might help you with where you’re at now.

  1. Transition “groups” from a ministry area to the way all ministries express themselves. Relationships that put Christ at the center are the basic building blocks of the Body of Christ and need to be continually and creatively communicated throughout ministry areas for every generation. Emphasize “community” and “relationships.” Build a community culture. Groups is the strategy.
  2. Don’t do a “push” for groups only once or twice a year. Offer a series every season and do it with excellence, equipping everyone to form groups inside and outside the boundaries of your campuses. This will help your people see groups as being a part of your culture versus a sermon series.
    • Emphasis and focus on groups have gotten diffused because you have many other things competing for attention at the same time (particularly in September and January).
    • Creative media and Communications have been very limited in how you have been able to support and message groups. The message and strategy has been lost amidst the noise of all the other initiatives being announced at the same time.
    • In your communications, err toward equipping the saints for the work of the ministry by challenging members to ‘start’ vs. ‘join’ a group and to think of those whom God has already put in their lives (be missional where you’re at).
  3. Challenge each ministry area to set goals utilizing healthy Christ-centered relationships as a key indicator of health. Define measurables for biblical community, such as engagement level in practicing spiritual disciplines with other believers, and refresh metrics each season.
  4. Determine how to measure the growth of relationships with spiritual focus and celebrate them in every ministry area. Communicate that group-life is the barometer of relational health at the campus level and it is the shared responsibility of all pastoral staff; not just those with “groups” as part of their staff role title. Spiritual friendships is a primary motivator and outcome of disciple-making, which is what we are called to do together as God’s people.
  5. Implement a reliable, easy-to-use tool for tracking groups and helping people find a group. Your church database should be accessible to vetted volunteer leaders and be user-friendly. Otherwise, it will not be utilized resulting in more unusable data and rendering your front-end list of open groups ineffective. Coordinate sufficient administrative support for maintaining group information, responding to connection inquiries, etc. Focus on people development over accuracy of data.
  6. Ensure there is a primary community champion with authority that’s accountable at the senior level for groups within every ministry area at each campus. Empower them to appoint and invest consistently into high-capacity volunteer leaders (Community Leaders / Coaches) who work with group leaders at each campus.
  7. Align weekend messaging with community-building initiatives as much as possible. Make sure your platform communicators and community champions are working with each other in the creative planning of weekend programming and even aspects of sermon planning. All that’s needed to create a stellar homegrown campaign is an outline for a sermon series in advance and the involvement of the Lead Pastor in communicating it on video. Checkout for examples.

The implementation of any of these insights will bring improvement, but what makes all the difference is the dedicated buy-in and extreme ownership of the Lead Pastor. If you’re not there yet, pray and take steps forward with the ones you think are most achievable for you right now. Progress observed will inspire additional steps forward.