Creative LeadershipStrategy & Marketing

Is Authenticity as Rare as it Seems for Pastors and Non-Profit Leaders?

Whenever I work with non-profit or religious leaders in trying to brand their organizations, I usually ask the man or woman at the top, “What makes you different?” In other words, “What personal trait separates you from the pack?” The first response I invariably get is “authenticity.” I get that answer over and over. Many pastors and ministry leaders are especially proud of their authenticity, and feel like they are one of the few who have it.

But that usually leaves me a bit depressed. Not because this person really is authentic, but because they consider it so special and rare. After all, shouldn’t “authenticity” be normal for pastors and ministry leaders? Shouldn’t authenticity be the baseline behavior for any spiritual or non-profit leader? Isn’t it a bit sad that we live in an era where “authenticity” is considered a rare trait for pastors and ministry leaders?

But then again, after seeing the divorces, lawsuits, legal actions, and financial questions non-profit and ministry leaders have been facing over the last number of months, perhaps being authentic is more rare that we’d like to think.

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  1. "Authenticity" by who's standards? Some pastors may believe they are being authentic when in fact they are not. "Faith-" or "word-" based operations may tend to skew more toward "faith-filled" proclamations of everything doing fine. They don't wish to rob themselves of what they are claiming with words of doubt and unbelief. By their standards and beliefs, they are being authentic.

  2. Where is the line?  If a pastor admits to having issues, they're deemed unfit. If they don't have issues, then they're thought of as "holier-than-thou". What gives? Maybe transparency (but how much?). A pastor or leader who makes themselves known to those they're leading, is more apt to receive the love and treatment of friendship. and, Maybe Paul's words of "beyond reproach" mean just that. It's extremely tough to live those words – but, man! don't they pay-off well in the end (And in the present!)

  3. I speak as an agnostic reader, and one from divorced parents. I'm a little puzzled by your inclusion of 'divorces' among a list of items which defy authenticity. I see no relationship between being authentic and being divorced–could you expand on this point a bit?

  4. Good point – I could have been more clear.  In the case of some recent high-profile pastors and ministry leaders who have gotten divorced, what frustrates many is they never miss a day in the pulpit.  Whatever happened to taking a little time off, getting your life back together, and perhaps getting some counseling or spiritual direction – before you get back into the pulpit to teach us how to live our lives.  It seems a remarkable arrogance that people who can't seem to get their act together are more than happy to tell us how to live.  In this case, "authenticity" would mean telling us that they've screwed up, and are serious enough about their role as ministry leaders that they want to take the time to make the right changes in their lives.  

  5. Gosh Phil, this blog is better than seeing a shrink.  Ok, it's at least cheaper.

    I have struggled with this as I have worked in this "industry" for almost as long as you.    The four men who have hurt me the most on a personal level have ALL been preachers.  

    I have come to a point where I am not looking for so much for someone to have authenticity  as I am looking for those who can say from the pulpit that they STILL BLOW IT.  They have not risen to a place where there is no sin in their lives, but God is moving and changing them daily. And they need accountability and His grace.

    Maybe that is being authentic…

  6. This is it! Admitting that they still have flaws and problems.  Admitting that they screwed up in the past and had real struggles.  Believe it or not, this is something that isn't common in all congregations, especially mine.  Derek Webb once said, we show each other how good of christians we are by how well we hide our sins (very loosely quoted).  This idea is the DNA of my church.  In fact my pastor prides himself with the fact that only his very very inner circle knows what's he's truly dealing with.  He blames this generation for the evil state of the world because they no longer hide their sins.  We're not a small congregation, either!  We have about 2000 active membership! 

    So to answer your question, Phil, authenticity isn't necessarily common these days.  I don't know that those who claim authenticity always know what they're saying they have.  It's become just one more of those cliche' words that churches know are popular… just like "contemporary" in the 90s and more recently "relevant."  They get overused by groups that don't truly have that quality and are soon rendered meaningless.

  7. I think most people are just looking for their pastor to be authentic and honest. My ex pastor had an affair with a woman in his congregation. In the 12 yrs I was at this church I had no idea that HE was the one that had the affair, he hides this very well. The woman he had the affair with is the woman he is still married to today. What bothered me the most is that she comes off as this sweet and innocent naive thing, when she chose to have an affair with a married man who had a wife and two small children sitting in the pew next to her.  I would have a lot more respect for both of them if they were just upfront and honest and move on.  After all, we were told to share our testimonies with people. 

    After the fleecing I got, I doubt I'll ever get involved with organized religion again.  Pastors need to be accountable to their congregation, after all that's who supports them.

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