When I first began to openly share my deepest struggles, there was an immediate effort on the part of a few people to stop me. For example, when I shared from a stage that I struggled — and sometimes still struggle — with clinical depression, or that I take medication for it, someone cautioned, “You might not want to share that! It could affect your ministry!” The first time I preached a sermon where I revealed that I dealt with suicidal ideation at several points in my life, a few people warned me that it was a mistake to reveal it. There seems to be no end to things people believe you shouldn’t talk about.
People speak of being real or being transparent and the need for it in leadership. But they usually don’t mean too real. Their brand of real has serious limitations. I have discovered that being real for most people, especially leaders, doesn’t include sharing a struggle while they are still wrestling with it.
“You’ve got to have victory over it before you share it, “was the old school rule.
Or “Until you can share it without crying, you’re not ready.”
Or “You can never share it with church people.”
Not only do many people believe you can’t you share your struggles with church members, but they also believe you can’t even be friends with them!
All of those pieces of advice prevent people from being free and moving forward. Not only does it inhibit the leader from moving forward, but it impedes those who follow them from moving forward. People desperately need to observe leaders who grapple with real life struggles and see God’s power in action, helping them conquer them. If they don’t recognize that even their spiritual leaders can battle the very real things they struggle with, they may think, “what hope is there for me?” Living your challenges out openly has the potential to be more powerful, as you lead people along the journey.
For the generations that came before us, suppressing oneself was a key ingredient to leadership. That suppression came at great cost. It has led to heart attacks, autoimmune diseases, cancer, and more. Because, whatever you’re wrestling with has to go somewhere. And if it remains inside you, there’s a perpetual implosion within. A plethora of research has been done on that, and a great place to read about that is in the book, The Body Keeps the Score, by Bessel van der Kolk.
If you’re not authentic, what meaning does anything in your life really have? For example, if you work super hard to get a leadership position but once you get there, you’re not really yourself, what do you really gain besides possibly more money or a more prestigious title? Is it really worth it? A role may or may not be all that it’s cracked up to be. You never know until you get there, but fairly quickly it usually becomes apparent. But I promise you this…regardless of whether a place or a position is actually what you dreamed of — it’s hard to love where you land if you aren’t true to yourself. You can arrive somewhere that you really want to be but not really be who you are once you’re there. You may be living as an inauthentic or at the least, a watered-down version of yourself. Not only will this be one of the most exhausting experiences of your life, but it’s not best for those you lead.
People need the real you. They need the legit you that God created — not a diluted version of you that you hope will make you more palatable to some people. You’ve got to remember that people who criticize you for authenticity typically aren’t the people God has called you to work with or to reach, but for assorted reasons you may allow fear of their opinion of you to stop you from living as your true God-created self. One of reasons we usually fear what these types of people think is that when they become agitated, they tend to get loud about it. Keep in mind, volume doesn’t equal validity.
When people caution me that sharing certain things will affect my ministry, they are right! It has a huge impact! Any time I’ve transparently shared something, it has resulted in a slew of people coming closer to me, not further away. The first time I shared about my struggle with suicidal ideation at our Thrive conference, the altars were full, and my email inbox blew up! I had so many DMs on Facebook and Instagram that night after service. It was CRAZY! I had a tough time keeping up.
Every single time I’ve been radically transparent and vulnerable, whether on a profoundly serious note or humorous ‘real life’ one, it has resulted in a barrage of people coming closer to tell me how it has impacted their lives in a positive way.
Whenever you are radically transparent, you’ll run into people who criticize with, “I can’t believe she just said that!” Or “There needs to be some decorum…” Or “Where is her discretion?” (In many cases, pride masks as discretion.) These clanging cymbals are typically people living extremely western, first-world, predictable, comfortable, middle-of-the-road, religious, old school, uptight lives. I promise you, the people who castigate you for authenticity are not out there doing anything great for God.
Don’t let their words get in your headspace. Don’t let them shape who you are and how you will live and lead. Stop looking for approval. The quest for validation will always inhibit you from being yourself. As Brene Brown says, “You can’t do anything brave if you’re wearing the straight jacket of what people will think.”
If you want to love where you land, you need to be who you really are.