Authentic is one of the buzz words in global youth ministry right now. We keep repeating that authenticity is of crucial importance to this postmodern generation of youth, but what do we actually mean by authentic? What does being authentic look like?
The word authentic literally means ‘real, not fake or copied’. We refer to a painting as an authentic Rembrandt for instance if it was painted by the master himself and not by one of his students, or to an authentic Italian meal if it was made of original Italian ingredients and was prepared as the Italians would do.
What then does it mean to be an authentic youth pastor, or an authentic speaker or an authentic small group leader? It means you are being yourself, allowing God to work though you as you are, not pretending to be someone else. It means you are real, not a copy of someone else. And that last part, that’s not as easy as it sounds.
I admire Doug Fields. Not only is he a great speaker and does he have a lot of experience in youth ministry, he’s a proud daddy, a good husband (as far as I can tell) and above all an honest child of God. He’s in many ways an example to me and I think to many others as well.
Yet I don’t want to be like Doug Fields. God has created one Doug Fields and that was enough. God doesn’t need another Doug, he needs me to be Rachel. He needs you to be you, just as He created you.
If I try to become like Doug, I stop being authentic. I don’t have his sense of humor and pretending to do so will make me fail big time. I don’t have his extensive experience in youth ministry and pretending to do so will make me look silly. I don’t have kids his age, so I can’t speak from experience about parenting teens. But I don’t have to.
God can and wants to use you and me just as we are. That fundamental truth is the motor behind being authentic. It’s the deep conviction that we can be ourselves because God can use us no matter our shortcomings or mistakes or lack of qualifications. But do you own this truth deep down in your heart?
Being authentic means we dare to be ourselves, even to the point of owning up to our weaknesses. No, we don’t need to share every single detail of our lives with our team or our students. There’s a healthy balance between being real and over sharing. But we do need to be honest and show the complete picture of who we are, not just the parts that we think are up to par.
If we always look to others as our example in the sense of who we want to be or as who we should be like in order to serve God better, we aren’t being authentic. We’re being prideful, because we think we know better than God. God has made us as we are with a purpose and we need to trust Him that that’s enough.
Authenticity: it’s why I don’t want to be like Doug Fields and why you shouldn’t want to either. There’s just one Doug, one Rachel and one you. So make it count and just be you. There’s no one else who can do that!
Are you ever pretending to be someone else, or more/better than you are? How could you fully embrace the truth that God can use you just as you are?