We’ve got the most important message in history to communicate. We can’t become married to our methods by either getting stuck in the past or by compromising the message by focusing too much on being trendy. So how do you find the balance?
Bill George first coined the term “authentic leadership” back in 2003. He said “Authentic Leaders demonstrate 5 qualities:
- They understand their purpose They practice solid values
- They lead with the heart
- They establish connected relationships
- They demonstrate Self-discipline
They Understand Their Purpose
Trends in the church today go after technical effects on stages as well as current technology for communicating within and outside the church. A common concern is that these leadership trends distract from the church’s purpose. That “trendy leaders” lack purpose, dilute purpose or even vary in their purpose. So, how can an authentic leader maintain a firm grip on their “God given purpose” in a world of trendy technology?
There is a fine line to walk here and I believe it all comes down to our motives. I have no problem with using the latest technology and in fact I would encourage the church to do so, as long as technology is the slave and not the master. Our vision is to “reach every available person by every available means…” and technology is a “means” that can enhance the spreading of the message and is a means of communication that if we use properly can be a very effective tool.
But, if we are using technology to just be trendy or as cool as the church down the street or whatever, then we are in danger of being slaves to technology instead of using it as a tool to communicate what is most important, the message of Jesus.
We have been accused by the critics of “spirit contemporary” as not only employing the latest technology just to be trendy but also as being conservative and that we have compromised our core values. Conservative; referring to our methods of communicating the Gospel and how those methods aren’t always seen as “charismatic” in comparison to other spirit-filled churches. But I believe in the authenticity of being “spirit contemporary” in reaching the unchurched!
There are a couple of things I have done as a pastor that have led me to our style of communication. Firstly, I am results oriented, and as a Victory pastor, our vision is to “Reach every available person by every available means at every available time with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” So, I base our effectiveness as a church on that vision—are we reaching the unchurched?
Early on in my ministry I would have answered “no.” And that bothered me greatly.
After investigating myself and my church and studying churches who were actually reaching the unchurched I discovered that it wasn’t the message that was the problem it was our methods of communicating that message that was the problem.
Secondly, I studied the Bible—especially Jesus and the early church—not just for the message they were preaching but the methods they used to communicate it. I discovered that Jesus was very contemporary in his delivery. He used relevant stories depending on the audience he was talking to. So did the early church leaders—for instance Paul’s approach in Athens in Acts 17.
Paul spoke directly to our style of communication especially in regards to the gifts of the Spirit in 1 Corinthians 15 and he instructed the church to NOT be overly charismatic in the presence of the unchurched so as not to scare them away from what they needed most—Jesus. So I have taken my cue from that.
They Lead with Their Heart
What do traditional leaders need to grasp in this trendy but authentic move of God?
It really is a fine line between being authentic and being trendy. I think you can do both if you keep the message sacred and the methods flexible. The key for traditional leaders is to judge your fruit. Are you getting the results you are wanting? If your vision is to make disciples or to reach people for Jesus, ask “how are we doing?” If we aren’t reaching the unchurched then we may need to study our methods and find a more effective way to communicate.
I would suggest traditional leaders connect with the younger generation in your church and get their help in communication. I wouldn’t consider myself “old” yet or out of touch, but I rely heavily on the younger generation to aid in our communication. Our media team are all in their 20’s. They know what is connecting with people today and I lean on them heavily, not with the message, but with the methods of delivery of that message.
They Establish Connected Relationships
Today, relationship building is so different than it was 10 years ago. With the ground swell of social media and cell phones—which are designed to keep people connected—authentic relationship building is far different than it used to be. As a pastor, my ability to connect with people is far different than it was when I started 20 years ago. Home visits were common. Today, I have found they only work with the older generation.
The younger generation doesn’t want the pastor to come to their home—that feels like an invasion of privacy for them. They’d rather meet at a coffee shop or restaurant—some place neutral. Also, in the past we would use the phone a whole lot more to connect with people. Today, the younger generation feels connected to when you reach out through Facebook or Instagram or Snap Chat. Often a simple text is better than a phone call.
Again, the purpose is not the means, but the ultimate goal. And in this case, if the ultimate goal is to build relationships, it is important to study what is the most effective means to connect based on who you are trying to connect with rather than on what you are most comfortable with. It is easy to lose touch if you are married to the methods that are most comfortable for you.
They Demonstrate Self-Discipline
Change Your Communication Methods
The extremes of Authentic Leadership have declared leaders should just be “who they are”, but bad behaviour shouldn’t be justified for the sake of authenticity. Pretending to be perfect isn’t authentic, but “keeping it real” isn’t a license for excusing bad behaviour.
I see this principle violated nearly every day by well meaning Christians who are just trying to keep it real and are more afraid of what they consider compromise than they are with reaching people. Today’s generation doesn’t communicate in the same way as previous generations.Effective communication is not what I think I said, but how it is understood by the other person. Click To Tweet
The key is to understand how they communicate and to remember that effective communication is not about what I think I have said, but how it is understood by the other person. Direct and blunt confrontation is not as accepted as it was in past generations.
There is more of an emphasis on acceptance and authentic relationships—so communicate that way. Jesus did. He built relationships first and then spoke truth. He associated and built relationships with people that shocked the religious—just look at Matthew 9 when he befriended Matthew, a tax collector and all of his friends. It drove the Pharisees crazy. He still got his message across, but he didn’t tell them what they did wrong and where they were missing it. He became their friend, and Matthew became one of his most trusted followers because of it.
Jesus’ strongest truths were spoken to those He had relationships with. I find Jesus lived a balance of both care and candour. We must follow his example and communicate in the same way he did. You can’t “speak truth” on Facebook and expect that you will change someone’s opinion because you told them the truth. You must build relationships first and build trust by listening before talking—that takes incredible self-discipline for most of us.
Become Comfortable Changing Style
My upbringing in the church looks dramatically different from my “style” today. I learned to separate the message from the methods. The message is sacred, the methods are not. I had incredible help along the way from great leaders such as Dr. George Hill and Pastor Leon Fontaine, who are master communicators of the message but have used incredible methods along the way to communicate that message. They were willing to mess with the methods in order to more effectively communicate the message. That gave me permission to do the same. It’s all about the results and bearing fruit. If I keep the message sacred and the methods fluid, I will make disciples but if I either compromise the message or get stuck in my methods, I will stop bearing fruit.
It is a fine balance and one that we must constantly pay attention to as pastors.
Properly Implement Fresh Ideas
We all hunger for fresh ideas in ministry. I think copying what works for someone else is okay, in fact I’d encourage it in most cases. However, where things break down is when we don’t understand or give enough respect to the aspect of culture. Culture trumps vision. In this case, if I take someone else’s vision and place it into my culture, my culture will win every time and the vision won’t work.
So how can a leader adapt what someone else is doing into their culture? First, pay attention to your culture and if you want to use what works for someone else in your situation you must first change your culture before introducing the new vision. For pastor’s this means first preaching the “why” and addressing behaviours and attitudes within the church before changing methods. This is how you test the relevance of an idea before you implement the idea.
In I Chronicles 12:32 we read that the soldiers in King David’s army “understood the times and knew what Israel should do”. Such insight allows authentic leaders to study complex situations, gain clarity and determine the right course of action. Steve Jobs did this when he returned to Apple. How can a leader develop this “understanding of the times” and come to know what they should do in a controversial situation as an authentic leader?
Well, in order to study the times you have to become an analyst. I think the best attitude to have is to become a student rather than a critic. We all have a tendency to criticize that which we don’t understand. So, when something new is working and you don’t understand it, instead of criticizing it, study it. Why is it working? Why did someone think this was a good idea? Why are people following this new idea? Read books on it. Interview the people doing it. Get into their world and observe it in action. Having this attitude of being a student rather than a critic, will greatly aid us in “understanding the times.” And, if after you study it, you still don’t see value in the new idea, fine. Move on. But, if you don’t become a student and instead criticize everything new, you will get stuck in the past and never understand the times.
Determine to Value Right Over Popular
I think when I fell madly in love with the church and with the mission Jesus gave us to make disciples, I turned my vision of what the church could be into what it must be. When it became a must, I wasn’t ready to compromise for anything. I wanted to see results, in the same way I saw the early church get results in the Book of Acts. I valued right, over popular with stubborn determination.
I became willing to change anything and everything—except the message—to get those results. Although, I wish everyone would understand and get on board, I know that that is just not possible and that not everyone will understand and not everyone will become a student first, before becoming a critic. I wouldn’t be so stubborn if I wasn’t seeing the results I first envisioned. Once I started seeing it work, I became more focused and more intent on messing with the methods.
Develop Your EQ
EQ is what separates the great from the average. The great have this ability to put their emotions in context. They are more concerned with those they lead than they are about how they themselves feel. They will push past their own fears or frustrations in order to lead those around them more effectively. Jesus, modelled this the best when He went to the cross. He pushed past his own feelings and did what needed to be done anyway because he kept all of us in mind. To me, that’s the definition of courage. He felt fear, yet pressed on anyways. That’s what the great do. They do what’s right for their people despite their own feelings.
Jesus was the most authentic man to walk the planet and yet he stayed firm on his mission. He knew the endgame was worth dodging the bullets of public opinion. Why is staying on mission critical in discussions like this on what is trendy verses what is authentic?
Well, we’ve got the most important message in history to communicate. People’s eternities are at stake and we can’t become married to our methods by either getting stuck in the past or by compromising the message by focusing too much on being trendy. It’s a fine balance and we must stay true the message because the church and it’s message is the hope of the world and we’re on a mission to reach every available person at every available time by every available means with the Gospel of Jesus Christ by creating churches unchurched people love to attend.
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