How Young Life Taught Me the Importance of Authenticity

The other day, someone pulled me aside and said, “Pastor, I think I’ve figured out what your problem is!”

Now, with that being the opening line of our conversation, you can imagine the thoughts running through my mind. However, rather than saying, “What the…,” I opted for the more polite, “Oh, and what’s that?”

“Well, pastor, I think you are just a little too honest.”  The person went on to explain that some church folk want to believe that their pastor has it all together.

But, for me, that’s one of the biggest problems in the church today…a lack of honesty, a lack of transparency, and a lack of authenticity.

When pastors present themselves as having it all together, of having it all figured out, they aren’t really fooling anyone. Following Jesus is messy. And, if we can’t be open and honest about who we are and what we struggle with, what’s the point?

In high school, I actively participated in Young Life. To be honest, my main motivation in attending YL was that there were some really cute girls who also participated in Young Life.  No matter the motivation, God used YL to instill some lifelong lessons and values. Some of the friendships that came out of my participation in YL have been the richest, longest, and most valuable friendships of my life. But, one of the best lessons I learned was the value of authenticity.

I always looked up to my various YL leaders. Many of them helped shape and mold my faith and Christian values. Most of the YL leaders were totally honest, transparent and authentic. For the most part, it truly was a “what you see is what you get” experience. Some of my leaders, you knew if they spoke something, they believed it and did their best to live it out.

My freshman year at Ball State, I stumbled into a party and saw one of my old YL leaders. My first thought was, “Oh crap! I don’t want to run into one of my Christian friends in the midst of this mess.” You see, this particular leader had been one who tried to instill the “don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t chew, don’t go with girls who do” values into our crew. So, in a way, I felt like my presence and participation in that party scene would be a great disappointment to this leader.

Then, in a moment of great awakening I realized, “Hey, he’s here too!” So, I walked over and said, “Hey, dude.” He yelled, “Morris” and gave me a big hug. Then, he proceeded to offer me a beer and a hit off the joint he was sharing with a small group of folks I recognized from the one time I attended Campus Crusade. At first I thought, “Sweet!” But, then, in a brief moment of clarity, my thoughts changed.

Here I was, worried about disappointing someone who had been a fairly important part of my faith, a person I looked up to, and I walked away being the one feeling disappointed. You see, I really wanted to believe that those who “talked the talk” also “walked the walk.”  I found myself doubting and questioning the whole Christian shebang. I had always seen this guy as one who had it all together. And, to be honest, he had always presented himself that way.

That experience helped shape and mold my ministry.

Later, when I somewhat distanced myself from the intense party scene and started following Jesus, I made a decision that if I spoke something, I was going to do my best to live it. If I challenge others to do something, I’m going to do it too. If I challenge others not to do something, I’m going to do my best to avoid that as well. I’ll be open and honest about my struggles. I’m not going to be one of those Christian leaders who only focuses on my triumphs. I’ll be authentic and transparent…maybe to the point where people are made uncomfortable by my honesty!

Now, I’ve always extended grace to myself. I’ve struggled to extend grace to others. I was disappointed in that leader. I wanted to believe that he practiced what he preached. Yet, he was just like me…someone who so desperately wanted to believe, wanted to live in a way that honors God, but struggles. A few years later, I ran into him and we talked about that night. We discovered that we had a lot more in common than we originally believed. We were both in some pretty dark places at that point in our lives. We were struggling to figure out if we were going to be part of “Team Jesus”. He was still actively participating within the Christian community while he figured things out. I had been placed on the “inactive” list.

But, we were both on the journey together. We both were trying to figure things out. Heck, I’m still trying to figure things out. Maybe that makes some people uncomfortable. Maybe that’s a good thing.

I’m thankful for the ministry of Young Life. I’m thankful for the imperfect people that God uses to help transform our lives. I’m thankful that God still uses imperfect people.

Young Life

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