Wednesday, July 25, 2012

How Looking Bad Frees Your People To Build Relationships

Leaders go first. It's the fundamental definition of leadership--the person leading the way, walking in front, blazing the trail. So if  you want your people to be authentic and real with each other, you have to go first.

Sure, you can overdo it. Sharing too much, too fast can actually be awkward, not helpful. (See my earlier post on the general process of relationships building if you're curious about what moving too fast looks like.) But people in a group generally match what's already been shared. They share at the existing levels of depth and openness in the room--and the leader is the most noticed person in the room. If you want others to talk about their feelings or struggles--you have to share your feelings and struggles first.

BIG WARNING: If your idea of sharing struggles is limited to stories of past struggles you've conquered, this isn't going to work. You have to give up believing your people need a leader who has it all together. Yes, we need you to not live in defiant rebellion or have your life controlled by an addiction. But we also need you to show us what it's like to pursue God in the midst of uncertainty, pain, and failure. If you aren't comfortable sharing that--worse yet, if you don't see your own Christian walk as including any of that--then you will establish a barrier almost no one will go beyond--limiting real relationships in any group you lead.

You need to be comfortable with yourself as a person who loves God, serves God, and still struggles. You need to be able to like yourself--accept yourself--when you're not measuring up.  (God does, by the way.) Only then, gently and patiently, can you invite others to come to the same place. Only then can you help your church become comfortable with themselves and each other as people who struggle as well.

Your vulnerability makes it safe for them to be vulnerable, too. Your lack of knowledge gives them permission to admit ignorance, too.

This isn't about lowering the standards, but helping ourselves and others be more honest about when and how we miss those standards. We're not making it okay to fail in the sense that we stop striving or change the standards. That kind of acceptance and "safety" is the easy way out and harms us all.

I'm challenging us to take the harder path--to accept and share God's love while we face head on real failure. That's life-changing, authentic community. And the leader goes first.

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