The article “Authentic Leadership Theory: Enhancements from 1 Peter 5:1-5” caught my attention, given the emphasis on authenticity and vulnerability in culture these days. Popular author and researcher Brene Brown and others have aided this interest certainly. Yet it seems like we still have a complicated relationship with authenticity in the Church. I know I still do. The idea of “just be yourself” sounds good but we must wrestle with what that means as Christian leaders.
I have thought of authenticity the last several years as congruency. Does what I project on the outside, external part of my life and interactions match what is on the inside, hidden places of my life? The emphasis earlier in my life was definitely skewed to the external – behavior modification and trying to do the right thing by those I felt were watching. But the last thirteen or so years have been a subtle yet real transposition. Is what is true about me at the beliefs, soul, and heart level flow out to inform my behaviors, interactions with others and public side of my life?
This congruency work has definitely changed the way I have engaged with others. I think often of something I heard Pastor Craig Groeschel say:
We may impress people with our strengths, but we connect with people through our weaknesses.
We admire others for their victories, gifts and strengths but we connect with each other over our failures and weaknesses. I am determined to push against the temptation to be admired or impressive, the experience of which is much more palpable to my flesh. I want to connect with others. I want the honest account of my life and my struggles to give them courage.
I sat at a table recently with a handful of well-known female Christian leaders, several of whom were over the age of 50. The youngest at the table has a large ministry platform built on her story of abuse and recovery. Women in their twenties are drawn to her; her social media engagement numbers prove it, at least in some respects. She said that what these younger women want is honesty and transparency from those that are ahead; they want authenticity. It struck a nerve.
The older, more seasoned women began to share their concerns. They wonder if the millennials and those behind them have taken this too far. They cautioned that there can be too much a good thing that ends up not serving people well. I listened intently and found myself, as usual, somewhere in the middle, both in age and preference. Heretofore I had not considered cautious transparency. I, too, want more authenticity from those ahead of me. I need to know you struggle still – not just twenty years ago or prior to conversion. And I, too, want us to guard against our culture’s obsession with self and tendency to over-share inappropriately.
Holmquist’s work helps with this tension. While Holmquist cites several studies on Authentic Leadership Theory (ALT), he offers the Gardner, Avolio, Luthans, and Walumbwa study that formalizes the definition of ALT with the following characteristics: (a) self-awareness, (b) relational transparency, (c) balanced processing, and (d) internalized moral perspective.
But he posits that Peter’s instruction to church leaders in 1 Peter 5 enhance the secular understanding of ALT. He suggests the centering of God in a leader’s life would deepen their humility and increase congruency, which would significantly increase authenticity. He states that “this leader would acutely feel and hold deeply to an accountability to an authority outside of and higher than self, which would build a stronger moral core and foster a deeper humility.”
We should keep the basics of ALT alive but never forsake the centrality of Jesus in our leadership. It will take more than just “being real” or occasional transparency to lead well for the long haul. It will take a lifetime of intentional crucicentrism: a focus on the atoning work of Christ on the cross.
The work of Christ on the cross remaining central to our lives will guard against an addiction to become a celebrity, to self-promote and to subtly make our ministry about us. The cross brings us back to Jesus and what He has done for us – lifting us higher than self. It is here, too, that we see our deep, intrinsic worth and value. That we are the beloved of the Father secures us and frees us up to be our true, authentic selves.
Surely there is safety in crucicentrism for every generation.
I heard him say this at a conference years ago but his podcast and resources are here: https://www.life.church/leadershippodcast/
Gardner, W. L., Avolio,B. J., Luthans, F., May, D. R. & Walumbwa, F. “‘Can You See the Real Me?’ A Self-based Model of Authentic Leader and Follower Development.” in The Leadership Quarterly, 16(3), 2005, 343-372.
Holmquist, Daniel B., “Authentic Leadership Theory: Enhancements from 1 Peter 5:1-5” in Theology of Leadership Journal ed. Russel Huizing, Volume 1, (Issue 1), 2018, 95.
Bebbington, D. W., Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s, rev. ed. (New York, NY: Routledge, 1989), 15-6.