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You want God to use you to influence others in ministry or you probably wouldn’t be reading this. And for God to really use you, you have to be willing and able to get close to people and enjoy real relationships with them.
But having mentored thousands of pastors all over the world, it’s pretty apparent that we’re dying of relational isolation.
Many of your relationship problems are not really relationship problems. They’re personal problems that spill over into relationships. Many of your relationship conflicts, including conflicts with people within the church, are really conflicts within you. They are internal battles. If you want to have great relationships and therefore be a better leader, you’ve got to start with some changes in yourself first rather than expecting everyone around you to change and fix your internal issues for you.
The Bible says in Romans 12:9, “Love from the center of who you are. Don’t fake it.” (MSG) Authenticity is when what you see is what you get. It’s when you don’t play a role that you don’t wear a mask. Most pastors are afraid to remove their masks. Here are three reasons why.
We Are Afraid of Being Exposed
The fear of exposure is the fear that people will find out that you’re not really who you say you are. It is the fear of exposure that keeps us from being authentic.
We don’t mind our strengths being exposed. We don’t mind our capabilities being exposed. We don’t mind all the good things about us being exposed. What we don’t want people to find out about us is our weaknesses. We don’t want our insecurities exposed. We don’t want our sense of inadequacy exposed. And all of us have that sense of inadequacy. It’s part of being a human and ministry leaders are not exempt. We don’t want people to know that we don’t have it all together.
The truth is nobody has it all together. So why do we pretend? Why do we fake it? Why do we wear masks? The Bible tells us in 1 Corinthians 2:11, “No one really knows what anyone else is thinking or what he is really like except that person himself.” The reason it’s easy to wear a mask is because nobody really knows what you’re like on the inside. In the entire universe there is only one person who fully understands you. And, by the way, it’s not you. It’s God. You don’t even understand yourself.
If you really want to build deep, meaningful, satisfactory, intimate relationships you’re going to have to let people see your weaknesses. There is no other way. We can impress the people we lead from a distance but we can only influence people up close. And when we get up close, people see our warts and they see our mistakes and we don’t like that.
So how do you overcome the fear of exposure? You decide to walk in the light. The Bible says in 1 John 1:7 “If we live in the light as God is in the light then we can share fellowship with each other.” Fellowship is soul-to-soul interaction, heart-to-heart. The key to genuine fellowship in a marriage, in a friendship or any other relationship, is to live in the light.
We Are Afraid of Being Rejected
We don’t want to let people see what we’re really like because we fear disapproval. We fear rejection. Proverbs 29:25 says this “The fear of human opinion disables.” You spend much of your life trying to earn the acceptance of other people by the way you dress, the way you talk, the kind of car you drive and the house you live in. The fear of human opinion disables. But trusting in God protects you from that.
Why do we fear the opinions of other people, often people we don’t even know? It’s because we all have a deep desire to be loved. In fact, you don’t just have the desire. You need to be loved. You were created by God to be loved by God and by other people. It’s one of the basic needs of your life—to be loved. So we spend our entire lives making sure we’re not unloved. And, we’ll do anything to make sure we’re not unloved. It drives us to great extremes many, many times.
The antidote to a fear of rejection is to trust in God’s love. Don’t build your self-worth on another person who loves you conditionally. The Bible says in Daniel 10:19, “Don’t be afraid for you are deeply loved by God. Be at peace, take heart and be strong.” And Psalm 56:11 says, “I trust in God so I will not be afraid. What can people do to me?”
We Are Afraid of Being Hurt Again
The truth is you will be hurt in life many, many times. This is not heaven. This is earth where people get hurt. And you’re going to be hurt over and over and over. The important issue is what you do with that hurt. If you hold on to that hurt, it’s going to strangle the love out of your life. It’ll all go away. If you hold on to your hurt it will shrink your heart, harden it, and eventually turn it to stone. You’ve got to deal with the hurt so you can get on with your life.
There’s a sad process that goes like this. I’ve seen it over and over. The more you have been hurt, the more you become afraid of being hurt again. And the more you’re afraid of being hurt again the more defensive you become and protective. And the more defensive and protective you become the more inauthentic a person you become.
We develop self-protective habits. We build defensive walls around our hearts that nobody can get through. And we actually push people away by all kinds of behaviors.
What happens to people who give in to the hurt and hold on to it? What happens to the people who don’t know how to let the hurt go? The Bible tells us in Ecclesiastes 5:17, “All they get are days full of sadness and sorrow and they end up sick, defeated and angry.”
The antidote to the fear of being hurt again is to let God give you a new heart. God is in the heart transplant business. Ezekiel 36:26 says, “I will give you a new heart. I will put a new spirit in you. I will remove your heart of stone.” Have you been on the defense because you have been hurt? Jesus Christ can give you a fresh start. He can move you from phony inauthenticity back into authentic relationships.
There’s one thing I love more than teaching from the pulpit. It’s being out on Saddleback’s patio where I get to greet and rub shoulders with the people who attend. I love talking to people one on one. After three decades of being out on that patio and talking to thousands and thousands of people I’ve learned an interesting pattern.
When I say to a toddler, “Come here,” the toddler comes with arms wide open. But every time you get hurt your embrace gets a little bit smaller and you’re a little bit more cautious. I have discovered that teenagers are more reserved because they’ve already built up some hurts.
You want to be a more effective leader and shepherd, which means being close to people. Being close to people means taking the risk of being exposed, rejected, and hurt. But in the end, it’s a risk well worth taking. Jesus opened Himself up to people and He was rejected and crucified. But He also launched a world-changing movement and became the way for people to know God and go to heaven.
If you want to lead, you’re going to get hurt, but you just might change the world in the process.
Rick Warren is the founding pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., one of America’s largest and most influential churches. Rick is author of the New York Times bestseller The Purpose Driven Life. His book, The Purpose Driven Church, was named one of the 100 Christian books that changed the 20th century. He is also founder of Pastors.com, a global Internet community for pastors.
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