Image is everything; perception is reality. We have heard these phrases over and over until we have started to believe them. They are kind of catchy and seem to make sense at first blush. My take on these two axioms of the business and professional world is that they are foundational lies of the enemy.
If your desire is to provide spiritual leadership in a Christian endeavor, don't buy into these lies. They will absolutely block your quest. The devil, not your marketing firm or the Human Resources office, is the source of these lies.
The priorities of Satan's domain are the antipodes of the kingdom of heaven. Satan's priorities are appearance and image—everything on the surface. God's concern is always the heart—the reality of your life and leadership. When we restore and operate in God's truth concerning leadership, we defeat the enemy's systems and move forward into our destiny.
How is it we have come to believe this lie that perception is reality? Perception is defined as the state of being or process of becoming aware of something through the senses. That is exactly what advertising and marketers rely on, the premise that they can entice us to experience things solely through our senses. When they make us see and believe what they want and our sensual perception motivates our behavior as a leader, we are worldly, not spiritual. We are not depending on the truth of the Word and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. When the truth is distorted by misinformation and appeals to the senses, perception can become reality. The reality is we are deceived.
One of my personal sayings used to be, "You only get one chance to make a first impression." While there is truth in this statement, it ultimately led me to put far too much weight on first impressions. As a result, I was swayed by the image people created. Honestly, I had been deceived into believing image is everything. Image isn't everything. When we look at the image a person portrays we are not seeing the real person beneath—the person who is going to be coming to our workplace every day.
All of us wear masks, personally and professionally. If we are spiritually healthy, there is only a small disconnect between who we are publicly (the outside mask) and who we are in our times of deep honesty. As Christian leaders, we must not fall into the trap of the enemy and believe that image is everything. If we do, we become more concerned about the way Christians perceive our enterprise than the reality and substance of what it is. Our branding becomes a greater focus than our integrity. When image is our priority, we are more concerned with what will entice the believer (customer?) to our church, nonprofit or religious undertaking than with what they will experience.
When image is everything, we use all the proper "buzz words"—community groups, vibrant worship, men's and women's ministries, singles ministry, exciting children's offerings and more. When image is everything, we become "theologically correct" with our words. Words like sin, holiness and denial of self are no longer in our message.
This past year, I did some headhunting for a close friend's business. I would do my customary Facebook investigation, Instagram viewing and other various social media searches along with a couple of phone interviews. If I thought the person was a great prospect, I would set them up with my friend, the owner. It was shocking to me number of people he rejected. It was a revelatory discovery for me that he would spend hours, sometimes half a day, with entry-level prospects—he got past their outer mask to who they really are. He is not swayed by image.
My encouragement to Christian leaders is:
- Be diligent to dig deep in your interviewing process and find people who will fit your particular spiritual culture. Don't be swayed by outward beauty, physical appearance or flashy resumes.
- Focus on the delivery of what you promise in your branding and marketing. Reevaluate it thoroughly and often. Get independent, outside assessments. Be relentless in this endeavor.
- Be careful in the overuse of Christian jargon and verbiage. If you are in the ministry side of leadership, don't be afraid to use words that have substance and deep reality for the Christian life: words like commitment, honesty, faithfulness, purity and righteousness. Be bold and fearless concerning the issues everyone else seems to evade because they are not popular.
A spiritual leader achieves spiritual success when she or he discerns God's mind in decision making. Humanity looks at the outward appearance; God looks at the internal core or heart of the matter. God isn't concerned about the perception of your enterprise; He is interested in authenticity. It is a battle to live and lead in reality (truth). However, He has chosen you to do just this. Rely on the Holy Spirit.
He will lead you into all truth.
Tim Cameron is a passionate follower of Jesus. He is a graduate of Oral Roberts University (ORU), where he earned a bachelor's in education and was a Division 1 basketball player. After Cameron earned a master's in teaching arts from the University of Tulsa, he served ORU as a director of admissions and financial aid. He later worked as a senior high principal in public schools, then became headmaster at Metro Christian Academy, one of the largest private schools in Oklahoma. Today he gives himself to the Word and intercession. He serves in prayer ministry and as an elder at Believers Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He is the author of The Forty-Day Word Fast and 40 Days Through the Prayers of Jesus: A Journey to Pray More Like Christ.
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