I grew up watching and loving Superman. I remember the old cartoons and comic books and then being fascinated with the big screen renditions of the man of steel. I assume you know the story of Clark Kent and his powers. A shy, timid, and reserved person, when duty calls, he quickly finds a nearby phone booth and instantly transforms into a superhero. He puts on his cape and tight fighting speedo type outfit and somehow gets more handsome, bold, confident…and yeah can see through things and fly.
But Clark is always battling between his two identities, and depending on the situation or who is around, he feels compelled to be one or the other. Now, his story is unique and unusual in that his true identity is one of almost perfection, while the “mask” he puts on of weakness is only a facade.
I am arguing sort of the opposite. From my own experience, I feel compelled to put on the SuperPastor outfit before youth group, student meetings, and events, and then during the week return to my normal and true self.
Sometimes I feel guilty about being a youth pastor. I teach lessons (which I really do believe) but think “if my students knew the real me!”
Who is the real me?
Well it is certainly not an ultra conservative Bible in the pocket pastor (although I do have one of those pocket sized Bibles at my table now)
I get real mad when the Red Sox lose, smoke cigars on occasion, and watch the Family Guy (and laugh at most of the jokes)
The movies I watch you will probably not find on Focus on the Family’s to-do list.
and sometimes I teach my students basically to not do as I do!
So, am I ministering out of who I really am or the type of youth pastor I think I need to be?
Don’t get me wrong, I realize there are areas in my life that need change, and the Holy Spirit (on more than one occasion) has shed light into some pretty dark areas.
But at the end of the day…I am who I am.
I am not sure I am ever going to change…or need to!
Some of you may really have a hard time with that statement.
But I think that only when we can be confident and comfortable with who we are and how God made us, can we truly minister from within.
I have found over the years that the best relationships I have made with students have been when I have been 100% authentic with them.
I just needed to get over my fear of “What will they think?”
Moments when I have shared my doubts, fears, hopes, failure, and questions have been some of the best conversations.
Why can I not act like myself and be who I am when around my students as I do around my friends and family back home?
There does not and should not need to be dichotomy of self as a youth pastor.
Let God work on the rough patches and gray areas, but don’t feel the pressure to become something or someone you are not.
Be authentic first and ministry will follow.
So let me ask you, when you get up (or sit down) to teach your students, who is actually standing up? The real you, the “pastor” version of you, or the “cool” version of you that you think they want to see?
I realize at different times we might need to be different things to different people. While I travel and do ministry in Haiti, I am intentionally a different person in some ways. My mannerism, language, and cultural expressions must change in order to assimilate. I knowingly and willingly sacrifice certain things and submit to the culture I am in.
In some ways I guess, being a youth worker is the same.
There are some things I will talk about with my family that would simply not be right or appropriate to talk about with my students.
There are probably some movies that are fine to watch with the “boys” that I would not watch with my students. But then again, who draws that line and at what point?
I certainly don’t want to be hypocrite and be guilty before God and others of the classic “do what I say but don’t do what I do”! I am pretty sure Jesus condemned the Pharisees for just that.
I think we need to shift towards a harmony and central point between who we are, who we want to be, and what people think of us.
For many, burnout in ministry occurs when a person lives their entire ministry between the expectations of others and then guilt of not being who they want to be.
I know too many young pastors who will say, “if they only knew what I really thought?
Whose preventing you from saying those things?
Who or what is stopping you form speaking what is really on your heart and mind?
And how long will you live and minister like that? How long can you?
Try to find a healthy place between being authentic in who you are (and really who God made you to be) and the type of person and pastor that your church needs you to be.
But to be honest, I bet if you could ask them honestly, what they really need and want is for you to simply be you…the real you.
We are often the ones raising these unrealistic (and often legalistic) bars that weigh ourselves and others down.
“Oh I could never be like Pastor __________. He seems to have it all together and does his “devo’s” every day. He doesn’t seem to have the same struggles that I have.
Listen friends, by far the most refreshing and inspirational people (many of them pastors) I have met have been the ones I can be myself around and who are truly authentic with me about their flaws, screw ups, and shortcomings.
Because then, and only then do I see grace at work and do I feel hope for myself.
I think to myself, “He gets angry at sports too!”
“He struggles with lust like me! ”
“She questions certain things about our faith as well!
And then together, we sort through all the mess and rubble and with God’s help smooth out the rough areas of our lives. We do want to be conformed into the image of Christ, but the intention is not for each one of us to look alike and have a golden halo circling our heads like in the pictures.
Transparency and authenticity are the keys to effective life-long ministry.
Only when others (be it friends or students) get to know the real you and journey with you through the peaks and valleys, struggles and triumphs, laughter and tears, faith and doubts, will you and I be able to truly minister out of our realities…out of who we truly are.
Authenticity, openness, realness, vulnerability, honesty, and humility are hallmarks of emerging youth ministry.
Together, with our volunteers, colleagues, and students, let’s strive towards Christ-likeness, not with a false sense of self, but understanding and revealing our true selves and letting His grace work in and through us all.
Be who you are and the next time danger calls and you feel the Superman syndrome sneaking up on you, stay away from the phone booth!