Why "Being Real" Isn't That Simple

We would probably all admit that at times, we fail to be real.

It’s not as if being real isn’t a priority. We talk all the time about how important it is. When someone else doesn’t seem to be genuine, we may even call them out. What’s the most common lesson we teach our children? “Just be yourself.” Be real. Don’t play games.

But life itself is a Reality Trap. We feel the temptation to put on a mask when we really need something: a date; a job; admiration; approval. And we know others feel that same temptation, so we’re always peeking behind masks, figuring out who’s putting on a show and who isn’t.

The truth is that it’s hard to be real—much harder than we tell our children. Being real means putting yourself out there; being vulnerable. We’re worried that honesty might make us look needy or weak. If someone asks, “How’s it going?” you tell them it’s great; fantastic; blessed, even when it isn’t, because you don’t want anyone to think you’re not, you know, winning big with every day. The world loves winners.

Not only that, but we’re not too sure we’re even being real with ourselves. There are some thoughts and feelings bouncing around inside that aren’t so cool. We’re aware of them, but we don’t want to stop for a session of dealing with them. Being totally honest about ourselves is draining. So there are times when we even tell ourselves we’re winning big, grabbing the gusto, and deep down we know it’s not the truth.

We’ve seen That Guy at work, or at church, who showed up and acted real. He took off the mask, kind of lost it, cried, and everyone comforted him. Then they went into the next room and whispered about him, before avoiding him until his mask was back in place. Being real is a risky proposition at best. Finding a good, comfortable role, however—a credible mask—greases the wheels of society, business, religion. You kind of manage the truth about yourself. It’s efficient, because you can even wear different masks with different groups. Because one size doesn’t fit all.

So here we are, wearing our masks and grumbling because others are wearing them. We still don’t like it when people aren’t giving us the real deal. Which means they don’t like that about us.

Let’s be real about that. We do need to manage what we reveal about the truth, to some extent. We can’t dump everything we feel on everyone we know, everywhere we go. It’s true that it’s not socially efficient in the imperfect world we live in where, again, the Flawed Nature rule is in effect.

Some editing is appropriate.

We need to know how to share appropriately and sensitively, understanding the various levels of the relationships we have. Filters are helpful. That Guy from work, for example—maybe things would have been different if he’d sought out his closest friend at work, asked him to step into the mailroom, and then shared what was happening. Between the poles of Dump Everything and Share Nothing there are levels and layers, and we’re wise to discern them.

There’s That Lady in the Bible study group with no filter. If she disagrees with your point, you’ll know it quickly and clearly. She says she “tells it like it is,” and she’s proud of the fact. But to us, it seems a little selfish, unloving, and disruptive. The Great Commandment, loving God first and others as ourselves, is still the handiest tool for these moments.

Still, it takes supreme wisdom to find that sweet spot that lies somewhere between abrasive bluntness and fearful silence. Love must be something more than not offending, though of course it begins there. Sometimes it must speak the truth, but in a way that still shows the deep compassion of God. It’s a perilous pursuit, but when we can pull it off, loving authentically is extraordinarily beautiful. If failing to be real comes from an insecurity about the darkness we might reveal, then being real is the courage to let God shine through. For many of us, utter yet loving honesty seems an impossible dream, like slam-dunking a basketball or dancing ballet in Carnegie Hall. But if the things we believe are true, then it’s on the agenda for every one of us. We simply need to see it as his task rather than ours.

If we ever want to live in a world of real relationships, we must lead by example. We have to model loving honesty. And when it comes to dealing with people who aren’t yet convinced of who Jesus is and what he taught— the subject of our new book :-) —we must realize they’ll never be real with us until we’re real with them.

The Protege Playbook - 3 Responses to 3 Questions

1. What particular need are you addressing?

I believe that the texture and velocity of the movement of Christ depends on the texture and velocity of the leaders leading it. The texture of our souls and our character matters more than anything else, and I just don't see enough focus in leadership put on what kind of person we are becoming. As ministry leaders, our primary conversation ought to be about the formation of our character. I've heard people ask what is the chief end of the Christian life, or what is the goal of the Christian life. And then of course there are many answers - like "to make disciples" or to "evangelize the world" or to "love mercy, do justice, and walk humbly with God." There are many good answers that are pretty much all encompassed into conversation. But the real essence of what the movement of Christ is all about is this - our goal is to be formed into the image of Jesus Christ for the sake of others. That's it. That's the chief end. And that's about our texture. But man, that's not what we seem to be most focused on.  And then by velocity, I don't mean to simply imply speed as if to say the faster we go the better. In this book, I'm addressing core components that help us advance the mission of God further and faster, but again, all rooting ourselves in who we are becoming for the sake of others. It all starts with character, and from that place the mission and movement of Jesus advances. And the church NEEDS to be focused more on that, especially when it comes to the formation of young leaders.


 2. What is distinctive about this idea and/or your approach to leader development and formation?

Well, The Protégé Playbook offers an approach to people investment. In other words, how are we allowing other people to invest in our lives, and then how are we going about investing in the lives of others. This is essential to advancing the movement of Christ in our world. Truth is, the transforming power of the Gospel travels from person to person, one life to another life. And again, it just doesn't seem like we hone in that all too well across the board. We give tons of energy in the church world to the Sunday experience, and by all means, we should. It's very important. However, when I look at Jesus' ministry, that wasn't where he spent most of his energy. I know, I know. People say, "It was a different culture." But I don't buy that because when you look at pretty much everything Jesus did, taught or said, we don't apply that same principle. So when we take an honest look at Jesus, at least from my vantage point, he was relational and personal and incarnational. He walked with people in the every day grind of life. He talked to them on dusty roads and at the side of wells. He spent time in people's homes and in honest conversations about what really matters in life. And so in essence, he lived his life as a mentor and disciple-maker. And that's the heartbeat of this book. It takes the reader on a six week journey into discovering how this all plays itself out in life. By the end of the reading experience, my hope is that people will have clearer picture about how to invest their life, where to spend their time, and what to actually do with people who desire to be mentored. And along the way, we travel into areas that are important to guide people into as they seek to grow into Christ-like character.  

3. What are the top few things you want readers to take away from your book?

The Protégé Playbook isn’t just a book of potentially good ideas or methods. It's an arsenal of time-tested development tools that I’ve used personally in working with emerging leaders for the last decade. I've tried to wrap 10 years of learnings in my experience into this little book. My hope is that people would walk away (1) with a vision to become someone with something to say, (2) with increased awareness of their own growth areas and then to be able to identify specific action steps for growth to happen, (2) with a deep conviction that leaders should not do life or leadership on their own, and that they need guidance from people who have been where they want to go, (3) with a renewed conviction about what drives healthy leadership and to know how to better become a relationally healthy leader, and finally (4) with increased knowledge on how to get on the path to become a leader who is experiencing real transformation at a character and soul level. That's the kind of leaders we desperately need leading local churches and ministries around the globe. And that's why I wrote this book, to help advance THAT conversation.

Holden Turns 6 years old and...

On March 7th, my youngest son Holden turned 6. And just like any 6 year old boy, the day was a special day. But on this day, there was more going on than would be expected. Holden was diagnosed with autism just before his 2 year old birthday, and so for the last 4 years, our family has been on an unpredictable and challenging journey.

One of the most difficult things for Cheri and me revolves around the mystery of what Holden is thinking. We don't get to hear his thoughts in words because Holden doesn't have the ability to talk at this stage in his journey. We long to hear his voice. We long to know what he is thinking. We just can't wait to hear him express his emotions, and his affections too. To date, we haven't ever heard Holden say, "I love you" or "I miss you" or anything of the like. And that hurts our heart. For us, but more so, for him.

For a few years now, we have hired a consultant/therapist (Kathy) who has helped us in this journey in uncountable ways. She is a certified RDI (Relationship Development Intervention) consultant. One aspect of her work involves teaching us how to cultivate an environment that stimulates brain development in Holden. And we've done our best to foster this. But to be honest, it's been very hard at times to stay motivated. Why? Well, for many reasons, but one big one is because we see very little, if any, progress with the visible eye. Sometimes in honest moments, we just wonder, "Is this doing anything?" "Is this working?" In short, we start to doubt if the process that we've ascribed to is actually going to do what we hope and expect.

And then along the way, we have these moments. They are moments of wonder and beauty. They fill your heart with hope and even draw your heart to God's heart. These moments may seem small to the onlooker, but when you live in waiting, and at times doubt the process, and then you have that moment that infuses your spirit with life, man there's nothing like it!

And so one of those moments came on the week of Holden's 6th birthday. Up to this point, Holden has mimicked a few words that he's heard us say, but he's never used a word that was congruent to the moment and used it with the right meaning. But on this day, Holden walks up to mom and (drum roll please) he said, "Peetzha."

It may sound simple to you that our son said pizza, but for us, that was extraordinary. It was a moment of wonder and beauty. A moment of hope and encouragement. And it reminded us that our faithfulness in the process is working. Holden's development is going slower than we would desire, but God reminded us on Holden's birthday, that He is walking with us, walking with Holden, and that what we are doing with him and for his development is without a doubt working!

What all of this also reminded me of is the spiritual life. There is a process for our development. God is at work in our lives. He invites us to be participants. At times we doubt. At times we wonder if what we are doing is working. But again, development takes time, and it's often hard to see with a visible eye. But you know what, if we pay close enough attention, God will bless us with these seemingly small moments, which can become moments of great wonder and beauty and hope. They remind us that walking with God, doing our part, being faithful in the journey, that all of it is worth it. And that the God who began a good work in us, will be faithful to complete. Keep at it. God is working. And along the way, pay attention to the small moments of wonder and beauty and hope. And then, celebrate them like crazy, and more so celebrate the God who makes it all possible!