What I Learned as a Church Planter: Be Yourself.

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Be Yourself

This post has been republished by the Exponential Network.

Before his death, Rabbi Zusya said,
“In the coming world, they will not ask me: ‘Why were you not Moses?’
They will ask me: ‘Why were you not Zusya?'”
– Martin Buber, Tales of the Hasidim

Who do you think you are?
I mean that as a serious question: Who do you think you are?
At the very core of your being who is it that God has uniquely created you to be?

Each and every one of us has an identity, a unique being that rests deep within our core waiting to emerge. Too often however, instead of listening to the gift of our true identity we spend our lives trying on the identities of others. Like a pile of clothes in the fitting room we see the characteristics or mannerisms of others and we put them on. We become mere imitations rather than living into our true selves. Your True Self, according to Richard Rohr, is who you objectively are from the very beginning of your life. It is your substantial self, your absolute identity.

I spent a good portion of time as a church planter engaged in a hard battle with my identity. I listened intently to people who tried to mold me into who it was they wanted me to be, who they needed me to be, who they thought I was supposed to be. I imbibed the criticisms of others when it struck against my True Self. I recoiled from my True Self turning towards the encouragment I received when I fitted myself with a new False Identity. I rejected my passions and exchanged them for the passions of others. I rejected my interests and exchanged them for the interests of others. I rejected my voice and exchanged it for the muddled voice of others. I had become an enigma.

You see, you cannot be an authentic person when you continually try on the identities of others. Trying to live into someone else’s identity will inevitably fail. It will do great damage to your church and it will do great damage to your soul. As church planters, it is easy to see other pastors and church planters we admire and begin incorporating the best of them into our selves. We drink deeply from their identity and slip into theirs trying it on for size. But it doesn’t work. It never provides us the fulfillment or the acceptance we’re so desperately looking for. Why?

You are not Rob Bell.
You are not Jon Tyson.
You are not Erwin McManus.
You are not ______________.

You must be yourself. You must be the person that God has created you to be. You must be “Zusya”. Which means you have to drink deeply from the well of God, for our True Self comes from God.

You must be yourself because here’s the thing: We need you. We need the real you, the true, authentic you. We don’t need more imitations in the church. We need your unique giftings and personality, the combination of your passions and your interests, your true voice.

It is a process. It takes time to listen to your voice as it calls out from within your being.
But it is worth it.

Parker Palmer writes in his book Let Your Life Speak:
“Our deepest calling is to grow into our own authentic selfhood, whether or not it conforms to some image of who we ought [or think we ought] to be. As we do so, we will not only find the joy that every human being seeks–we will also find our path of authentic service to the world.”

Let us live more and more into the person God has created us to be.

Rob Bell says, ‘Go to AA’


Rob Bell
Hanging out on Rob Bell’s Live Stream page is a special book event he did at the Viper Room in Los Angeles last year. The replay includes nearly an hour of Q + A from the audience and some interesting gems in Rob Bell-ian fashion.

One gem in particular stood out to me and caused me some pause. Near the beginning of the replay Bell talks about his early days in ministry and a formative experience with a recovering alcoholic in his congregation who suggested to Bell, “Church should be like an A.A. meeting.” Bell decides to see this for himself. So, he enters into the sacred space of an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting to experience the vivid transparency, the brokenness, the struggle of the men and women in the room. Bell resonated with the A.A. meeting and agreed with the man, ‘this is what the church should be like,’ and that’s what he strove to create with Mars Hill in Grand Rapids.

This is a beautiful story–an ideological story–but a beautiful one nonetheless. In fact, due to Bell’s engaging communicative fashion it’s extremely inspirational in the telling. So inspirational that I believe there will be a cadre of undercover pastors and church planters visiting A.A. meetings in their neighboring towns and cities to see exactly what it is that Rob Bell is talking about. And that’s unfortunate.

As someone who worked for a couple of years in a drug and alcohol rehab center as a Residential Counselor, I can tell you from first-hand experience that an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting is not what the church needs to be like, because it already is like that.

Let’s not be so quick to idealize/idolize Alcoholics Anonymous.

Now before I go any further, for the sake of clarification, A.A. is an amazing organization, and it’s spin-off groups (Narcotics Anonymous, Sex Addicts Anonymous, Cocaine Anonymous, etc) have created an environment where life transformation happens because of vulnerability and transparency. But the same can also be said of the church. Yes, it’s true. The church, despite its flaws, actually has many bright spots of life transformation. But here’s the kicker: A.A. is full of people, just like the church is full of people. And people aren’t very good letting you in on their secrets. And in an A.A. meeting there is just as much showmanship, lying, secrecy, pride, arrogance (read: the dark side of humanity) as there is in the church.

Now let me state for the record: I’m not bashing Rob Bell and I’m not bashing Alcoholics Anonymous. That is not the point of this post. The point is for you Mr/Mrs Church Planter/Pastor/Church Leader. Let’s not look at A.A. as the next great model for how the church should do small groups or relationship in general. The model is not the secret ingredient for life transformation. Rather, it is in the people. It is a group of people who are simply willing to be vulnerable with one another. A people who are willing to trust, a people who are willing to forgive, a people who are willing to own their own junk, that is the key. I have seen this happen in A.A. and, yes, I have even seen this in the church.

Here’s the kicker. If this is what you want in your church community, then model it–embody it. Don’t spy on an A.A. meeting, don’t be a spectator to people’s pain and brokenness (in a place you have no business being in the first place). Instead, be the one to take the first step in your own church community. You want to see it happen, then make it happen. Going to an A.A. meeting won’t accomplish that for you. And if it doesn’t work, hey at least you tried… and in the process you didn’t destroy someone else’s safe space.