One evening while having dinner with my family I reached for the pepper grinder only to discover that it was empty. My wife got up from her seat, opened the cabinet and proceeded to refill it. However, instead of using peppercorns she used ground pepper. With a quizzical look on my face I enquired as to the rationale of using ground pepper in a device whose sole reason for existence was to grind pepper. She informed me that her ongoing quest to save money led her to the discovery that peppercorns were much more expensive than ground pepper. She said that she had been refilling the pepper grinder with ground pepper for months and expressed surprise that this was the first time that I had even noticed. You see, I thought that I was getting the real thing, but in reality I was getting a cheap substitute!
Here’s a question that every church leader must ask: Are my people getting the real thing from me? When the veneer is stripped away, what do our people really see? Do they see the Wizard of Oz pulling the levers and pushing the buttons of ministry only to discover that all of the activity comes with no reality? Unfortunately, authenticity is a rare trait among leaders.3 And considering that Jesus was the most authentic person who ever lived, it is unthinkable that any person who claims to follow Him would live anything but an authentic life. Whether you look at the life of Jesus, or the lives of Paul, Jeremiah, Amos, or a host of other biblical characters, what you see is what you get. They were real. God expects you and me to be real also. Perhaps no greater example of authenticity and vulnerability can be found than what Paul describes in Philippians 2:
Make your own attitude that of Christ Jesus, who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage. Instead He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave, taking on the likeness of men. And when He had come as a man in His external form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death—even to death on a cross. (Phil 2:5–8)
Jesus had no personal ambition except to honor His Father. He was even willing to step out of royal glory and into the spotlight of public scrutiny to fulfill the mission for which He came. Regardless of the cost, His agenda was to please His Father.
Such was also the case for the apostle Paul. His life and his ministry were open for inspection, and he was not ashamed of what that inspection would reveal. This truth leaps off of the page in the present passage. Notice how many times Paul challenges the Thessalonians to recall their first-hand experience of how Paul conducted himself among them: “For you yourselves know” (2:1), “as you know” (2:2), “as you know” (2:5), “God is our witness” (2:5), “for you remember” (2:9), “you are witnesses and so is God” (2:10), “as you know” (2:11).
Sometimes there is a great divide between what we think others think about us and what others really think about us. If you truly want to see how authentic your ministry is, then perhaps you would do well to ask the people to whom you minister. Paul provides a fitting example of what it means to be real before your people.
Mark Howell et al., Exalting Jesus in 1 & 2 Thessalonians (Nashville, TN: Holman Reference, 2015), 1 Th 2:1–12.
These lessons are available on Amazon, as well as a part of Good Questions Have Groups Talking Subscription Service. Like Netflix for Bible Lessons, one low subscription gives you access to all our lessons–thousands of them. For a medium-sized church, lessons are as little as $10 per teacher per year.
Each lesson consists of 20 or so ready-to-use questions that get groups talking. Answers are provided in the form of quotes from respected authors such as John Piper, Max Lucado and Beth Moore.
These lessons will save you time as well as provide deep insights from some of the great writers and thinkers from today and generations past. I also include quotes from the same commentaries that your pastor uses in sermon preparation.
Ultimately, the goal is to create conversations that change lives.