AUTHENTICITY: OPENING YOUR HEART
Your life may well be your greatest asset, or liability, in teaching. Go ahead, wow them with an excellent presentation of "Dealing With Temptation." But until they sense that you are in the middle of this battle with them, don�t expect them to take it too seriously. Of course, spending time with your students gives them the best opportunity to see your life, but a second way is through your teaching.
Don�t just open the Word. Open your life. Let them share the thrill of your victories, the agony of your defeats. Ideas:
Distinguish Appropriate From Inappropriate Sharing
Authenticity doesn�t mean your life is an open book. Some chapters are between you and God. Your reputation is important. Qualified Church leaders must have a good reputation both inside and outside of the church. Total openness could harm anyone�s reputation. Attracted to a girl in your youth group? Don�t bring it up for prayer, even among your two key youth. The "Youth Gossip Network" is highly efficient. When her mom finds out, you may be looking for a new church. A good rule of thumb: don�t share anything you�d be uncomfortable with all the parents and staff knowing.
Other chapters are between you and your wife. Don�t share that family argument without the permission of your family. And don�t constantly tell funny stories that involve your kids if they would not appreciate it.
Share Your Weaknesses
When you begin working with youth, you instinctively want to impress them. "If they think I�m a sharp person, they will follow me." True, but only to a certain extent. No one wants to follow a total nerd. But many in your group will never acquire the body of a Greek god, the James Bond way with women, or a perfect SAT score. And many feel they are losers because of it. Even that successful athlete agonizes because he never meets his father�s expectations. Your popular cheerleader may privately agonize over her weight, dangerously teetering on the edge of anorexia nervosa.
Since most youth live in painful awareness of their shortcomings, they delight in knowing that you share some of their shortcomings, yet are still able to live an abundant life in Christ. I often share my real and perceived shortcomings from my teen years, like that fateful day in 7th grade P.E. when we were instructed to see how many pull-ups we could do. With all eyes upon me, giving it my all, I managed to hang on the bar without falling. Little, chubby Stevie gutted out exactly zero pull-ups. Most kids know how I felt. The vast majority are not the top athletes. Once they know I can identify, they want to listen to how I learned to handle my self-esteem, and how this experience led me to better diet and exercise. My struggles with academics (my poor memory made some classes very difficult), relationships (stood up the night of my first prom for another guy), and feelings of inadequacy are some of the most powerful tools I have for identifying with my students. In a very real sense, God shows strength through our weaknesses. Relish in them. Don�t hide them. With my strengths I command their respect. With my weakness I win their hearts.
Have you heard any speakers who were transparent? How did their openness affect their impact? I recently heard a man speaking on contentment. It was a good message, but I felt a little detached. After all, here was a handsome, good communicator at a very large, successful church. What did he know about contentment in difficult times? But then he answered my unvoiced question by sharing about he and his wife�s unsuccessful struggle to have children. I agonized with him as he related their love for children, and commitment to family. Yet, they fought bitterness when they saw God giving children freely to undeserving, negligent parents, while passing them by. It was as if the speaker had reached out his hand, gripped my throat, and sat me on the edge of my seat. I stayed on the edge the rest of the service. David Ring effectively ministers out of the crippling effects of childhood polio, and the death of his mother. A Christian comedian relates by sharing his struggles with dyslexia and obesity. What weaknesses can you appropriately share with your youth?
Share Your Strengths
On the backdrop of your weaknesses, sharing strengths will less likely come across as arrogance. The Apostle Paul could say, "Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me�put into practice." (Phil. 4:9a) I�m not comfortable using the "whatever" word yet, but I can encourage youth to follow me in certain areas of my life. It�s not prideful to tell them how I overcame a temptation, developed a consistent quiet time, made a good choice of friends, and witnessed to that neighbor. It is prideful if I share it out of a haughty spirit, not giving glory to God for what He has worked in me. But they need to hear my successes. This is how they know the Christian life works. Is there a strength you could share in this week�s lesson?
Share Your Defeats and Victories
Don�t believe everything you read in current success literature. "Apply these six principles, and you will acquire abundant wealth, health, and friendships." Sure. I often wonder what kind of results that orphan growing up on the streets of Calcutta could expect from reading the book. Real life consists of both successes and failures. And the road to success is often paved with failures. Let them know how you are learning to get up from a fall, dust yourself off, and keep plugging away. And when you emerge victorious, everyone can rejoice with you and give praise to God.
One of my greatest compliments came from a former youth of mine, now in vocational Christian work, who said, "Steve, you made the Christian life livable." I think what he meant was that I shared enough of my struggles and victories to where he knew that a normal person like himself could follow Jesus. I tell about the struggle I had trying to develop a oconsistent prayer life. If I am teaching on prayer, but my prayer life for the past month has frankly stunk, I admit it, ask for their prayers, and tell them my progress next week.