Barriers to Authenticity
People say authenticity is important until they are called to be authentic themselves. Donald Nwankwo writes about barriers to authenticity but I think he really means vulnerability - the courage to share weakness. Below are his reasons on why we don't want to be fully authentic with others about who we are and our struggles and weakness:
1) A misplaced sense of identity: Sometimes one might feel that their Christian identity is directly tied to their Christian reputation. So for this one, to risk authenticity when it does not portray a positive status is to risk their reputation, which in turn threatens that identity. In other words, unless they appear as authentic to model, they fear they won’t belong. Therefore, they will work hard to protect this identity. The remedy for this category is a renewed sense of identity that derives from Jesus Christ, His work, redemption and continuing grace and sustenance. One is in God’s family because of what Christ has done, of course, combined with the fact that they have accepted God’s mercy and put their faith in Christ.
2) Fear of vulnerability: To be straightforward, this is fear of judgment, criticism and condemnation from others, especially fellow Christians. When one is within a community where judgment is quick and criticism sounds smart, it could send the members of the community into an authenticity spiral which looks something like this – Because there is a rigid expectation, everyone is forced to put up with the expected. And because everyone else puts up with the intense expectation, it takes a lot more guts for one to admit their real struggles. And if no one else admits theirs, everyone else continues under that front. For the most part, the remedy to this is intentional effort on the part of the community to build an environment where people feel safe to be open about their real lives and struggles. In other words, an environment where people feel safe to be authentic to self. Along with this and over time should come growing courage stemming from a safe feeling on the part of the community members.
3) Ironical seeker-friendliness: I have seen some fellow believers who honestly want to be either evangelistic or missional. However, they tend to think this way about it – nobody is going to want what I have, unless I can somehow show that what I have is ‘superior’. In principle, that logic is correct. However, they go on to deduce that this ‘showing of something superior” is equal to portraying to people the type of life they should crave. A life that is all together – peaceful, blessed, loyal family, etc. Well, to begin with, the risk is heightened in the case of getting busted. But the irony also is that people outside actually tend to better respect Christians they know to be open about their own struggles, and yet known to clearly pursue a life of faith in their Savior. The remedy for this is to keep showing an unwavering desire to grow in the life of faith, while not denying the attendant challenges of life along that path. Maybe, even using that tension and their testimony to demonstrate God’s involvement in our very messiness could be of real value to the seeker’s deep questions.
4) Outright pride: Some are simply too proud to admit their struggles and shortcomings. This might be tangential to the first point on this list. The sad irony for this one is that this person takes pride in being a Christian – the very life that calls one to humility. The remedy for this is humility, repentance and surrender to the cross of Christ.
5) Sheer tendency to overspiritualize: Some believers tend to spiritualize most things and sometimes even impose those inclinations on others, thereby not always coming across as practical. The maturity that comes over time, with proper teaching, and growth in the experience of the Christian life and faith will often take care of this and do the shaping that is necessary.
#1 and #2 are particularly poignant for Asians - we value face and face is inextricably tied to identity. Personally, I relate most to #2 and #4. What is peculiar about me is I probably place too much emphasis on vulnerability as missional (opposite of #3). Finally, my biggest barrier to vulnerability is fear of non-response. I'm motivated by people responding to me - negatively or positively. Perceiving that my sharing will fall on deaf fears or be met by silence, is a source of great dread.