by EC Cunningham
If you pay attention to mainstream society like the news, latest fashion magazine, Entertainment Television and MTV, there is a greater sense of tolerance and talk about freedom and rights these days. On August 28, Lady Gaga spent her entire evening on the 2011 Video Music Awards (VMA) dressed, poised and portrayed as an alter ego or a male version of herself. It stirred two thoughts: 1.) Is this acceptable and are we as Christians supposed to be tolerant enough to accept it? 2.) How are leaders developed?
I can hear your understanding of the first question and maybe your quick answer: no. But if I examine church leadership, mainstream influence and children behavior I wonder how much of this behavior or misbehavior is tolerated, encouraged or corrected at the core of Christendom? Stay with me here! Lady Gaga seemed to showcase, as well as state within her expression, that there is a sense of “acting/stage-play” going on in her videos and presentations to be accepted by the world. She always seems to display performance in her public parades. From her songs, sound and showcases she is acting.
In children’s ministry, I wonder what happens weekly when our children and their families enter the church doors. Is there a sense of “acting” or “performance” received from the leaders of the children and family ministries? Has mainstream influences shaped how the kids view leadership; are we all entertainers on a stage? What about when children are coming to church with parents who spent a full night arguing and not speaking to one another? Are we monitoring the authenticity levels of both leader and lad when we minister on Sundays or any other day of the week? Could the most outspoken, “well-expressed,” child in large group be a product of performance? Or could this child be expressing some deeper sense of misunderstanding?
As we minister each week we can not forget to slow the pace down and really “see” and know the kids and parents that entered our rooms and sanctuaries. We cannot miss the real lives that each of them travels from to get to our “spiritual stages.” Authenticity is not a mask, song or a puppet we can share. Authenticity is an attitude and a sense of human understanding that will help shape and disciple families to be more like Christ and greater citizen in our country. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 9:22, “…I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.” Did he mean he put on a face? Did Paul mean that he became as a Jewish person literally to save a Jewish person? Did he become homeless to understand the homeless or did he become gay to save a gay person? This scripture in context had to do with the receiving of wages or an offering for he and his fellow partners in the gospel. The question had been raised about Paul’s true identity as an apostle and whether the church was to support him; it was an issue of identity and authenticity. Paul not only addressed the issue by saying he was authentic, he showed it as well. He was an apostle and he and his group had all the rights, as individuals in ministry to be supported and treated like the other apostles: food, a wife and monetary support. Paul goes on to say that he would not allow those things to get in the way of the message of the gospel of Christ. The material possessions were not going to hinder his message. Nor would not owning a single personal possession stop him from preaching. Paul believed that he had been, “entrusted with a stewardship (1 Corinthians 9:16-18).” He would not present the gospel with a “charge.” But he was compelled, almost forced, by an internal and external motivation. Paul felt an obligation to see the lives of others changed and so he sought the best way to do it. He humbled himself; he even sought to become as the people he ministered to. He wanted to see what made them tick. He sought to understand them and know why each group thought as they thought. What was the culture of those who knew the law or those who were considered weak? He was authentically interested. It was not a curriculum or a video or even a spiritual equation that he used to save them, but a tolerant understanding. Not a compromise but a conversation; a sense of and actions of love. What are your methods of understanding and developing relationships with the kids in your classroom and their parents? I could really drive the point further, but I think we have it. Authenticity is not a performance it is an intentional plan of discipleship.
Oh yeah, what about thought number two: How are leaders developed? Well, back to my Lady Gaga reference. Her biggest song about tolerance, uniqueness and world “domination” says that her mother told her we were “all” born as superstars. And, “I am beautiful in my own way, God makes no mistakes. I’m on the right track baby, I was born this way.” She is saying that each person is innately born to be whom they will be and one must express it. “Well now, isn’t that special?” (Said in my intolerant, Dana Carvey, Church-lady voice). Is that how leadership is developed? Are leaders born “superstars” and raised in public or in obscurity with an innate “superchip” that kicks in to take over our schools, homes and churches in times of crisis? Or, like Moses and David, are leaders bred, through the right trials, training and divine synchronistic moments to make a difference in the lives of 1, 10, 100 or 1000’s.
Come join me in Orlando, FL or San Diego, CA at CPC 2012 were we will continue this conversation.
E. C. Cunningham is a national speaker for youth and children’s conferences and breakouts for over ten years. He is known for his energetic and practical training style. He is a freelance leadership & children’s ministry consultant, writer & student.