March 16, 2022
Last weekend I spoke at a conference and shared a personal story I had never shared with a large group before. It was a powerful moment in my life and set me on a whole new trajectory in my relationship with Christ. It was a gift. However, it happened eight years ago, and I’ve kept it to myself except for sharing it with Kathleen and a few friends. Why did I wait so long to share it? It’s embarrassing and revealed a weakness I did not want to acknowledge. [It’s a story better told in person, so I won’t be sharing it here.]
I regret waiting so long because there is power in this story, and I could tell it connected with the people in the room, some making the point to say so.
I rarely hold back when I’m sharing, this being one of the exceptions. Fortunately, I learned the power of transparency from a wonderful mentor.
I’ll never forget the first time I met Kurt Neale. It was the summer after my junior year of college. I was sitting in the dining hall of a Christian camp in New Mexico with other camp counselors waiting for Kurt to share with us. It was the end of the summer, and this was the last gathering of the staff before we went our separate ways. Kurt entered the room from the back, talking with some leadership team members.
He was a big guy! He had a booming voice, wide smile and lit up the room before he was even introduced. He struck me as incredibly confident, but not cocky. And since I lacked in the confidence department at that point in my life, I was drawn to him.
As he was introduced, I learned that he had played football for SMU, was a camp director for Kanakuk, the largest Christian camp in the country, and was now a youth pastor in Dallas. I was captivated by Kurt. I loved his teaching style. He was engaging, funny, inspiring and challenging. And as I was quick to do at that time, I began putting Kurt on a pedestal. I started thinking, “I want to be like Kurt!” I thought this guy was Superman and had the perfect Christian life.
However, as he was speaking, he did something I wasn’t prepared for and it took me by surprise. He shared a story where he had blown it. I wish I could remember the details of the story, but he painted himself in a very negative light. He had lost his temper over something and said some harsh things. I was shocked! And I wondered, why would he share that? Why make himself look bad in the eyes of all these college-aged camp counselors who I’m sure were thinking the same things I was?
And then it hit me. I was so glad that Kurt did! I was happy he opened up like that. It gave me hope! I realized at that moment I could love Jesus, aspire to be like him, but at the same time, fall short or fail, and the world wasn’t going to come to an end.
Kurt obviously had the respect of the camp leadership, otherwise he wouldn’t have been invited to speak. Kurt had a beautiful wife who still loved him even though he wasn’t perfect. Kurt still spoke with confidence, but it was seasoned with humility, because he chose to be transparent with his imperfections and weakness.
That was 30 years ago, and Kurt remains one of my closest friends and confidants.
Before moving to Oregon, Kurt and I both lived in Dallas. We spent time together every week, usually while cycling, as we talked about everything imaginable. No topic was off-limits. He is a wonderful mentor and friend, transparent and authentic in every way. Even though we now live 2,000 miles apart, we are still very much involved in each other’s lives. I am a better man for knowing Kurt Neale.
Before I continue, I want to define two terms to ensure we are on the same page.
Transparency—the ability to share the bad, hard, embarrassing, and challenging aspects of one’s life along with the good.
Authenticity—not living behind a mask. What you see is what you get.
I don’t just value authenticity and transparency in spiritual leaders; I value it in everyone I meet! An authentic person is a humble person. He recognizes he desperately needs the grace of God in his life and prays for the Holy Spirit to redeem his brokenness.
Authentic people are generally more fun to be around because as they let their guard down, it makes it easier for others to do the same. Bible studies go deeper among authentic men. Prayer is richer and the fellowship more genuine.
When men meet, and there is a lack of transparency, the gathering turns into a performance. Men compete to look good and sound good, never letting anyone see their real world or know the struggles, pain or sin they are trapped in. This is such a lonely and empty way to live! But some men will go their whole lives without ever truly opening up to another man about their hidden world.
It takes courage to be authentic. It’s the brave man who chooses to be honest with his shortcomings in front of a group of men. Until you decide to get real and share your private world, you will never receive the help or correction that can come from other men in your life.
Of course, you must be discerning before sharing your pain with a group or even an individual. Not everyone is trustworthy. Sadly, not everyone values authenticity. It’s up to you to find the right men to share with.
I hope you will take the time to reflect on the following questions.
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