For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Hebrews 4:15
My friend Scott is a gifted teacher. I remember one of his illustrations using a bunch of unmarked tea bags. He had everyone pass them around and smell them to see if we could tell what kind of tea each one held. Then he said something really profound: “Tea bags are a lot like people…you don’t know for sure what’s inside them until you put them in hot water.” It was a beautiful illustration about integrity and transparency. Together, those are the currency of leadership in the church.
What was truly transformative about Jesus (and what has been transformative about Christianity for over 2,000 years now) is not the power nor the persuasion nor the perfection of Jesus. Rather, it was the almost spellbinding “connection” he had with everyone he met. He connected with the Samaritan woman at the well. He connected with the Pharisee, Nicodemus. He connected with fishermen and tax collectors and soldiers and prostitutes. What changed people was his ability to see right into their souls, and at the same time allow them to see right into Him.
That was the founder of this revolution for which you and I are contending. And we should reflect that same level of transparency and connectability. It is important to our mission. In fact, the revolution depends on it.
But in our efforts to work harder to do all the things good Christians should do, and in our efforts to manage our people’s perception of us, we often tend to lose the transparency. In our churches’ efforts to elevate our leaders to praiseworthy heights, we create an environment where it is no longer safe for them to be truly transparent, lest they lose the very popularity which placed them there. We want heroes for our leaders, so we “create” them, leaving little or no room for their humanity. And as leaders, we fall in line with this very system, as it often seems like the only opportunity to lead. The very pretense which lifts us up eventually becomes our downfall.
But here is the magnified effect of that pretense: Leaders who pretend to be something they are not end up building organizations which pretend to be something they are not. An entire culture of pretense and shallow relationships results. And, more times than any of us want to admit it, we call it “church”.
As I reflect on Hebrews 4-5 and its description of our “great High Priest”, I am reminded that it is transparency and “connection” which are the real stuff of which Christ-like leaders are made. Our ability to relate to our people and their ability to relate to us…to connect with us…is what really matters. That’s what our founder taught us. I just need a reminder a few times each day. Because, in the end, when you put me in hot water, all I really want you to see coming out of me is Jesus.