If you want authenticity, ou have to go first.  That’s not easy.  When I am meeting someone, I like to ask questions of them because when people talk about themselves they walk away having a more meaningful experience with you.  That’s the easy part and the first part.  Once you realize you have a connection, it’s important to make that connection authentic and that happens when you choose to “give them the gift of going second” as you are the first to “open up.”  So as a creator of connection, builder of community, a leader of leaders, you have to take that initiative.

Community without that natural chemistry is forced, mildly boring and lacks energy.  So as the one “reading this post” you now have the responsibility to cultivate authenticity with your relationships.  You are charged with helping others tear down their walls, to lower the drawbridge and to let others in.  You can be a castle that’s closed or you can be a greenhouse that grows.  Authenticity grows you to becoming a better Christian…a better human being.

So the question to ask your community is this:  Is this a safe place for me to be myself?  Because the most authentic “you” is the “you” others are longing for and what God is waiting for. Authenticity dismantles who others want you to be and enhances who you’re supposed to be.  So be vulnerable.

Vulnerability says I accept you before you accept me.

Authenticity starts when you become vulnerable in your relationships.  When you choose vulnerability you choose community.

So stop self-protecting.

Allowing ourselves to truly experience our emotions is a beautiful thing and is the first step toward becoming a well-rounded and emotionally balanced person. It’s hard for people to see your complete mess underneath while at the same time showing your cool exterior. But as I got older, I realized that being transparent with the people I care about is a true joy that many miss out.  Instead of the freedom to be ourselves, we instead try to re-adjust ourselves according to who we think people want us to be.

Here’s why this is wrong:  Everyone is deserving of unconditional love.  This is the love of God so we need this; it’s the kind of love that we were made to contain.  When we hide the things about ourselves we deem “undesirable,” we’re building shaky relationships that eventually collapse because they are built on a façade and not a foundation.

That’s why authenticity is one of the greatest gifts you can give someone.  Someone who is not authentic can still be a leader and connect but will not add value to our community.  A person who connects and cares authentically adds value to their community by making a positive contribution.  The biggest blockage to this authentic community is self-protection.

How do we cultivate authenticity in our communities?  By ceasing to self-protect.  What is the difference between Self-protecting and authenticity?

LESSON 1: SELF-PROTECTION IS ROOTED IN FEAR AND RESULTS IN HIDING VS AUTHENTICITY IS ROOTED IN VULNERABILITY AND RESULTS IN ORIGINALITY 

Not everyone will like you.  This was hard for me to realize because I thought I was a pretty likable dude.  But that’s part of life I guess.  But those who do like you will like you best when you are truly yourself.  Sometimes we don’t want to to be caught being yourselves” because we fear others may not like what they see.  So we chose to hide it from others until it’s “safe to reveal” our true selves. That’s why sincerity and originality seam to go together. I live in MN and there’s nothing like walking on a freshly snowed sidewalk, not just hearing the crunch against the silent snowfall but walking and making prints of my own.  Herman Melville says it this way,

“It’s better to fail in originality than succeed in imitation.”  –Herman Melville

Originality isn’t an option but an obligation.  David couldn’t wear Saul’s armor so why are you modeling someone else’s?  David learned that lesson.  “You be you and you do you.”  Because your community needs it.

RELATED: 5 Surprising Lessons I Learned About My Calling from Changing Careers

LESSON 2: SELF-PROTECTION WASTES EMOTIONAL ENERGY VS AUTHENTICITY CREATES RELATIONAL CONNECTIVITY

Your iPhone has only so much memory and your emotional capacity has only so much energy.  When you pretend to be someone who “has it all together” or try to be “the charismatic one or popular one”, it drains you and isn’t sustainable.  Give yourself permission to be yourself and you will enjoy being yourself.

LESSON 3: SELF PROTECTION CONTROLS SITUATIONS VS AUTHENTICITY CELEBRATES PEOPLE 

Fear is controlling. And fear can permeate a situation quickly.  But it can be conquered by authenticity.  When you are authentic, you are showing others who you are and that is a good thing.  When you become yourself in front of others you celebrate yourself for the benefit of others.  Authenticity dismantles who others want you to be and enhances who you’re supposed to be.  And that takes courage.  Courage is comes from the Latin word “kerr” which is where we get the word “heart.”  Fear is overcome when the heart of the person is revealed to others.   You can’t make everyone happy. That’s never been your job.  But you can make people better.  Imitating others makes you a copy of others around you but the real you makes others around you complete.   Seth Godin says it best:

 “Because, while we’re each unique, we have far more in common than we’re comfortable admitting. Amplifying our differences may make us feel special, but it’s not particularly useful when it comes to getting better. Learning from the patterns and the people who have come before, though, is the only way any of us advance.” 

True community requires authenticity.  And you can’t express authenticity without others.  So ask yourself this: how can you leverage your unique qualities to add value to others in your community?

Alan Pastian works is a Pastor at River Valley Church in Minneapolis, MN, where he lives with his wife, Heidi, and is father to Anja and Magnus, he thinks coffee and community are inseparable, he believes a picture speaks a thousand words, he celebrates films as modern-day parables and is committed to collecting experiences more than collecting things.