During my days as a seminary student at my theological field education (TFE) placement, I sought out to know all that I would need to know to become a minister one day. What does it take to be a great pastor? I wondered. The answer I got from the senior minister at my placement was, before you try to become a pastor, first become an authentic person. Rather than trying to be something or someone, be your true self. It is not a superhuman that a congregation seeks, and even if they did, you can’t become superhuman. Congregations seek an authentic person. They seek someone who has the courage to embrace one’s own vulnerability and yet strives, with the rest of the congregation, to be transformed by the grace of God. Moreover, if you do not know your true self, you may even lose yourself while trying to live up to all different kinds of expectations people will have of you, their pastor.
Now, realizing the importance of becoming an authentic person is one thing, but actually living it out is not the same. As an ordained minister, I did come to realize that it is authenticity that people seek, especially when they come to church. Perhaps it is one place in our society that people expect and hope for authenticity. But from my own experience of inner struggle and in my encounter with people, I realize that authenticity is not something we can one day simply choose to be.
Authenticity only comes as a result of being strengthened and empowered. When you come to discover your true self in the light of God’s love and grace, it is this true and unique self that gets empowered, enabling you to live a life that is authentic. You are able to love yourself, not only your strengths but even your weaknesses and vulnerabilities.
This inner being, I realize, is fueled and fed by faith and by the power of the Holy Spirit. This inner being gets strengthened by the dwelling of Christ through God’s Word. This inner being recognizes when truth is proclaimed and yearns for more because it is what feeds and strengthens it. When this inner being is strengthened, we can then be an authentic human being. It is no longer my false or empty-self navigating my life out of the motivation for the approval of others, but the true self within me that discerns and leads me. Whereas my false self would be tempted to take the easier, faster and popular route, my true self empowers me to spoke boldly and guides me to choose the narrower path.
Of course this journey to authenticity is not something that can be done alone, but together with others in a spiritual community that continually seeks for greater truth. A community that does not try to fix others and demand everyone to be and think alike, but creates a safe space for each individual to look within one’s inner world while supporting one another with compassion so that personally and collectively we can embark on a journey to discovering our true self together.
Then that community, becomes a place where authenticity meets authenticity. You are welcomed, loved, and embraced as you are. It is a community that becomes life-giving to everything and everyone who comes across it. Personally, I experienced within myself and in the lives of those in my spiritual community that, the more your inner being gets strengthened, the more you become deeply rooted and grounded in love. Then you are empowered and challenged to venture forth and dive into the greater vision of God, whose breadth, length, height and depth we cannot fathom but gain only a glimpse of, which is enough for us to want to be part of.
As I reflect upon my journey towards authenticity, I am reminded of this beautiful prayer by St. Paul in Ephesians 3:14–19 (NRSV)
“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”
Photo: The feature image for this blog was taken at the 2011 National Women’s Gathering. The group of women are from St. Timothy Presbyterian Church, where Rev. Jane Yoon serves as Associate Minister.