Authenticity Inside and Out

This week I found myself watching the Disney movie Inside Out for the … well I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen it now.  It has quickly become one of my favourite movies and is not just a film for kids!  In case you haven’t seen it, the movie takes you inside the head of a girl called Riley, aged 11, revealing her emotions as the characters Joy, Sadness, Fear, Disgust and Anger.  The story follows the conflict and consequences in how they navigate a new home, city and school.

One of my favourite scenes occurs mid-way through.  Joy and Sadness have found themselves plucked from Headquarters and dropped into Long Term Memory.  They are trying to get back, meeting Riley’s old imaginary friend Bing Bong and his song powered rocket in the process.  A little later the rocket is thrown into The Dump (where things are permanently forgotten), making Bing Bong distraught.  Joy wants to ignore his feelings, gloss over them and force him to be happy in order to push on in the quest to get back to Headquarters, something they can only achieve using his knowledge of Long Term Memory.  Sadness however, comes alongside him.  She acknowledges what has happened and his pain, sits beside him, expresses empathy and actively listens, giving him time, space and attention as he cries.  They talk about past adventures as well as the dream of going to the moon that would now fail to be realised.  Only when this process has occurred are they able to get back up and carry on their journey.  What struck me afresh was that both characters had relationships with Bing Bong, but in that moment only one was authentic in nature.

Now I know Inside Out is just a movie, but in the beauty of that scene I was reminded of the need to be authentic in our relationships in our communities of faith, our failure at times to be so, and the hope that this is what we are encouraging one another to move further towards.  Personally, I think this is especially true in our relationships with children and young people, both outside in our communities, but particularly inside our churches.

We crave relationships that are real and authentic and that is no less true for our children and young people than it is for adults, even if they can’t always verbalise it.  Jo and Nigel Pimlott, two youth specialists in the UK, make the following point:

In a culture that is increasingly networked and in which relationships are tremendously important for young people, it is helpful to ask how we build and nurture authentic relationships and community in the post-Christendom era.
 Jo Pimlott, Nigel Pimlott, Youthwork After Christendom

I think this is a question not just for youth leaders, workers or pastors, but for the whole body of Christ.  How can we build authentic relationships with the children and young people in our churches?  After all, it takes a village to raise a child!

In his book The Core Realities of Youth Ministry, Mike Yaconelli makes six suggestions of ways that we can start developing authenticity:

  1. Share yourself
    Youth ministry isn’t just about what we do, but the context we do it in.  Opening ourselves up to young people, we contextualise what we’re sharing with our lives and it becomes a living faith.
  1. Teach the whole gospel … responsibly.
    Telling the whole story of our lives and of Scripture, not just the cleaned up parts, speaks volumes.  By not editing the difficult parts, Yaconelli proposes, we are being responsible to the word of God and to our young people, helping prepare them for all of life with Jesus.
  1. Ask for help
    Don’t pretend we know it all or have it all together.  It’s also important to recognise that it is not our job to fix people, though we do journey with them.
  1. Strive for righteousness
    By admitting our failures and striving for righteousness ourselves it means we can encourage others to do the same.
  1. Trust your uniqueness
    In striving for righteousness we are also freed up to use the unique gifts God has given us.  God works powerfully through authentic, unique people!
  1. Individualise relationships
    Just as we recognise and encourage our own uniqueness, so too we authentic people so the same in others.  This means treating young people as unique individuals rather than trying to fit them all into the same mould.

Yaconelli’s suggestions are worth pondering as we seek to grow in our discipleship and encouraging children and young people to develop theirs in our communities of faith.

A bit like the scene in Inside Out, when authentic relationships are present, it creates a fragile beauty that is well worth nurturing.  Not least of all because it puts flesh on what it means for us to live under the Rule of Christ as we journey together into the fullness of all that God has for us.  May our communities be increasingly filled with authentic relationships that point to our ultimate relationship!


Rev Mo Gibbs

Youth Development Coordinator

Baptist Union of Scotland