On Being Authentic

Posted: June 22, 2005 in Everything

Last night was a great blessing for me. It was the second meeting of our summer Tuesday night gatherings for young adults at my church. This summer we are reading through Donald Miller’s, “Searching for God Knows What“.

Instead of meeting at our church building, we have decided to meet at places around town. I think this is good for at least two reasons. One, I have become more and more convicted about taking faith public. I don’t mean shouting from street corners or bothering your co-workers to the point that they all avoid you at the Christmas party. Rather, I’m talking about living and breathing and expressing faith in public places and calling people into the Kingdom of God. Secondly, getting away from the building invites conversation–and more real conversation at that. There’s something about an institutional church building that screams, “BE FAKE HERE!”

Last night’s conversation was great. Miller’s book is a thought-provoking, humorous launching point for discussion, and I have to say that last night’s conversation was one of the most authentic I’ve ever had with a Christian/Church group. As of late, my heart have craved authenticity. The problem is, I’m not sure I know it when I see it.

Lots of churches–especially newer churches–are talking about being more “authentic.”That sometimes means that in a Bible class someone might unleash a small profanity or something like that. But is that authenticity? Is “authenticity” the church’s’ new license to say something profane or ridiculously unorthodox? I hope not, but I can see why that might be a necessary step–kind of a spiritual adolescence–to shake many of us out of our pat, churchy answers and responses to life.

And then there are churches where authenticity means you can wear jeans and not comb your hair. I don’t have anything against jeans, or not combing your for that matter, but I’m starting to sense that authenticity means–to some at least–just NOT doing whatever they do at your parent’s church. Or authenticity means trading the sub-culture of suits and didactic Bible classes from the established church for a new sub-culture of goatees and coffee-house “Bible dialogues” in new churches.

I guess I have a lot of questions about what authenticity really is. Is it authentic to make fun of the traditional, established church or be a Democrat because it seems that so many in the traditional church are Republicans? Is it authentic to have your ipod filled with Green Day instead of Third Day? Is that authenticity? Is that what it means to be real?

Here’s a sad thought: Are Christians and churches struggling with being “authentic” communities of faith because we have had such little practice at it? Or maybe that’s the goal of life; we all struggle to be real and it’s the community of faith that helps us understand what reality is. At the very least, I would hope that that is what authenticity can be.

I would very much like a church dedicated to helping people regain reality. It seems to me that those outside church walls aren’t doing any better at becoming real, at least not in the sense of realizing who we are and why we’re here. Perhaps some our churches need new mission statements? How about something like this: “The Community Church: Working to be Real” or “The Community Church: Journeying Toward Authenticity.”

Like I said before, I’m not sure I know authenticity when I see it. What do you think?

  1. daniel greeson says:

    authenticity is such a buzz word right now. i know mclaren in either christianity today or leadership from awhile ago (maybe even more than a year ago) said it was one of the defining charcteristics of what people are searching for in this postmodern world.

    I think i find the basis for real authenticity worked out in a community that puts together what paul describes in phil 2 and eph 4. in other words ones that serve one another and strives to help others put off the old man and begin telling the truth and learning to trust and love one another. and in this community of service and brokeness than real intimacy and authenticity can occur. Where people can actually confess their sins to one another and can actually trust others. where worship is actually an expression of gratitude and praise and not just something you do when you come together. When bible study is a delving into discovering God and not just something you do when you come together.

    thats my ideal of authenticity, and a little rant as well.


  2. Brendo says:


    I think the “problem” that authenticity is trying to address is one I can identify with. I have a strong need to be able to challange ideas with rational thought. I don’t feel I’ve ever been allowed to do that by organized religion. So, for me authenticity would include giving people the ability to contradict the church. So, authenticity has something to do with earning respect instead of assuming authority. (?)

  3. CL says:

    Good post, I wonder if we aren’t maybe trying too hard. Ultimately I think maybe we are just so afraid and scared (like we’re scared of not looking authentic to others we see as authentic – I know that’s ramble but I wonder) of what authenticity looks like that we take these huge wild leaps into what we “think” might be authenticity. I think Daniel is on to something, but I also think that true authenticity might be just a little bit different for everyone, and so trying to define it with an absolute isn’t going to happen. God bless you brother!

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