Lack of Authenticity

Today I am beginning my new series entitled, “Why Does Church No Longer Work?” For background on this series, please reference my post from last week. The response that I lift up to you today is that the church lacks authenticity.

The definition of authenticity is “the act of being authentic.” A Google search for the definition of authentic produces this — of undisputed origin; genuine. For our purposes, I am going to focus on the last part of that definition, the word “genuine.” My view is that the church is viewed today as not being genuine. This is very important because we have come to discover that one of the most important characteristics that Millennials seek in a person is authenticity, or being genuine.

Author, Karl Moore, writing for Forbes an article entitled, Authenticity: The Way to a Millennial’s Heart states this:

“The authentic self is a goal for all four generations alive today: Seniors, Boomers, Xers, but most especially, Millennials.”

Karl Moore

He continues by quoting from a book written by Sienna Zampino which discusses what authentic leadership looks like and why it is so important to Millennials. This is important to the church because we know that Millennials are exiting the church at a very high rate. In the search for reasons, a sense that there is not authenticity within the church appears to be a strong reason.

Is this a fair claim?

I would say that it truly is a fair claim. One reality which our current generation has inherited is the great fear of being seen as unworthy in the church. I was raised with the value of being best behaved whenever I was in the church building. This value is not a wrong one on the surface but it can create a misguided view that those within the church walls must be perfect, at least in behavior. Striving for perfection can be a noble effort but can lead to a masking of some true realities. When people feel they must be viewed as perfect within the church walls, a group of people with a lot of masks comes into existence. No one wants their flaws and imperfections to be known, so they hide their true selves. This leads to incomplete attempts at healing, reconciliation, growth, and honest worship. We put on our best clothes, best faces, and a surface friendliness then head off to that church building for an hour or so of making attempts at our best performance. It is not genuine, it is not authentic.

What amazes me about this dynamic is that it stands so extremely counter to the Gospel and the example of Jesus. All within the church claim to be, and I would say most are striving to be, following the example of Jesus, the Christ. Yet, here is one area where we miserably fail. I think that one of the significant reasons that Jesus appealed to so many people is that he was authentic. Jesus did not wear a mask. Jesus’ actions and attitudes were out there in the very open. In fact, he spoke against putting on masks or airs.

As he taught, Jesus said, “Watch out for the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.”

Mark 12:38-40

“I have spoken openly to the world,” Jesus replied. “I always taught in synagogues or at the temple, where all the Jews come together. I said nothing in secret. Why question me? Ask those who heard me. Surely they know what I said.”

John 18:20-21

Jesus taught authenticity but the church teaches through actions, and sometimes words, inauthenticity.

The reality is that we are sinners who are in need of the healing and reconciling love of our Lord. Churches should be gathering places where we can honestly and openly admit this truth, not just in a corporate sense found in the worship liturgy with the confession, but in the midst of the relationships we have with one another. A person should come to the gathering knowing they will be there with others who are imperfect, who admit these imperfections, and who experience the forgiveness guaranteed to all in the Gospel. If someone enters the gathering and only sees people who are trying to present a perfect image, how can they ever admit their imperfections and need of God’s grace?

In addition, the attempts to put up a false front does not work, no matter how hard we try. Our attempts to hide our imperfections easily melt away when pressure is applied. Perceptive individuals can quickly detect the fake. An especially wary generation as the Millennials are can see through our facade in a little amount of time. Not because they are any better perceiving than previous generations, who knew all along they were participants along with everyone else in a false image, but because this is a generation which is not afraid to state the truth of what they see.

This pattern of the church MUST change. In order for the church to fulfill the call placed upon it by the Lord, those who are followers of the Lord must strive to be authentic. We must create a space where it is safe to be authentic. Individuals must be able to admit that they are one of those about who Paul writes, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Then together we learn how to be forgiven and to strive to do a better job the next. 

Like a Child

Santa Clause

Easter Bunny

Tooth Fairy

These are all characters from our childhood which most of us understand in a much different light now that we are adults. However, when we were children these characters were as real to us as the people living in our house. We heard stories about them. On specific dates or times, we expected them to arrive at our home. We planned for them. We may even have written notes or set out special treats for them. Each of us tried to sneak a glance at them. But then we became adults and realized that our understanding of them had changed and most of us stopped believing in them.

My husband and I were having a conversation last week about the difficulty of believing. We were looking at the events surrounding the resurrection of Jesus. The passage we were discussing was John 21:19-30. In this passage Jesus appears to the apostles who are locked in a room in fear. One of the apostles, Thomas, was not present and when he was told about the appearance of the resurrected Jesus, Thomas struggles to believe. My husband pointed out that the difficulty most of us have, like Thomas, is that we no longer accept aspects of life as we did when we were children. We want some type of evidence if we are going to believe something is real.

I agreed with that but was reminded of something recorded in Scripture and attributed to Jesus, “And he said: ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.'” (Matthew 18:3, NIV) I had always viewed this statement completely concerning access into the kingdom. But my discussion with my husband brought about an “aha” moment. Being part of the kingdom means believing in the improvable. Like a child, we accept something not based on evidence but on the feeling that it is real. Thomas was acting as an adult and needed evidence that Jesus was truly resurrected. Thomas did not have that child wonderment and acceptance of something that could not be totally explained.

A number of us struggle with not just the concept of the resurrection but with the reality of God. We search for evidence. We want someone to prove to us that what we have been instructed to believe is real. The stories which we heard growing up, the words we sing in worship, the variety of celebrations related to events recorded in the Bible, are all nice concepts but at times we struggle because there does not seem to be any proof. When life throws a curve at us, we ask ourselves are any of these ideas which I claim to believe real?

Yet I go back to the words of Jesus mentioned above. Each of us have to become like children. Not that we are to return to temper tantrums but that we believe without all the evidence. This does not require us to abandon all the education and knowledge we have accumulated. Instead, this requires us to accept the reality that no one knows everything. We have to acknowledge that there remains items which are without explanation. We believe in what we have not seen as a child is able to do with Santa Clause, the Easter Bunny, or the Tooth Fairy.

If you are struggling with this type of belief, I recommend you sit down and watch The Polar Express or Rise of the Guardians. These movies will help you understand the importance of believing as a child. When we stop believing in what we do not have evidence for, we lose out on the chance of discovery what is truly possible.

Defining God

First of all, let me be clear that this post will not give an all-encompassing definition of the one who has been referred to by different names. Volumes of books have been published trying to offer that definition. Thousands of theologians, scholars, and religious leaders have spent centuries trying to verbalize a definition. All attempts have fallen short of defining God. Part of the reason is that God does not fit into our human words or images which I addressed in an earlier post (go here to read it if you have not). This being the case, I would like to present to you my current working definition of God.

GOD IS LOVE

I realize that this may be oversimplifying a definition of the creator, redeemer, and sustainer of all life. As simple as this definition is on the surface, it is much more complex than it seems. The complexity comes from the challenge of defining the word “love.” Let me take a bit of your time explaining how I came to this definition and then adding an attempt at defining love.

My starting point is located in 1 John 4:8… “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (NIV translation). The author of this letter states two important realities for me. First, the author connects knowing God with the act of loving. In order to define God, one must know God. Here we see that this ability is centered in love. It reminds me of the scene in the movie, “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.” During the scene, Indy is trying to make his way into the inner chamber of a temple where the Holy Grail is thought to be located. To get into the inner chamber, Indy must successfully maneuver through three booby traps intended to guard the Grail. Each trap required the person to be able to know something regarding God and/or Jesus. I will not give away the plot if you do not know it already. The key here is that senseof knowing. Instead of having three different pieces of knowledge, the author of 1 John states that the ability to love is the requirement to know God.

The writer goes on to explain to us why we must love if we wish to know God. In the second clause of the sentence, the reason given is “because God is love.” Here is my second reality which feeds my working definition. I challenged a group of teenagers who I was leading in a discussion to take a part of Scripture and every time they found the word love, replace it with God. If you want to try this exercise, go to 1 Corinthians 13 and read that chapter following the instructions which I gave the teens.

As I have read and studied the Bible, it becomes clear to me that over and over, God acts out of love. This love is for humans and for all creation. Even when it seems that God is disciplining people, God clearly is doing so as a loving parent would do with a child. God’s love is most evident in the teachings and actions of Jesus. The author of the Gospel of John gives us those well-known words:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

John 3:16-17, NIV

If it is in love that we know God, and if God is love, then how do we define love. As difficult as defining God is, it is almost as difficult to define love. The number of individuals who have made an effort at this definition is close in comparison to the number who have attempted the definition of God. I offer to you my working definition, love is the giving of one’s self for the benefit of others and finding pleasure and joy in the act of doing so.

As a believer in God, I turn once again to recorded words of Jesus as my basis for my definition. Jesus is preparing his disciples for his death and resurrection when he tells them, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13, NIV). I do not think that Jesus is stating we must die to show love. Instead, I view Jesus’ statement “to lay down one’s life” to refer to the giving of self. This giving may be manifested in offering of time, a listening ear, a helping hand. Giving can also include placing another’s need ahead of our own wants. The placing of ourselves in another person’s shoes may be an act of giving. This list can be added to by each of you. The point is that in this giving, is love.

God is love because…

  • God chose to become human so that we could understand our relationship with God since in Jesus, God walks in our shoes
  • God offers all that God has created to us instead of keeping it all to God’s self
  • God accepts ALL without limit or requirement
  • God never abandons us
  • God forgives EVERYONE without exception

What is your definition of God? What is your definition of love?