How do you know when something is authentic? In the case of currency, the way a secret service agent is trained to detect counterfeit money is to spend a lot of time with the real thing. Want to make sure you’re buying an authentic Rolex watch or designer handbag? If the price is too good to be true (or you’re haggling with a road-side vendor), you’re probably about to purchase a knock-off.
Authentic hundred dollar bills, Rolex watches and Michael Kors handbags have characteristics that make it easy to distinguish between the real thing and a counterfeit.
What about authentic community? I like the four characteristics Bill Hybels shared years ago in a message at Willow Creek. He said that the characteristics of authentic community are:
1. To know and be known. Way more than casual acquaintances or Facebook friends. Deeper than the surface level, mask-wearing, master of disguise forms so common today. To truly know and be truly known is to share life. Can you imagine Peter’s desperate desire to be known when Jesus asked him a third time if he loved him? “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you” (John 21:17). Is anything more countercultural than to drop our mask and let our friends see who we really are?
2. To love and be loved. Beyond being liked or likable, to love and be loved is about following Jesus’ example. Jesus said, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35). He went on to say, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13). If it’s hard for many to allow anyone to truly love us, it seems near impossible for most of us to show love first. If there has ever been a more countercultural action, I don’t know what it is.
3. To serve and be served. To expect to be served is ordinary. When we experience substandard service at a restaurant, we feel justified in leaving a smaller tip (or even omitting a tip!). To adopt the posture of a servant? Not easily done. Jesus demonstrated this countercultural characteristic when He set aside what was truly His and took on the form of a servant (Philippians 2:5-8). When He washed the disciples’ feet, he said, “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you” (John 13:14-15).
4. To celebrate and be celebrated. How rare to be genuinely celebrated! How uncharacteristic of the 21st century to celebrate the accomplishments of anyone else. The apostle Paul instructed us to “rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15). Who can truly do either? Countercultural and yet at the heart of authentic community.
Four characteristics of authentic community. Four countercultural characteristics. Are you there? Can you go there? Wouldn’t it be sad if the tribe leading the way had never really experienced the life in authentic community that God designed for us?