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Is Authenticity a New Idol in the Church?

Because American evangelicalism often sees trends in what churches go after, it’s not uncommon to see common themes emerge in a cultural sense. One of the interesting things in working with so many churches is getting to see those themes up close and personal.

For instance, a decade ago, there was a massive theme of COMMUNITY. You couldn’t go to an evangelical church without hearing something about the desperate need for community, whether it was a sermon or a call for everyone to join small groups, etc. Community, community, community.

But somewhere along the way, community seemed to become the end in and of itself. Not what community would get us to.

And now, it seems, perhaps, that AUTHENTICITY is the new thing. Again: Not a bad thing. Authenticity is great. But we always want to know what the point is, right? Where is authenticity meant to lead us?

Here’s what I mean.

The call for authenticity is a call to being yourself, being transparent, the call to not put on a shiny mask or veneer around the junk in your life. Just be honest about who you are and what you’re struggling with, with people that you trust. But sometimes we make the GOOD thing of authenticity a GREAT thing. And as Tim Keller would put it, when we make a good thing a great thing, we’ve turned it into an idol.

Authenticity isn’t the end goal. Discipleship, the process of becoming like Jesus, is the end game. We find that authenticity is key in the discipling process and that we become more authentic the more we become like Jesus. But the point is discipleship, not authenticity.

So what does it look like when we see authenticity move from a good thing to a great thing?

At least in my experience, I’ve seen people who are actually inauthentic in one part of their life when they make authenticity the “great thing” … the place where God is actually breaking in, bringing healing and amazing things are happening. What slowly happens is because there has been so much emphasis on being authentic, it becomes code for something else: Be open about the junk in your life, but we may not trust the good stuff you say is happening.

Why?

Because the call to arms for authenticity is usually a reaction to people in the church putting on the shiny veneer of “everything is perfect in my life, everything is good.” So when people actually do share about good things happening in their lives, there seems to be an inherent distrust of this. People worry that it smacks of the shiny/happy Christian that people don’t necessarily trust.

So what happens?

We tend to share the junk happening, but feel more than slightly uncomfortable sharing where God is breaking in, healing and bringing resurrection in our lives.

It’s so important to embrace authenticity, but to not do so in a reactive way, right? We don’t want to jump from ditch to ditch. In one ditch, you have people putting on the shiny, happy, uber-Christian face and covering up the junk. But in the other ditch is only sharing the junk and never feeling terribly open about sharing where God is breaking in.

We must continue to live in the tension of the middle. Being authentic, but realizing that authenticity is part of the bigger picture of discipleship where we are allowing God to break in and change us as we continue to be open to people that we trust and allow into the mess of our brokenness.

Once again, we see the tension of living in the paradox of the Kingdom of God.  

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doug@3dm.com'
Doug is the Director of Communications for 3DM, and organization devoted to building a disciple-making culture in the local church.