Monday, August 13, 2007

Authentic Authenticity

Lots of these emerging church posers* like to say they value authenticity, but what they really mean is they wear distressed denim and listen to Coldplay. It's an aesthetic, stylistic thing.

Some of us value authenticity for what it really is, however, which is honesty. Occasionally blunt honesty. Mark Driscoll at Mars Hill Seattle is a guy who does this extremely well.

When we started the Element ministry at our church roughly six months ago, my leadership contribution, in terms of teaching vision, originated from my assumption that the younger generation (people 18-30something) interested in church or returning to church is generally tired of the self-helpy, feel-good, entertainment-driven inspirational messages passing as biblical teaching. This was, again, an assumption of mine. It was a hope, as well, since it is my conviction to teach the bluntly honest truth of Scripture about God and ourselves regardless of how people felt about it, but it was as assumption based largely on anecdotal evidence. Being in this demographic myself, knowing others in the demographic. Talking to people. Seeing the earliest fruit of the young adult Bible study, the stuff people were responding to, what they were expressing as needing in their lives, what they were criticizing about the state of the Church, etc.
The assumption, which wasn't based on nothing, was that the emerging generation craves real authenticity, which is to say, they don't want spin or marketing; they want people to be honest with them and about them. For better or worse, this is what I've been trying to do.

Well, now there may be some actual (official?) data to back up this assumption. Our church's associate pastor forwarded the May 27 "Advance" newsletter from LifeWay's Leadership Network to me because it includes an article called "Coming Clean" by Pat Springle. It contains some interesting and reassuring findings. An excerpt:
Next Generation pastors are finding that emerging cultures and the younger demographics of their churches expect them to be brutally honest about life's most perplexing issues—including their own sinful behavior . . .

"People in our congregation don't want to hear only those things that make them feel good," says Mark Henry, pastor of North Metro Church in Marietta, GA. "They're convinced that life is challenging, and they expect me to address those challenges. They want to know what the Scripture says about life in all its complexity" . . .

"I see so many weak, sissy Christians who put their faith in Christ years ago, but haven't grown a bit," says Brad Bell, founding pastor of The Well Community Church in Fresno, CA. "They can't figure out why they aren't happy all the time like they expected. The problem is that they signed on to a pleasant destination, not a challenging journey.

"We need to talk much more about the journey, and we need to be crystal clear about Christ's call to count the costs. Jesus calls us to suffering as much as to delight."

This might be unexpected news to some church leaders, and it might be uncomfortable news to others, those used to dealing in Jesusy pick-me-ups. It's good news for all of us, though. The first step to believing and living the Gospel is admitting not just that we have a problem but that we are a problem, and a generation that is open to Gospel honesty is ripe for Gospel proclamation.

* This includes posers inside the emerging church movement and people who think they're part of the emerging church movement but are really just posers.


Kievas said...

Honesty is usually a good thing. It can be packaged and presented in different ways, but most people will eventually see through the package and look for a core of truth.

Jared said...

Honest is usually a good thing?

Kievas, I'm not sure I follow. Are you saying it's okay to make people have to dig through a package or facade to see the truth?
If so, why not just be truthful up front?

Milton Stanley said...

Sounds like authentically good news.

Kievas said...

Well, there can be such a thing as too much honesty, although not necessarily in this context.

And I meant that the truth is often spun and twisted to suit a particular audience. However, most people will see through that eventually.