1 Corinthians 2:1-5 - And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.
As a culture we have grown weary of people who are not who they pretend to be. In the political realm, the most popular candidates are the ones who speak their minds (even when they say CRAZY things) because they are considered authentic. One popular TV show, Catfish, exposes people who use fake social media accounts to ensnare unsuspecting people into unhealthy relationships. The show is popular because it reveals who the fakes are. This need for authenticity is driving many aspects of our culture, including the church. When people visit a church, especially young people, they are less interested in the church’s denominational alignment, historical theological positions or its list of programs offered. What they do want to know is if the leaders of that church are authentic.
Authenticity can be a tricky thing. Being who we really are in front of others might not always be the best idea, especially if we have a lot of flaws we need to work on. But conversely, being fake in front of others is NEVER a good idea, because eventually the truth comes out. We have to learn how to be who we are while also trying to improve ourselves so we can become someone better. Fortunately, that is exactly what a healthy church does, so authenticity in a church should not be as hard as it might sound.
Recently I visited a church that was having some struggles. Attendance was down. Donations were down. Involvement in many long term ministries had waned. What was the problem?
Though one visit can hardly reveal everything one needs to know about a church, my visit did reveal a lot. For example, I noticed the Praise Team that led the music came on stage about five minutes before the service started. Canned music was playing through the speakers while they plugged in their various instruments and a clock on the screen counted down to when worship was to start. When they finished plugging up they stood there with distracted looks on their faces. I do not know what they were all thinking about, but it did not seemed like they were present in the moment and about to lead worship. Then the count-down clock hit zero and they all suddenly smiled and their faces lit up and they hit some big notes on their instruments and began to dance around and sing. They were different people two seconds after the show began than they were before the show, and honestly, it felt that way. It seemed contrived and fake. I observed that few people in the audience sang with them. The audience was not moved by the fake worship.
This particular congregation is located in one of the more affluent areas of New England. Though few in the audience had on suit coats and ties, most were dressed fairly nice. The audience looked like they were on the way to a business lunch, not too fancy, but clearly dressed up. Meanwhile, the praise team and pastor were dressed like they were headed outside to cut the grass. Clearly the people on the platform were trying too hard to be casual and it did not fit the clientele in the room. It seemed like they had been dressed in costumes chosen to make some point, but apparently the point was lost to most people present.
The church brochure showed lots of young families and multi-ethnic faces. The printed material clearly was designed with all the latest catch words and phrases one would expect for a congregation of 20-somethings. But the audience was mostly middle-aged, with a few senior adults mixed in. The audience was mostly white. The faces in the room did not equal the faces in the printed material. That made the printed materials feel fake.
I suppose I could go on and on, but I think the point is clear. This church was struggling because it was trying too hard to be something that it was not. It lacked authenticity. They did not need better brochures, better costumes, better choreography or better music. They needed their leaders to stop trying to be hipsters and just be the 50 year olds they really were. I am not suggesting that attempts to continually improve ourselves should be ignored. I am suggesting that we not pretend to be someone we are not. People, especially young people, can spot a fake. The only person fooled when we are fake is us, and that helps no one.
Lord, help us be who we really as we continue to walk with You and grow into what You want us to be. Amen.
Dr. Terry W. Dorsett has served as a missionary, pastor and denominational leader in New England since 1993. He is happily married to his college sweetheart and enjoys spending time with his children and grandchildren. He is the author of numerous books including “The Heavenly Mundane: Daily Devotions from Ordinary Experiences.” You can find his complete list of books at: http://www.amazon.com/Dr.-Terry-W.-Dorsett/e/B00405U4NY/