A few years back, I read this book as part of my doctoral studies on preaching in a postmodern culture (and if you have tons of time to kill, you are welcome to read my dissertation HERE). The book talked about the need for the church to be authentic. Sounds simple enough, I know. But its not. Authenticity is a huge problem for today's church, as more and more congregations are either trying to mirror society with flashy "programs," or swing the other way and draw lines on who is in and who is out - all in the name of "growing their church." When in fact, what people are desiring most from the church, I think, is for it to be authentic. To be who they are; to be comfortable in their own skin. To be real.
I've been thinking about this a lot lately, as my church just finished an amazing Bible study on Phyllis Tickle's insightful book The Great Emergence and considered at depth some of these issues. Then today, this article found its way into my RSS feed. Please take five minutes to read it. It's written by a man named Christian Piatt who took a decade hiatus from the church for a variety of reasons. What brought Christian back to the church, he says, were four things in particular:
- He found a church that defied Christian stereotypes - real people who weren't what he had unfortunately come to expect from those bearing the title "Christian" (the old Gandhi line, "I like your Christ, but I do not like your Christians" comes to mind).
- He found his voice - the church was a place that validated and encouraged him to share his musical gifts.
- He found deeper meaning - meaning that went beyond the standard "heaven and hell" dichotomy and other surface issues that occupy so much of the space of Christianity today.
- He found a sense of belonging - that went beyond simply being a "member" of an "institution." He was included, validated and welcomed simply for who he was.
He concludes with this powerful statement:
I can hear great sermons online. I can download more great music to my iPod than I can listen to in a lifetime. I can join a country club and feel like I’m a part of some fancy, exclusive group. What I can’t necessarily get in other parts of my life is authenticity.
As a pastor I see people come and go in the life of the church. And it's true; folks are often attracted to churches because the preacher preaches great sermons or the church has a great youth ministry or the choir is dynamic or the sanctuary is lovely. But those kinds of things, I've found, don't sustain them for the long haul. Preachers come and go, the choir will occasionally hit a bum note, and youth eventually do what they're supposed to do and grow up and leave (and, sometimes, their families with them).
More and more, I'm convinced that what attracts people to a particular church, and what keeps them there, is that they sense at some deep level that their church is authentic. Not that it has all the answers, but that it's a place where you can ask all the questions. Not that it knows exactly who it is and what it's called to do in the world, but that it's committed to the ongoing journey of discerning that. Not that it understands itself by negation (we are not this; we are not that...), but that it understands itself by affirmation (we are this; we are that...). And most importantly perhaps, not that it is defined by its fears, but that it is defined by its hopes.
I realize I'm a little biased, but I think people would be knocking down the doors to get into a church like that. What do you think?