As I graduated from college and took my first job working at a church, the word “authenticity” reached buzzword status. Now, to be a buzzword, a word must be used ad nauseum within a particular sub-culture to the point that the meaning and value of the word begins to be deluded. While the buzzword is still true and relevant, listeners begin tuning it out because of the abuse of the word by a speaker, presenter, or community.
Within the past decade, authenticity has experienced that “tuning out” at times. However, authenticity is still an extremely important idea. It matters in the context of friendships and spiritual community. As we gain more opportunities to spin other people’s perceptions of us via our platforms on social media, true authenticity matters more and more. And when authenticity is paired with integrity, it can be a very powerful force.
In this series, Friendship in a Facebook World, I wanted to talk about the role of authenticity.
First, what is authenticity? Pete Wilson, pastor of Crosspoint in Nashville, gave a great definition in Week 3 of his series, Empty Promises. He said, “Authenticity is rejecting who others say I should be and accepting who God created me to be.” When I choose authenticity, I am rejecting the pressure to conform to others’ expectations AND I am sharing my true self with other people. That kind of action has always been powerful.
Authenticity is powerful. It has always been powerful. One of the reasons why authenticity became a buzzword was a generation came of age that had seen less than honest portrayals of faith and leadership within the church. Tough issues were resolved too neatly. Leaders hid their struggles and failures and presented themselves as if they were perfect. There seemed to be little space to share the messy and gritty pieces of life within the church. And so many started calling for more “authenticity” in those places.
Here’s the thing, though. While many of us want authenticity, most of us fear it. We want other people to be authentic, but if we are honest, we would share that we are terrified of it. Even while we talk about the power of being more honest and transparent, we still hide from others our own personal darkness and struggle.
Some of us hide because we believe that we are more who others say we are (or who others say we should be) than we are who God says He created us to be. Some of us hide from authenticity because we have been burned in the past when we opened up to others. Some of us run from authenticity because it is easier to wear masks and pretend to be something we’re not than to claim the truth of who we are.
Question. Who do you let see you struggle? The names you list there are your deepest and truest friends. Now, I don’t believe one has to open every closet to every friend. But I believe we must have people – friends – in our lives who have access to those dark places in us. This is why I believe that authenticity faces the destiny of every buzzword (death) if it does not lead to accountability. If we are not met with accountability when we share authentically, the transparency stops short.
Accountability is a loaded word for some within the church. For some, it has meant judgment, condemnation, or legalism. Accountability has become one person trying to cleanse or change another by the force of their will. That’s not the accountability I’m talking about. The accountability I’m talking about is the kind where the relational commitment is renewed and the person listening begins speaking prophetically in the life of the other person, sharing the truth of the Gospel and calling out who God created the other person to be. Like the People of the Second Chance, I do believe it is possible for Radical Grace and Radical Accountability to come together in the same place.
I do believe that if we can become more and more authentic with accepting who God made us to be, we will be able to more and more authentic with others about where we are not living in light of that identity. When shared with true friends, that kind of authenticity can lead to great accountability, which God can use to restore everyone involved into the people He created us to be.
He said, “Authenticity trumps cool every time.”