When I wrote about depth in this series on keeping Millennials in the Church, I promised we’d also talk about authenticity as the bridge to and from depth. When we go deep in spiritual matters with each other, we open up the possibility to be more authentic. When we are more authentic, it provides the necessary trust and respect a healthy deep spiritual conversation is built upon. Authenticity is also the special ingredient that attracts Millennials without fail. I’ve yet to hear a teen or 20-something complain that a church wasn’t showy or fake enough.
The risk, of course, is knowing how vulnerable we should be. Too far and we could overwhelm each other or get hurt ourselves. Too little and we miss an opportunity for mutual growth. The only solution is to trust the Holy Spirit’s guidance – through communicating with Him, through our lessons from experience, through learning from others – to discern what is best in each situation.
But authenticity isn’t just about a verbal confession, whether over coffee with a friend or from a blog or pulpit. It is a distinguishing characteristic of those who live their beliefs.
I love the quote about John Wesley from Roy Hattersley: “The problem contemporaries had with Wesley was that he not only believed that ‘heart and life’ should conform to the ‘pattern of our most holy Redeemer’ but actually tried to live according to that impossible aspiration.”
Sometimes an authentic life is not a popular one. But it is real. It is the best testimony we have for the Kingdom.
Millennials have been marketed to our entire lives. We need to know what is lasting and worthy of our trust. Depending on which study you read, we see about 3,000 to 5,000 ads per day – products and programs guaranteed to make our lives easier, more glamorous, happier and healthier. They all use words like organic, handmade, original, indie, vintage… marketers know we are searching for what is true. And we are often disappointed, as many have let us down thus far.
“Authenticity is the cry of all but the game of few.” – Pete Wilson
Merriam-Webster helps put this buzzword into application: “authentic” is, unsurprisingly, defined as “not false or imitation, true to one’s own personality, spirit or character.” This definition has American Millennial written all over it. A celebration of independence, uniqueness, truth. But I also like one of the other definitions listed: “conforming to an original so as to reproduce essential features.”
This is perhaps the best definition of authentic faith that we can hope to offer. If we are an accurate reflection of our Creator, the One who first loved, we can share that love with others in the most authentic way possible. After all, “we are not trying to please people, but God who tests our hearts” (1 Thessalonians 2:4-6). That kind of authenticity assures Millennials that church isn’t just another bait-and-switch or propaganda piece that will leave them disappointed.
For our churches, this means living out what we claim we believe with our endless supply of song lyrics, memory verses, liturgies, sermons, devotionals, bestselling books… it means taking the scripture from our Bible study and applying it in community, living out the Word together. It means relying on the Holy Spirit to move in our worship services instead of manipulating emotions to produce a desired effect. It means teaching young people by example how to live out an authentic, deep relationship with God and others.
Next in this series, we’ll explore an interesting revelation that comes when we share our authentic selves in community – the Church is a diverse body. How can we embrace diversity?
Other posts in our Millennial Exodus series: