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Trying to Be Real…Or Just Another Kind of Cool?

I have become all things to all people,
that by all means I might save some.

I do it all for the sake of the gospel,
that I may share with them in its blessings.”
The Epistle of First Corinthians 9:22b-23 (ESV)

Isn’t it interesting how “authenticity” for some is really just pining for a different type of cool? I find it somewhat funny how some, especially those a generation younger than me, critique many “contemporary”-styled churches as being too slick because their weekend service happens to be tightly programmed and runs smoothly but a church is much more real, “organic” and authentic if, for example, what takes place on Sunday seems as if it’s just happening and put together on the fly. The “More Authenticity” movement says, “Don’t give us theatrical lighting or well-timed, seamless transitions in the service, we should just throw a band out there that ‘knows’ how to worship and some guy who can ‘bring the truth’.” Really?

I guess then we shouldn’t pay any attention to the fact that the “worship team” (read: band) always seems to be dressed in the guise of any number of one-hit-wonder rock groups on the cover of SPIN magazine? Sport some disheveled hair, a well-worn skinny-T (preferably of a secular band the fundamentalist church of your adolescence would hate), a few tats, throw in a piercing or two, and don’t forget to give some obscure writers/theologians as your influences and BAM, you too can have insta-worship-cred for many in the “More Authenticity” movement. But what do we do with the fact that both types of churches often sing the same songs? Hmmmm…

Nor should we ever think to ourselves that the pastor of the “More Authenticity” church, with his frayed jeans, leather wristband and earthy sandals, always seems to look like he just came from a photo shoot for a Hollister catalog. Maybe those “attire desires” are the product of someone who is genuinely more in tune with the Kingdom of God than the poor souls who’ve committed the sin of donning socks and slacks in the pulpit (being the superficial people they are). I’ve forgotten, but can someone please tell me the reference where Jesus took off his mother-of-pearl-buttoned cowboy shirt and used it to wipe the feet of his disciples?

Okay, okay, maybe (just maybe) this is somewhat overstated, but it’s not as hyperbolic as some might think. The truth is, while some banter about the idea that the contemporary church is too inauthentic what they really mean is that the people on stage and the environments where they gather aren’t as cool as they’d like. The bottom line is that these critics, in their noble quest for authenticity have simply taken the lesser (and ignoble) route of image management – which is as far from authenticity as you can get!

Listen, I don’t have a problem with a band who thinks guys wearing eyeliner is cool or a speaker inked with some obtuse looking tattoo on the inside of his wrist that takes him an hour and two philosophers to explain, but don’t tell me it’s more authentic than the guy who wears a sweater-vest with a local golf course crest stitched on it or the worship team where everybody sings in a line with microphones in their hands. Frankly, while I prefer probably the former to the latter, hopefully both are an attempt to contextualize the presence of the church (and the Gospel) to their community. They are simply trying to reflect what the people in their communities look like, talk like, live like – trying to live amongst them (as “normal” as they can be) to lead them to Jesus. Now that sounds authentic regardless of your style palette.

So be careful when you hear someone spouting off about how much more authentic their church is than the one down the street all because they’ve lit candles while the others have chosen to utilize Edison’s discovery! They’re just promoting another kind of cool.

I close with a story. A friend of mine (who leads a contemporary church) asked a “More Authentic” devotee, who was critical about the “slick” programming of my friend’s services, if being more authentic meant the church staff didn’t need to work on putting a coherent, well-ordered service together. The response: “No, they can plan it out, just don’t make it look like it was planned out.”

Authenticity indeed.

Picture of Yancey Arrington
Dr. Yancey C. Arrington is an eighth generation Texan, Acts 29 Network and Houston Church Planting Network fan, and Teaching Pastor at Clear Creek Community Church in the Bay Area of Houston. He is also author of Preaching That Moves People and TAP: Defeating the Sins That Defeat You, and periodically writes for Acts 29 and The Gospel Coalition.

1 thought on “Trying to Be Real…Or Just Another Kind of Cool?”

  1. Well stated. Thanks. Some authentic satire of the “keepin’ it real” crowd is overdue.

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