One of the core values for the Desert Southwest Conference Initiative on Vitality and Growth is Authenticity – We live into our identity as followers of Jesus, while upholding the diverse expression of God’s calling in each ministry setting.
Merriam Webster defines authentic as true to one’s personality, spirit, or character.
Psychologist Jeremy Safran writes, “we need to look for new ways of pursuing the project of authenticity in a contemporary context.” In today’s highly mobile world where many no longer live in communities with their extended families and childhood friends, the craving for sincere, meaningful, and thus “authentic” connection has never screamed louder.
John Wesley wrote, “I continue to dream and pray about a revival of holiness in our day that moves forth in mission and creates authentic community in which each person can be unleashed through the empowerment of the Spirit to fulfill God’s creational intentions.” ― How To Pray: The Best of John Wesley on Prayer.
Through this season of church conferences, I have frequently asked, “What one thing does your church want to be known for in the community?” The responses have been wonderful. If I had to summarize what I have heard, there would be two basic responses. The first is that most of us want to be known as welcoming to all people. The second response is that many churches want to be known for something they do – things like mission work, or music ministry.
I believe that there is a deep spiritual hunger in our world today. People long for a message, or an experience that will tap into that place in their hearts which will lead to a complete transformation of their souls and bring them to a place of peace and joy, where compassion and grace is truly known. What would it look like if we took the prayer that Wesley prayed seriously and our understanding of the word authentic no longer was limited to the setting in which the church was located, i.e. urban, rural, ethnic, … What if the concept of authenticity expanded to include how we lived our Christian witness?
I am convinced that “the church” has bought into the world’s system that insists we are to be busy. So, we often are engaged in ministries that do not transform lives. They may make us feel good about doing them, but they really do not engage in the ministry of life transformation.
What if a church went through the process of studying the demographics of their neighborhood? What if the demographic study included references about the inner needs or pains or joys of a community?
What if the second part of the exercise is for the church to identify one Biblical story that effectively addresses the spiritual need identified through the demographic study and began to live the story in everything it did? Would that empower us to find a way to engage in authentic Christian ministry in the communities where we find ourselves?
What does the core value of Authenticity mean to you, to your church? Please don’t let it be just about where your church is placed. Let it be about something more. Let it be about a spiritual vibrancy that responds to Wesley’s prayer. I wonder what it would look like if we all began to pursue a project of authenticity starting today.