Buzzwords. They’re everywhere.
If you work in the business world, you might hear buzzwords like “synergy,” “move the needle,” “drill down,” or “best practices.” In the church world, you might hear phrases like “relevant,” “missional,” or “creative.”
When I graduated from college and took my first job working at a church, the word “authenticity” reached buzzword status. It had been spoken to the point that the meaning and value of the word was deluded. While the buzzword is still true and relevant, listeners have begun tuning it out because of its abuse.
Pete Wilson, pastor of Crosspoint in Nashville, gave a great definition of authenticity in Week 3 of his sermon 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. Wilson articulates my lesson well when he says, “Authenticity is the cry of all, but the game of few.” Like you, I’ve seen others talk about authenticity but refuse to embrace it. When authenticity is paired with integrity, it can be a very powerful force.
I believe authenticity became such a popular concept because a generation came of age seeing 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. As a result, 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 I write about the power of being more honest and transparent, I am tempted to hide my own personal darkness and struggles from other people.
Why are we so afraid of authenticity? Some of us hide because we believe that we are who others say we are (or who others say we should be) instead of who God says He created us to be. Some of us reject 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.
How do we overcome our wounds and past experiences in order to live more authentically? By embracing true accountability. Authenticity can fuel accountability and transformation.
Consider this question: Who gets to see you struggle? Who do you let in to those places of your life? 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. 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. It has meant judgment, condemnation, or legalism. Accountability can become one person trying to change another by the force of their will. That’s not the accountability I’m talking about, though.
The accountability I’m talking about is the kind where the relational commitment is renewed and the person listening begins speaking biblically in the life of the other person. True accountability involves sharing the truth of the Gospel and calling out who God created the other person to be. I believe it’s possible for radical grace and radical accountability to come together in the same place.
I grew up hearing a portion of James 5:16, “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” This verse was held up as a reminder of the importance of our prayers. But this is only part of the verse. The full verse reads, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” (NIV).
When I read the full verse, I realized that authenticity and the confession it produces leads to healing. When we share like this, the prayers we utter are powerful and effective. Authenticity and accountability do not have to be mututally exclusive experiences. They can facilitate one another.
I 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 we share with true friends and experience radical grace and radical accountability, our freedom and authenticity can lead to life transformation. God uses courageous authenticity to heal and restore His children into the people He created us to be.
When Scott Savage cackles, people in the next zip code react. Scott lives in Phoenix, where he writes and pastors. He is married to Danalyn (a lawyer) and the father of 3 children under the age of 3. Scott blogs at scottsavagelive.com and you can follow him on Twitter: @scottsavagelive.