By Renee Little
Recently I couch shopped for an entire weekend. My two young boys “test drove” every couch by bouncing from one to another. (It’s a good thing couches cannot experience fear.)
I was more careful during this search than on a previous couch-shopping expedition. This time, before I would even sit on one to try it out, I read the tags to verify the couch was made from genuine leather. You see, I once made the mistake of buying a “pleather” couch; it was nice at first, but soon cracks and chips appeared. I was not making that mistake again!
Finally, I found the perfect blue, genuine-leather couch for my family room. The triumph was short-lived. Only a few hours after delivery, my Maine coon cat discovered the couch. As he jumped up to take his place in my lap, I heard a claw scrape against the leather. Covering up the scratch wasn’t an option, and neither was telling the cat he could no longer sit in my lap.
Cats leave scratches in your life . . . and so do people.
What Leads to Authenticity
The Bible doesn’t leave out the messy or embarrassing parts of the story—it’s a major validation that the Bible is truthful. The Bible doesn’t spare the details, even when it makes the best characters look bad. Remember Luke 2, when Joseph and Mary forgot Jesus in Jerusalem? For a whole day! I’m like Jesus in that way. When I was 13 my parents totally forgot about me and left me at church after the service. I was just hanging out with friends until the last one said goodbye and I realized I was alone. Finally, I found the pastor and he called my dad to come get me. I love having this experience in common with Jesus. And the more I learn about Jesus, the more I am convinced he was not only a real man who walked this earth, but also that he saved me from the justice I deserve.
Just as touching the genuine leather couch enhanced my understanding of its realness, we need to be in a relationship with Jesus to intimately know him. You can read about people or see them from afar and not really know them. But being in a relationship with someone is to know them and to test their authenticity. I know Jesus is real because he walks daily with me. He speaks to me through his Word and the Holy Spirit in my heart. He guides my steps. He answers when I call. He prepares the way. He picks me up when I am weak. And he never leaves me. A person’s relationship with Jesus is what leads to authenticity in life.
Where Authenticity Is Found
From breaking ground to grand opening, every church group in America knows how to celebrate “the bookends” well. Birth and death. First Communion and hospital bedside confessions. Baptisms, weddings, anniversaries, and religious holidays all are occasions to fill fellowship halls with home-baked goodies and pots of coffee.
The true test of a successful church is the time in between the bookends of beginnings and endings.
The authenticity of a church is discovered somewhere in the mess of the middle:
• It is found in youth group programs that help parents find a way to the heart of their teenager. That was a treacherous path for my parents as my teenage attitude was “thick.” At one particularly horrible crossroads with my parents, I came home from school to find Mr. and Mrs. Hastings from their church small group sitting on the couch in the formal living room. I was defensive and ready to fight, but the Hastings listened, and that broke down my defenses quickly. They brokered a lasting peace in our family that day. It is when we let the church into the middle that we find hard-won peace.
• The authenticity of a church is found in taking a chance on letting local people meet weekly on your church campus—groups like Alcoholics Anonymous, counseling professionals, post-prison ministries, and the homeless. Being an authentic, community-center style church needs to go beyond MOPS, daycare, and sports programs. A church needs to reflect their community.
• It is found in raising up leaders. It’s found in discipling programs, and in deacons and elders. Leaders in the church remind me of janitors for the number of messes they must clean up. Leaders regularly face hard choices many are unequipped to make. Creating an environment of pastor-led and elder-protected church takes intentional effort and occasionally requires outside help from great leaders like Accelerate Group and e2.
• It is found in small groups that meet in each other’s homes weekly. It is found in reading the Bible, praying, crying over loss, celebrating wins, and holding one another accountable. It is found in people who don’t disappear when it gets hard. It’s found in the ones who ask until you answer honestly.
If you are curious about a church’s authenticity, look no further than the list above. Every church, family, and individual will face a crossroads in this broken world we live in. Will you let God use it for good?
Authenticity in ‘Showing Up’
In my work with The Solomon Foundation—which helps churches with building needs—I have seen my fair share of ground-breakings and grand openings. While we make every effort to be at those, that is not where we are most needed. We are most needed in “the middle” of things . . . that’s where our best work is done.
It is in the details of construction verbiage and timelines seemingly too big and complex to comprehend.
It is in the late-night fire-bomb attack of a church that’s under construction.
It is in the networking, resourcing, and connecting of other church leaders at events we sponsor where everlasting friendships are made.
It is in the politics of creating an elder board for a new church.
It is in the heart-wrenching pit of mistakes leaders make because they are real people too.
Our relationships with those whom we serve are what is most valuable. It is why the team at The Solomon Foundation moves everything to show up. We want to be the friend you do life with, not the lender you avoid.
Renee Little serves as senior vice president and chief strategy officer with The Solomon Foundation.