I still remember sitting in church in the late nineties as I watched the colourful powerpoint run it's course explaining the concept of a "cell" group. These groups were different to home groups, because in their very nature they were designed to be "'missional", designed for multiplication, and like bacteria, split, spread and grow. I remember thinking how clever God must be to think up such things.
As I've continued to grow up and through the Christian subculture, I've learned to use much of its useful, original and out-of-the-box language. I love how some churches like to refer to themselves as "organic", how some ministries are "incarnational" and other groups of Christians are so edgy that they no longer have church services, but simply "do community" and "create a space" for people to "get out of their comfort zone", start their "faith journey" and continue to "do life together". All of this is just so much fun.
I just love all the fun conversations around whether we should call ourselves "Christ Followers" instead of Christians just so we don't get lumped with those not as progressive or "emergent" as we are, and we now have "conversation" evenings because we "love Jesus but hate religion". It's almost as fun as the days when we were all "purpose driven" and reciting the "Prayer of Jabez" every morning so we would become level 10, super saiyan Christians.
Most of this is fun and we can have a laugh and poke a bit of fun at the way we are constantly trying to reinvent ourselves more than U2 as the self appointed marketing team of Jesus, who quite frankly, is not "seeker friendly" enough as a person. While the message is incredible, the language is often its own entity, and shouldn't be confused. Perhaps we should just "let go and let God".
There is one particular word, though, that has begun to wind me up a bit in recent times. Over the last few years we have heard a lot about the word, "authenticity" and it's starting to get to me.
Hating on Hypocrisy
I understand the sentiment. Our world seems to house far too much hypocrisy. From politicians to church leaders to our own souls we know that there is a significant discrepancy between how it is and how it looks. The media has taught us that we aren't acceptable as we are and offers us salvation from this fallenness through any product we'll give money to, and encourages us that imperfections don't belong to successful human beings.
We become victims and propagators of this huge system at the same time, taught and teaching that if we can't be good, we better make it look like we can be.
But this double living is exhausting and far removed from true spirituality. In this climate, vulnerability is a breath of fresh air, raw honesty releasing for the hearers and it means that we're choosing to show God the very worst parts of ourselves, ready for real freedom. It is in this tension that the word "authenticity" becomes important. We don't want the "acceptable" versions of each other, we want the real versions of each other. A hundred times yes.
But unfortunately this word, "authenticity" has a dark underbelly. Quickly, this word becomes an ideal in itself, it becomes the ends rather than the means and then unfortunately can become a pious permission slip to do whatever the heck you want, and treat your relationships in ways that suit you. Even just on a social level, authenticity can create a lot of victims. You can be a very authentic dickhead if you want to be.
Authenticity as a Starting Point
But also on a spiritual level, authenticity is a dangerous ideal to uphold. While it is true that Jesus "takes us as we are" and this a great part of some great news, a lot of people's "faith journey" journeys no further than this nice little grass patch of therapeutic individualism.
We're happy to be authentic because this little word simply requires us to "be ourselves" even if that person is a selfish, confused and conveniently autonomous Christ follower who likes the Jesus of a worship song, but doesn't like the Jesus that places any demands on us. Scott Garbacz puts it brilliantly saying,
"The pursuit of authenticity often amounts to a pursuit of ourselves, rather than the pursuit of something better than ourselves. Moreover, since our hearts are always lying to us, and since our hearts are always in a constant state of change (for better and for worse), the pursuit of authenticity can be a fool's game. Our striving for authenticity can be like a horse reaching for a carrot held in front of its nose–an ultimately futile activity that drives us forward while simultaneously blinding us to where we are actually going. If we instead understand our identity to be complex, tied in to the communities, stories, and causes to which we are committed and not just to our inner being, we can begin to look at where we are headed in the world, and not just obsess about the old question of who we "really are.""
I want to be truly myself, and I want to know what it is to be loved for who I really am. I don't want to feel like I have to pretend to be something I'm not to get a pass grade from myself, those close to me or from God himself.
But I have to hold this in tension with the fact that God isn't done with me yet, and part of being sanctified, being changed more into his likeness is by making decisions in the moment that are difficult, foreign and not naturally how I would choose to be.
To follow Jesus is to be who you really are while you walk in his direction, not standing on the sidelines gazing into a mirror. Authenticity is really just the beginning of a very real challenge to be more than we are right now as we discover ourselves already caught up in a transforming story of a God who loves us and the world too much to leave us in the state we're in.
So choose your buzzwords carefully everyone, if you really want to be incarnational, purpose driven, organic communities of intentional living, grounded in a radical reformission and really want to invite people into conversation. That's how I would run a cell group. I mean home group. I mean life group. I mean story group. I mean coffee group. I mean bible study group. I mean connect group. I mean fellowship group.
Sam Burrows is an ex-Middle School teacher (he made it out alive) who is currently working in Young Adult ministry while completing a Graduate Diploma in Theology at Laidlaw College. In his spare time he likes to pretend to be a rock star and writes for enjoyment and in order to impress a potential wife.
Sam Burrows' previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/sam-burrows.html