Authentic is a word I have heard and have used to describe church. However, when you look up the definition you will find the definition to be very specific. That is, something claiming to be authentic can be proven, such as what one would see on Antiques Roadshow, "this is an authentic 17th century vase" or" first printing" of whatever favorite comic book (or graphic novel, as you may prefer). However, we use this word for humans and human institutions such as church, and it is far from specific or able to be demarcated. So how do we know if we are moving toward authenticity as a person of faith and especially as a community of faith? I am not positive, yet when I have experienced it I have known it, such as when viewing art--you just know.
I believe that there are at least four signs that authenticity is close, which are the following:
Passion—is there enthusiasm, excitement, and optimism about the community?
Vision—can everyone concisely name what the community has and continue to discern what they are doing for God’s culture on earth as it is in heaven?
Mission—is the love discerned coming out as action and not simply good thoughts and feelings? Are there actual goals of the vision being completed?
Laughter & Tears—are the people in this part of the Body of Christ able to laugh and cry together?
These signs are important to the church but they are not the legalistic definition of authenticity. Probably the greatest sign you are on the right direction is if you are not worried about being authentic.
I remember during college going to the co-op coffee shop with two other great friends. We would drink coffee and tea and read and write (paper and pen), two to three times a week. We had no idea we were observed by anyone else, but one night a young person came up to our table and said something about us being cool, just being there visiting with friends and studying and discussing the topic of the evening. We were shocked at this individual’s need to say something, yet we were not quite sure if it was sarcasm or truly a compliment. That night we spent about a second discerning why this person shared with us and left quickly.
That story reminds me that authenticity is not determined by those outside, and that coffee house table of comrades was truly being authentic and did not let an outside observation, be it positive or negative, affect our behavior.
To know if we are being authentic, we cannot make that a goal--it is truly a sign of a healthy community or person of faith.
Is authenticity the goal, or the sign we are following the Divine?