Principle #8 (of 9): Authenticity

We’re moving through principles we use in our Sunday morning services so that we can “do” church for people who don’t like church. Today principle number eight: Authenticity.

When you have skeptical people walking in on a Sunday and you walk up to speak, they want to know, “Who is this guy? Why should I listen to him? Is he anything like me? Is he real?” They are cynical about you. You need to break that, and the way you do it is through sharing who you are. You need to share your journey. People need to see that you have a past, and that you struggle in the present, and that you have hopes, dreams and fears about the future.

You need to share your past. A few years ago I was talking about how difficult it can be to have intimacy with other people and how, for some, it’s because we’re broken from our past. We’ve learned not to trust. I told some stories about my abusive father. I shared one of my earliest childhood memories – the night I was awoken by my parents yelling downstairs. I ran down, afraid of what my father might do to my mother. I grabbed my father by the legs and tried to push him away from her. My father was embarrassed, and so instead of doing anything to her he went to her most prized possession, something her mother had left her when she died, and he broke it and stormed out of the house. And my mom and I sat on the living room floor crying together and holding this broken heirloom. So I told the story and later that week this girl named Jacklyn told me, “Guess what, Ed said he’ll come every week now!” Jacquelyn had been coming to Forefront for four years but her husband has come probably only four times, but he happened to be there that morning. When he walked out he told her, “Okay, I’ll come every week.” She said, “Why?” He said, “I didn’t know Vince’s father was like that. Vince understands me. I can listen to him now.” It turns out his father was abusive. Since then, Ed’s life has totally changed.

You also need to share your current struggles. A couple years ago I decided to lose some weight. My best friend is a real athlete, so he helped me with an eating plan and exercising program. I lost a lot of weight and one day my best friend said, “Vince, you look great. What’s your weight down to now?” I had weighed myself that morning and knew exactly what it was, so I opened my mouth and answered him, but the answer I gave was one pound less than reality. I lied to him. I don’t know why. I didn’t plan to. So two weeks later I was writing a sermon about how we tend to play God and one of the symptoms is trying to control people’s impression of you. I was thinking, “How can I make this real for people? Do I have any personal stories I could … oh no. Oh no.” I didn’t want to share the story, but that story is who I am. It’s the journey I’m on. So I shared it. I told my church I lied to my best friend’s face. I thought we’d lose 100 people. I could picture people thinking, “I don’t expect the preacher to be perfect, but I’d at least like one who doesn’t lie to his best friend!” But you know what happened? I had a bunch of people thank me! People told me, “Thank you for sharing that. I thought only I do things like that. Maybe there’s hope for me yet…”

We need to be authentic, to share our lives, and not just the things that make us look good. To not just be the dispenser of Bible truths and three easy steps to make everything better, but to be relevant to who we are. It’s the only way to overcome the skepticism.

Tomorrow, finally, the last of our nine principles (and it’s the most important one). Until then … wake up your imaginary friend, he’s sleeping.

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