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Home > 2014 > March Web Exclusives > Staged Authenticity

"Authenticity" has become a buzzword. It has become a mandatory addition to any version of Christian Conference Buzzword Bingo. (A game utilizing bingo style cards with overused words de jour in each bingo-space. Who can be first to score 5 in a row and declare "BINGO?")

Thirteen years ago, I attended a national pastors' conference. At the time I was helping with an emergent-style church plant and I was sent to plunder as many growth strategies as possible. I remember that "authenticity" was all the rage at the conference. Regularly we were told that the future of preaching required a new commitment to vulnerable communication. There were even break-out sessions that taught techniques of authentic communication—and at the time these seminars made perfect sense.

Much has happened in the last thirteen years. Culture has shifted significantly and so has religious rhetorical style. You could rightly say that authenticity—and even stunning vulnerability—have become normative in many Christian books, at conferences, and from Sunday pulpits. Pastors are admitting their unanswered questions. National speakers are operating from their brokenness. And courageous writers are opening their spiritual closets full of addictions, abuse, doubt, and shame.

But today, I want to try to do the unacceptable. I want to take a few moments to critique authenticity. More specifically, I want to start a conversation about speaking styles and techniques.

I know, I know, how can someone critique another person's expressed humility or passion? Well, I believe that we can (though at the same time I acknowledge the inherent danger in such a practice).

It is important to point out that I am not going to critique another's heart motivation when speaking (for the most part). What I want to do is ask some questions about the exchange of vulnerability. I want to suggest that true authenticity is a relational act. It is not enough for one person to intend to be honest and open; their words must also be received as honest and open. Much like love-languages within a marriage relationship, it is important to consider not only the ways that I like to communicate love, it is equally important for me to consider what ways best communicate love to my spouse. (For instance, I might like to give gifts but she may place greater value on quality time.) It is the same with the communication of authenticity, which you could say is a love language as well. Isn't it?

Our culture today has a very adept authenticity-antenna. This antenna exists because the rising generation is desperate for truthful honesty in a world which is otherwise virtual, shrink-wrapped, automated, plastic, and polarizing. Couple that with the fact that religious communication is not given the benefit of the doubt as it was in generations past. This leads to a culture that is parched for authenticity and yet ever-critical of religious techniques.

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Tony Kriz is a writer and church leader from Portland, Oregon, and Author in Residence at Warner Pacific College.

Related Topics:FormationHonestyPreachingTeachingVulnerability
Posted: March 18, 2014

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Displaying 1–5 of 5 comments

Tania Harris

March 19, 2014  4:40pm

As a Gen-X-er I share a lot from my own experience in teaching people how to hear God's voice (the basis of my ministry). It's always been my style apart from trends. The most common response to my preaching is that, "After today, I realise that I CAN hear God's voice." Authenticity powerfully makes spiritual experience accessible to others. Having said that, I completely agree with you Tony about the distortions to authenticity you've mentioned. When authenticity becomes a rhetorical device used for it's own ends we're in trouble! In fact the list you've given here makes me feel a little sick in the stomach, and I think listeners would be able to pick up on them!

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Jofre Perez

March 19, 2014  4:17pm

In a civilization that we live in, is there really such thing as authentic..? Nowadays much of our speaker, lecturer or motivator in most church seminar, training, or even conferences trained for this kind of craft and they do make it really impressive that the hearer accept just about every word. On the other hand, what makes it authentic if he/she made their speech perfect to the point that it wasn't even coming from their heart, and it's all about their poise or their material they're promoting. We lost anointing in teaching and preaching nowadays, instead we like good, impressive, sharp, eloquent speaker. When I say anointing, I meant words from the Word that will cut thru our hearts, that we'll be taking action in our wrong doing and there will be change taking place in our lives.

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Marshall Shelley

March 19, 2014  11:39am

Thoughtful material, Tony. It seems that this leads us to constant self-monitoring of how (we think) we are being received. Must I really be always self-aware? Can I not allow myself to be so enraptured by the subject, by the Scripture, by the truths I'm trying to present, that I am un-self-conscious? (Or do people not think that's possible anymore?) Anyway, that's my response to these "layers of personal authenticity."

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joseph anfuso

March 18, 2014  12:40pm

I'm most susceptible to the "vulnerable straw man" approach. Sharing truths that in times past have provided a degree of victory over personal struggles/demons is fine. But giving the impression that you've totally overcome these struggles--i.e. that you've "arrived"--is unauthentic. Good insights, Tony.

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March 18, 2014  11:23am

Nice article, really speaks to the responsibility teachers and speakers must constantly be aware of and I think helps those who do not teach understand the cost these men and women have willfully taken on. These acts of communication seem to require a constant evaluation of personal motives and "actual"goals. The demons of our self-aggrandizement must be kept at bay by prayer, self-reflection, and involvement in communities of virtue. I suspect we should also ask ourselves whether we are mere sophists, or "true" philosophers and attempt to cull the artificial techniques from our presentations...or perhaps even question the current mediums through which we try to teach. Very thought provoking article.

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