Renewing Our Worship: Authenticity

If you read the literature on reaching Postmodern people and young people, you’ll find a huge emphasis on “authenticity” in our worship. If you read older material on worship, you’ll find that “authenticity” is not a new concept. It’s just begun to receive a much greater emphasis because those outside the church have come to value authenticity so very much.

The first few times I ran into the word, I was perplexed as to its meaning in this context. I mean, an “authentic” Rembrandt is a painting by Rembrandt that is not a forgery. And so I took “authentic” to mean “not fake.” But no one has ever argued for fake worship or fake Christianity. I knew that those bandying the word about had something deeper in mind, but I struggled to understand what was being said.

Finally, I figured it out, not from church growth literature but from two stories I’ve been told.

First story

A friend was in a new town looking for a church home. On the recommendation of some others, he visited a highly liturgical church. This congregation enjoyed ancient rituals, and he found that he enjoyed worshiping in a church this way. But although he liked the people he met and the preacher, he wasn’t quite sure that this was the church home he was looking for.

Several weeks later, he overheard a conversation about the work some members were doing in the inner city with children in deep poverty. Later on, he learned about the congregation’s mission work in other countries. Eventually he learned that the church was highly missional and very engaged in evangelism and benevolence. But none of this was apparent in their worship. You see, the worship was so ritualized that it didn’t reflect the life of the church.

Second story

Another friend became disillusioned with his church home and went looking for a new congregation in his hometown. He tried several churches famous for their upbeat praise services. He loved the celebrative worship and the great music. But he found that the members weren’t friendly and they seemed to be there to receive an emotional lift. It was all very consumerist, and so they weren’t “authentic.”

Later on, he stumbled on a more traditional church. The worship was good, but not nearly of the quality of the churches he’d visited earlier. Nonetheless, the people he met seemed genuinely committed to Jesus. He came back for more visits.

One week, immediately after the tsunami hit Indonesia, they raised a large sum of money to provide relief to the victims. He was impressed. Then they asked for volunteers to go to Indonesia to provide medical care and rebuild the villages — and many members came forward to volunteer, including doctors and contractors. Now he was really impressed. Plenty of churches gave money. Only a few sent people. And fewer still sent members who took time from high-paying jobs to help devastated people in a Moslem country.

This, he concluded, was authentic. And he placed membership.


Ironically enough, what many of the lost are looking for from us is the same thing Jesus wants from us: authenticity.

In the context of worship, “authentic” means (a) that the church is about walking the walk, that is, actually honoring the commands of Jesus, and (b) letting that walk shine forth in our assemblies.

The appeal of the second church was that their assembly was not just a place to worship. It was also a place to do Christianity. It was a staging area for their attack on the Gates of Hades. It’s where the church encourages each other to very specific love and good works as the culmination of their worship.

This idea solves another riddle. Anytime anyone discusses the theology of worship, someone points out that “worship” is the entirety of our Christian lives. Nothing confines worship to Sunday morning. Some would even question calling the assembly “worship.”

And yet, it seems much more than traditional or cultural that we, as a body, worship God when we are together. Worship seems entirely natural at the assembly. Indeed, we’d struggle to imagine an assembly without worship — in the traditional sense of the word.

But when corporate worship becomes authentic, when it’s an extension of our Christianity outside the auditorium and preparation for further worship outside the auditorium, the theology works and the riddle disappears. There is little contrast between the church assembled and the church on mission. The assembly is simply a part of the church’s honoring of Jesus.

I conclude, therefore, that the assembly should always be connected to the life of the congregation in God’s mission. It’s a serious mistake, I think, to so ritualize the assembly that it’s the same whether the church is alive or dead. Rather, the assembly should be an intensification of who we are outside the assembly.

Which brings us to some practical suggestions —

* The sermon should often be about the vision and work of the church. For example, this month our preacher is speaking about the principles behind Celebrate Recovery as the church initiates a Celebrate Recovery (12-step) program. It’s great material, but it’s material connected with what’s going on the congregation’s life. It’s relevant because of what’s going on in the body, not just generically relevant.

* The announcements should not be a mere accounting deaths and sicknesses. They should also be tied to the congregation’s mission and vision. We should be talking about joining small groups, or volunteering at the Soup Kitchen, or whatever else will push us to be a bit more like Jesus.

* Testimonies therefore become critically important. We desperately need to hear stories about our fellow members’ encounters with Jesus. We need to hear how small groups or inner city ministry made a difference. We need our brothers and sisters to encourage us with victories from the front in the battle against Satan.

There are, of course, many other ways to bring our stories into the assembly. The point is that we should think of the victories God gives us, the stories God brings into our lives, as gifts from God to be shared with each other in the assembly. It just has to be a time of sharing by some means or other.

It can be as simple as letting the teens string 26,000 paper chains across the auditorium, so they can share with us their passion for starving children around the world. We should celebrate the fact that they’re coming closer to the heart of Jesus, rather than wondering if it’s authorized or what some sourpuss at another congregation will think.

It’s simple. We need to have a Christianity that is real, that changes us. And we need to bring that reality into the assembly — encouraging one another.

If we’ll do this, then should there be an unbeliever present, “he will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, ‘God is really among you!'”

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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5 Responses to Renewing Our Worship: Authenticity

  1. I have also struggled with this term "authenticity" until it finally hit me that a large part of my job dealt with proving the authenticity of a person.

    If the person was "authentic" then they who were they claimed to be.

    If I stand in front of the congregation, am I really who I show myself to be, or am I putting on an act for the congregation?

    When I talk to someone out "in the world," am I really who I show myself to be, or am I putting on an act?

  2. Joe Baggett says:

    You know my Grand Dad told me that the way a person behaves tells a much better story about what someone believes and values than what they verbally confess and profess. I think we have thrown this term authenticity around is different ways. The word Jesus used for hypocrite would probably be better translated “theatrical actor”. He told the religious people of his day many times that they were actors or hypocrites. What he was really saying to these people was “All you care about is doing everything in the right form and religious law but not in spirit. They were more concerned about how the Sabbath was observed rather than the condition of their own hearts. I’ll go out on a limb here but I believe this is analogous to what we would say is “inauthenticity”. The Pharisees that Jesus reprimanded were not fake people they were inwardly chaste and publicly pious. They though they were doing what God wanted them to do. They were very sincere and “authentic” there were not one person one day and another next. I think that the authenticity that we are seeking is similar to the Pharisees paradox. We think that we are doing what God wants us to do. We avoid anything that might appear as an “unworthy manner” to a degree that the Pharisees might find too much. We are super concerned about the format of the “Worship Service” and how it observed above almost everything else. We will ere on the “safe” side of any doctrinal argument regardless of how inconsistent the logical and reasoning is behind the idea.
    Testimonies require transformation. Transformation requires brokenness and confession.
    In addition to Jay’s suggestions I would suggest these things also.
    I remember going to a church once that had the wall of miracles. It was covered with pictures and written stories and collages of “testimonies”. It would take several days and ladder to read them all. It was updated constantly by the people who the story. They ranged from being cured of sickness to healing a broken marriage. But it was interesting because this church considered recovering from addiction and healing marriages to be miracles from God. I remember listening to preacher when he said not only did he believe in miracles but that he depends upon them.
    We must continue to study ourselves out of our legalism. It is toxic poison that will eventually kill a soul and even a church. It is the main obstacle on the road to authenticity.

  3. I have a mixed reaction to the use of the word "authentic." As I understand it, "authentic" means "as much as possible, just like the original." On the other hand, the word "genuine" means "the real thing."

    So I can understand a description of Christians as "authentic" disciples – as much like Jesus as they can be. But to describe worship as "authentic" sounds (to me) like it's just like worship; yet not quite.

    In that sense, I think we settle for "authentic" worship when we should be expressing genuine worship from the heart, mind, soul – and muscle.

  4. Jay Guin says:


    I love the wall of miracles! We need to consider borrowing that idea.

  5. Jay Guin says:


    Merriam-Webster defines "authentic" —

    To me, "authentic worship" is like "celebratory worship" — it's not the worship per se that's celebratory. It's the worshipers.

    Thus, authentic worship is worship by an authentic church — that is, people who are really walking the walk. And, like celebratory worship, the authenticity has to be manifest in the worship. Authentic worship is worship that reveals a congregation with the heart of the Jesus — worship that shows the church to truly be Christ-like.

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