The movie, Mean Girls, has become somewhat of a classic movie among many in my generation—one of those movies you can quote all the time.  The movie is a comedy portraying stereotypical events that go on in high school.  (A little disclaimer: I think many parts in the movie are funny, but not everything is appropriate)  To introduce my last part in this Millennial serious, I’m going to quote a scene from the movie.  Two of the main characters, Cady and Regina, are standing in the hallway of school.  Another girl walks by wearing a plaid skirt.  Regina says to her, “I love your skirt, where did you get it?”  The girl replies, “It was my mom’s in the 80s.”  “Vintage.  So adorable,” Regina comments.  As soon as the girl walks away, Regina turns to Cady and says, “That is the ugliest skirt I’ve ever seen.”

Mean Girls was a movie that highlighted cliques in society.  Millennials especially, but I think everyone hates cliques.  In my high school years, we had cliques because we were not all the same.  Yet despite our differences, we got along.  The last two years of high school we had a party where our whole class was invited—no one was left out.  We had about 115 kids in our class and I would say most of them were able to attend.  Here’s the point I’m trying to make—we understand our differences, but we don’t hide them.  We openly admit them and then focus on what we have in common.

For many of us, Mean Girls displays typical high school drama.  People belong to cliques.  People are fake.  They say one thing to your face and another thing to someone else.  They say one thing and do another.  We don’t like this.  We don’t like it when people are fake.  We don’t like hidden agendas.

What we do like is authenticity.  People are true to who they are.  What they think, say, and act are in agreement.  What you see is what you get.  There is no talking behind one’s back.  There are no hidden agendas.  Authenticity is being real.

My generation can pick fakers out of a crowd in every area of life.  Though we have little experience, everyone has tried to sell us something:

“While young adults want to be welcomed and loved just like anyone else, they also desire authenticity.  This generation was born into a marketed world.  Streams of commercials, billboards, Web sites, and reality TV are normative in the lives of the wireless generation. … They see through phonies because it’s plastered everywhere they go.  They can sniff out artificialness with hound dog accuracy.  Whether it’s an image, a lifestyle, or a product, they are constantly being sold something” (Thom & Sam Rainer, Essential Church, p. 38).

In order to reach Millennials, the church needs to be authentic.  We don’t want to be another group that tries to “sell” something.  We can’t and shouldn’t try to sugar coat everything.  A church is full of sinners who are washed by Jesus’ blood.  Perfection will not be reached until the other side of heaven.  That is the real authentic truth.  We don’t try to hide it.

Is the church fake?

Too often people in many churches try to act like they are perfect when they aren’t.  As I wrote in Part 4 of this series, many people think churches are judgmental and hypocritical.  Millennials look at many churches and see them filled with gossipers, people who have a better-than-thou attitude, and just downright hypocrites to what they say.  They don’t practice what they teach.  They are fake!

We all have been a hypocrite one time or another.  The word hypocrite actually comes from a Greek word which refers to an actor who wears a mask to pretend.  In plays actors would wear masks to hide their true identity in order to put on another.  At some point we can all say that we have worn a mask where we have betrayed our true self.

“We like to wear masks so we can tickle the ears of others with little repercussions.  We tell people what they want to hear whether we believe it or not.  At some point we’ve all played a part on life’s stage that we knew we should not have played.  Transparency does not come naturally.  It takes word to be honest with who you are” (Thom & Sam Rainer, Essential Church, p. 104).

As Wisconsin Synod Lutherans we can often come across as perfect people that belong to the perfect synod.  Many look at how we refuse to fellowship with church bodies that have couple different teachings that us.  “Oh, WELS, are the only ones that think they have things right.”  That reminds me of a joke that pokes fun of the WELS:  Some Christians just arrived in heaven and are being given a grand tour.  Everywhere they go they see happy people, rejoicing and celebrating with loud songs of praise.  But then, their guide leads them down a long hallway and tells them to keep very quiet. “Why?” the people ask.  That’s when the tour guide answers, “We have to be very quiet down this hallway, because all the Wisconsin Synod Lutherans are in that room, and they think they are the only ones up here.”  There is always some truth to jokes.  Sometimes we may be guilty of wearing that mask.

This is an attitude we should not have.  Instead we should admit that we aren’t perfect, but we strive not to compromise God’s Word.  I’ve heard it said before by a couple WELS pastors, “When we get to heaven, we’ll find out where the WELS was wrong.”  That is the attitude we need to have.  We must understand that we are imperfect creatures—body and mind.  Our reasoning is a gift from God, but it is also not perfect.  We must have the attitude that we understand God’s Word as he wants us to understand, but know we could be wrong.  The attitude in striving to understand God’s Word correctly as best we can is the attitude that God wants.  We can still be authentic in doing that.

How can we be more authentic? 

Pastor James Hein gives advice for a church who wants to reach Millennials:

“What they find attractive is authentic, meaningful, genuine passion.  As a church, you can neither come off as impassionate (cold and unaffected by your beliefs), nor as disingenuously passionate (emotionally manipulative).  You’re not a good enough actor to fool them.  You’d better truly care about what you’re trying to persuade them of, and your lifestyle of service, patience, and forgiveness to others better be backing it up.”  (James Hein, Ministering to Millennials: Part 3)

Pastor Hein brings up a good point.  The question we need to ask: Are we being authentic with ourselves?  Are we living as who we truly are?  Perhaps not.  So I give you two suggestions that I have come across.

Confess to one another

Be open with our faults.  People know we aren’t perfect.  So let us not act like we’re perfect.  Let us openly be who we are—a sinner who needs Jesus’ forgiveness.

At the beginning of every church service, we confess our sins.  But do we know those words so well that we are just rambling them off on auto pilot.  If that is the case, we need to ask ourselves: When was the last time we authentically confessed our sins to someone else?  We confess our sins to God in our personally prayers, but we often are very shy and embarrassed to confess our sins before someone else.

“Most Christian organizations create a culture that dissuades confession.  We create codes of conduct for youth that we either don’t live by or strive to live by without confessing our failures.  All this does is create a dissonance that eventually deconstructs into a hypocritical church.  Instead of policies that help sinners rebound, we create communities that isolate sinners…The Bible says we create a community of healing and joy by confessing our sins to God and to our brothers and sisters (see James 5:16)” (Kinnaman, You Lost Me, p. 215).

When we refuse to acknowledge or confess our sin, we are not being authentic with ourselves.  “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8).  True authenticity begins there.

Take the initiative on being open—tell your story first

It is much easier to reach out to someone if you either confess your sins or lay out your struggles for them to see.  They will be able to relate with you better because they realize you have problems too.  If you are real with young adults, they will respect you.

“When you’re honest with your story, when you share the truth about who you are and what you struggle with, you give others a tremendous gift: the gift of going second.  It’s so much harder to go first.  None of the rules have been set.  The boundaries have not been drawn.  The borders of the land have not been clearly marked, especially when it comes to Christian circles.  But that’s what we’re called to do, to throw ourselves on the honesty grenade.  To share and live the truth.  When we do, we give everyone the gift of going second.  It’s so much easier to go second.  You don’t have to perform or shine up your mistakes to look like a “real Christian” or a “good Christian.”  The monster of pretending to be perfect has already been laid to rest” (David Kinnaman, You Lost Me, p. 214).

Going first with your story is actually a wonderful blessing.  If you are open with someone about things your struggle with, the next person may be honest with their struggles as well.  That will give you a great opportunity to share what Jesus did with your struggles, your faults, and your sins.  He took them on his shoulders when he went to the cross—getting rid of them forever.  That is what Jesus did for them too.