Structure and Authenticity

Some people have been visiting our church lately. Checking us out. One of the comments I get is that they just love the authenticity that they feel. They see that people are really free to be who they are without fear of judgement. They get the sense that they are allowed to explore their own spiritual paths and discover their own ways of living out their faith. Some say that they are just searching and don't want to make any commitments in any direction, and they get the feeling that they are allowed to do that here in the context of a supportive, caring community who are partners in pilgrimage with them. They hint that they might keep trying us out.

So we'll see. My experience is that those with a long history in the faith or in the church won't last as long because, even though they love the raw, real authenticity, at some point they want to see expressions of spiritual authority, direction, vision, goals, structure, and some kind of a moral standard. Searching for the perfect church, they think they've found the solution to their disappointing church experience from the past. But when they begin to realize that they've only found the opposite of their previous church experience, they think that adding structure, authority and higher moral standards to this out of control congregations would make this authentic church experience better.

They are wrong. I've concluded that you can't have both. You can't have authority, vision, goals, structures, and higher moral standards along with raw authenticity. You can't. You have to choose. You can't manage people and expect them to feel free. You can't cast vision for a community and expect people to feel independent and autonomous. You can't govern people's ideas and life-styles and expect them to feel self-directed. You can't establish some kind of moral standard and expect people not to feel judged when they don't or can't comply. You can't lead people in a certain direction and expect them to feel liberated to explore their own paths.

The wine-skin story applies. Some desire new wine, but they might want it in the hardened, crusty leather of the old wine-skins. Won't happen. New wine requires new, supple leather that expands and stretches and moves in all kinds of ways. And this unpredictable, loose, unmanageable kind of non-structure is undesirable for many.


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