Authenticity and the New Evangelical Elite

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This is the first of a two or three part series.

We all appreciate consistency between the message and the messenger. We crave authenticity, because it is indeed in short supply in our superficial culture. A message rings true when the messenger not only knows the facts, but has experienced the truths he is expressing en carne propia, in his own life. It is the difference between a teacher expounding a subject that he has only learned theoretically in college, and a practitioner who comes back into the classroom after twenty years of on-the-job application.   Who do you trust more?  From whom do you learn more?  Most of us gravitate to the guy who has been there, who knows the challenges, joys and heartbreaks of day-in day out, real life lessons. Someone who is able to tell fresh, relevant stories that relate to important issues. A leader who has learned through failure and success.  One who is able to take the ingredients of empirical, proven truths and mix them up with complex relationships.  With imperfect, yet unique, needy and gifted people.  A pinch of flexibility.  A pound of patience.  An acceptable, albeit almost never perfect outcome.

Two aspects of life are, at least in my mind, nearly mutually exclusive.  One is teaching, the other is learning.  I do not mean that you cannot learn when you teach, because of course we normally learn more than we teach than our students do. What I mean is that it is extremely difficult to remain authentic and effective in a field in which we are not continually improving, updating, reinventing, creating. A dear friend, Keith, has been in the engineering and surveying field for many years.  Even so, he is constantly recertifying, upgrading, renovating and streamlining his business.  New state and federal laws are passed, and need to be adhered to, new equipment needs to be purchased and learned.  New computer software, once mastered, keeps his firm on the cutting edge.  Teach, yes, but then learn in the warp and woof of ministry. Get beat up a bit from the battle, because you are in the battle. Learn something more, or learn something again that you have forgotten. Then teach it. Again.

That brings me to social media and our evangelical superstar culture. I observe from afar, out of the country, out of the loop. But I do observe, because it is nearly impossible not to notice, not to be drawn by the lists of names that grace all the big conference venues. Suddenly, it’s cool to be in ministry, and it is especially cool to be a church planter.  As I was writing this I received a promotional email from a conference that promised to be “the largest gathering of church planters on the planet!”  Makes me wonder how many bi-vocational Mexicans will be there, how many Chinese house church leaders will risk their lives to fly to Orlando. Visit Disney World after the conference. The ministry, after all, is hard work. Buy your tickets now, because the event is almost sold out.

The speakers for this event are the new evangelical elite. I am sure they would be extremely uncomfortable with such a designation, but it would be difficult to argue otherwise. These are godly men, who live godly examples. At least one of them has expressed his desire to return to relative obscurity. The most popular conference speakers and authors push an agenda of simplicity, austerity even, of living with less, of living humbly. But this conference, well, it is just too good to miss. Imagine the impact I can have! Sure hope the attendees have not watched too many of my videos online, or read all of my books. My illustrations, the good ones, can be seen online, in that awesome keynote address I did last year. At that other really cool venue.

(to be continued)

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