As messengers of the Gospel, we know we must be committed to delivering the timeless truths of God and His Word in a package that’s culturally appropriate for the specific people we’re engaging with. As youth ministers, the culture we’re most concerned with is the immediate cultural context of the teenagers in our ministries.
I talk about this concept a lot in youth worker seminars and workshops. And I talk about it within my own discipleship group. When I do, I find myself often resisting a certain buzzword. It’s a specific word that pops up in my head. When it does, I find myself searching for another word, a better word. But I often struggle because I find that it’s the best word for what I want to say.
The word? Authentic.
Is there a more buzzwordy buzzword than authentic? Everything from blue jeans to banks are “authentic” these days. The problem is that when a word becomes cultural currency it loses its punch. We become immune to its power because it’s been diluted. When everything is authentic, then nothing is. When words become buzzwords, they lose their ability to describe and inspire.
But there’s a reason why buzzwords are buzzwords: They reflect cultural values.
Countless cultural observers in study after study have shown that this generation of teenagers and young adults gravitates toward that which is authentic (be it an organization, a product, or an individual). And they are turned off by any appearance of falsehood or duplicity. (At this point it’s fair to question whether young people value authenticity because pop-culture has created and effectively messaged this value, or whether pop-culture adopted a value this generation of young people already possessed. It’s a good discussion. But maybe best saved for another time.)
As those people who are committed to leading young people closer to Christ, we have to fight to reclaim this word. Why?
Because there is nothing more authentic, truly authentic, than the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
I love that Christ is the originator of authenticity! I love that I can say to a young person who craves “realness” in the things in which they put their trust, “There is no duplicity in Jesus. No deceit. No angle. No trick up His sleeve."
Want a culturally timely and yet eternally timeless truth? There is no manipulation in the Gospel. No bait-and-switch. There’s no catch, no hidden agenda. The fullness of God’s revelation is laid bare in Scripture, both in the written Word and in the person of Christ.
More and more I’m convinced that we need to fly the banner of Gospel authenticity. When we faithfully show students an unobstructed view of Jesus, a view not blocked by agenda, personal hang ups, or bad theology, the authenticity of the Gospel rings truer for young people than any other message in their culture.
I believe this explains the willingness of the disciples to leave everything to follow Jesus. After all, they had virtually no understanding of who Jesus really was, and no understanding at all of the scope of His work. But they had been on the fringes of Jesus’ influence. They’d heard about this guy, this teacher. Maybe they saw Him heal, or heard Him preach. And when that incredible moment of tension came, that moment when He called them . . . they followed.
I think they realized somewhere deep inside them that Jesus was authentic. He was the real deal. Different from the rest. True. Right. Constant.
As we bring the Gospel to teenagers and young adults, let’s boldly point to Jesus as the literal standard of authenticity, and do it shamelessly.