Authenticity vs Relevancy
- rel·e·vant – adjective
- appropriate to the current time, period, or circumstances; of contemporary interest
- au·then·tic – adjective
- representing one’s true nature or beliefs; true to oneself or to the person identified
If you’ve been in youth ministry for even one day, you’ve felt the pressures of being culturally relevant in the communication of your message. For decades now, youth pastors have been filtering the Gospel through what’s currently happening in the world and shaping it from there. The more references to “Stranger Things” and Jaden Smith (if you don’t know, he’s blowing up right now) the better! It shows they care, right? It shows that they “get” the current generation and are therefore qualified to reach them. Still, their genuine care to understand the world can create a somewhat desperate cycle. These pastors take the Gospel and try to see how it fits in culture, rather than knowing how to adjust culture to fit within the Gospel.
The local church has shifted, too. No longer is it the central influence of art, music, and culture. Now, it always seems to be one step back, grasping for relevancy in a world that has become entirely free-flowing. Colleges especially exemplify this shift. In the 1800s, campuses had a church at the center. In the 1900s, it was a library. Now, at the center of our schools is a stadium. It showcases the shift not just in focus but influence.
If the church is to get back on track, we have to start at the youth level. Generation Z is on the cusp of becoming the first ever self-actualizing generation; they will be the first to define and decide who they want to be. No longer looking to previous generations for a worldview, they now look to peers. To Gen Z, relevancy isn’t knowing trends; relevancy is being unconditionally authentic as an individual. Again, going back to Jaden Smith, that’s precisely his message, and that’s why millions are embracing him on social media.
So, what am I saying? No longer can our focus as youth leaders be (or should it ever have been) finding relevant ways to communicate our message. This generation has become experts on sniffing out what is fake or forced. If you want to be received by your students, be the first leader in their life to jump towards true authenticity. Take your core beliefs and publicly showcase how they build your personal culture, rather than trying to find some minor connection between The Avengers and Romans 8.
Students are already developing their beliefs based on culture. Help them flip the script! Show them how a life built on Scripture is the answer to the limitless problems of which they are so aware. Never forget that vulnerability always leads to vulnerability. As you open up, they will open up to who they are. Authenticity eats relevancy for lunch, but it’s your choice where you want your efforts to go.
– Pastor Sam Grosso