Being Real About Being Real

Millennials value and promote authenticity. That’s one of the purported characteristics of the generation born from roughly 1980 to 2000, the last twenty years of the old millennium — the first generation to come of age in the new.

If it’s true that Millennials, in general, do indeed value and promote authenticity, I think it’s a spiritually healthy and hopeful sign, both inside and outside the church. The last generation that focused on authenticity also was the last generation to experience a significant spiritual awakening.

When the first wave of Baby Boomers (born from 1946 to roughly 1964) came of age in the late sixties and early seventies, young adults famously threw off all sorts of social conventions in pursuit of a more meaningful, authentic life. Some of those efforts were foolish and destructive, and still affect us today.

But also many showed a real spiritual earnestness and openness, and God responded powerfully. Millions of men and women found real love and peace in Jesus Christ. Today the cultural, political, economic, global, and church contexts are different for you who are Millennials, but your remarkable desire for honest, authentic, transparent living has similarities. It means God is doing something among you, and I’m jealous for you to experience as much of his grace and power as possible.

Being Real

The colloquial shorthand for honest, authentic, transparent living is “being real.” You want people, companies, and especially churches to be real. That’s a very good desire. Jesus, who is the Truth (John 14:6), wants us to be real.

But allow me to offer you a word of caution from experience: be careful not to merely adopt society’s definition of what being real means. We Boomers and Xers (born from the mid-sixties to late seventies) have repeatedly fallen into this subtle error. It happens easily, almost without thinking, which is part of the problem.

We formulate an intuitive, somewhat vague ideal of what being real looks like from our cultural influences, influences inside and outside the church. These ideals, if we don’t subject them to careful biblical scrutiny, can develop into flawed assumptions and expectations that we bring into our friendships, churches, and small groups.

When this assumed ideal of what real living in community should be like doesn’t match our friendship or church experience, we grow frustrated and disillusioned, and often either give up or go looking elsewhere.

There are a lot of jaded Boomers and Xers who still haven’t found what they’re looking for, because they’ve been looking for some imagined ideal of being real rather than the messier, harder way God has provided in the real, less-than-ideal community around them.

God’s ways are often not our ways (Isaiah 55:8–9). And the experience of being real that he wants for us is often deeper, broader, and more demanding than our ideals. Our ideals tend to be shaped by our limited experiences, temperaments, and preferences, which means they are often more about us than others. But Jesus wants us to become more real than we typically imagine. He’s after something higher than authenticity. He wants us to love one other (John 15:12).

Aim for Honest Love

Again, the desire to be real is a very good one. But if we aim at being real, we will miss the mark because we aren’t aiming high enough. We can be authentic (as in being honest and unpretentious), and yet not love God or others. But we can’t love either without authenticity.

That’s why God wants our aim to be love from a pure heart and a sincere faith (1 Timothy 1:5). Love demands more from us than honesty. It demands patience, kindness, humility, and gentle words (1 Corinthians 13:4). Love demands dying to our own expectations and the irritation and resentment we’re tempted with when we don’t get our way (1 Corinthians 13:5). Love demands forbearance, faith, hope in God for others’ growth, and, one of the hardest, a willingness to endure the long process of becoming real together (1 Corinthians 13:7).

None of us is fully real yet. We are all in the process of God helping us become real, like Jesus (Romans 8:29; Ephesians 4:13). He will complete this good work in each of us (Philippians 1:6), and he will use others to accomplish it in us and vice versa. The process and context he chooses to do this in and through us often look much different than our imagined ideal. It’s usually harder and takes longer than we expect. But his ways are better than our ideals.

My Prayer for You

Millennials, in no way do I wish your desire for authenticity to diminish. I want it to increase, and mine with yours. It is spiritually healthy, and as a generational value could be a harbinger of a new outpouring of the Spirit. I only long for you to avoid sacrificing love on the altar of your ideals, a mistake we, your predecessors, have made.

Perhaps the best way I can close is simply to pray a blessing on you:

Father in heaven, I am so grateful for my Millennial brothers and sisters. Their earnestness to live real honors you and is a pointer to your existence — that there is such a thing as ultimate Reality. I pray that their “love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment” (Philippians 1:9). I pray that they will “know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge [and] be filled with all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:19). And I pray that they will ultimately experience more profoundly authentic community than they have imagined and that you will use this precious generation that’s as big as (or bigger than) the Baby Boomers to make an even bigger impact for the global glory of Jesus Christ and the completion of the Great Commission. In Jesus’s name, Amen.