Tension: Raw vs. Refined

Tension: 1) The act or process of stretching something tight. 2) The interplay of conflicting elements.

swaggart_621Is it possible to package authenticity?

Can you manufacture a sense of honesty?

Do excellence and realness ever really happen at the same time?

Why do so many church leader types seem so plastic?

Ever been to one of those churches with the “shiny happy singers”?  You know the ones . . . at the beginning of the service they come walking from backstage and sing some upbeat ditty about how life is so much easier with Jesus.  They are wearing coordinated outfits and nail every line of the song perfectly . . . as they reference the video monitors on the floor with the lyrics.

Why does that make me want to throw up just a little bit in my mouth?

Have you ever been to a church service where the pastor dude walks up at the appointed time for his message . . . glances from one side to the other . . . put’s down his notes and says “I’m not going to use the message that I prepared this week because I think I need to say something else.”

Why is it in those moments I’m kinda fearful of what happens next?

There is an inherent tension that we live in between being raw and authentic while at the same time wanting to maximize the gifts God has given us.  Holding these two tensions is not easy.  Raw vs. Refined.  Authentic vs. Polished.  Real vs. Idealized Vision.  Now vs. Not Yet.

Jumping head long in either direction and not feeling this tension is a disaster.

How are you living in this tension?  What side of this equation do you feel that your community naturally errs on? Leave some comments now!


  1. Rich, I will deal with 2 of your points. Your opening question, “Is it possible to package authenticity?” reminds me that I saw an interview once (years ago) with a ‘method actor’ who said he was taught that once you could fake authenticity, everything else in acting is easy. From years of involvement with a ministry, where I was part of a team counselling pastors and other church leaders, a recurring theme was how to be authentic without hindering the walk of the followers were any lack of perfection to leak out. IMHO, a more perverse heresy than even the prosperity gospel.

    And when you mention your misgivings about pastors discarding their prepared sermon (and your fearful anticipation), I thought of two things: (1) how long it’s been since I was in one of those settings; and (2) how I was torn when I was the (associate) “pastor dude” knowing that I was supposed to throw away what I had prepared to speak to deal with something else (usually something I had paid cursory attention to during sermon prep that week). Although more often, it came about that a prepared illustration or anecdote was thrown away for another, usually less refined, much more illustrative vignette.

    Given the Biblical mandate to prepare and equip the congregation to do the works of ministry, what kind of parallel universe are we preparing them for when we model refined and polished? How true to the Biblical mandate is that?

    Now if I could only find the community congruent with this…

  2. To say that there is an authenticity gap in leadership today (Governor Mark “Family man hiking in the mountains but really in Brazil with my lover” Sanford, Climate Change Crusader Al “My house burns 100,000 btus a day” Gore, Canadian Healing Machine Todd “I interview angels while laying with my Other Woman” Bentley,etc,etc,etc) is to run the risk of making the very last person in the auditorium nod off from “been there, done that” syndrome.

    Why do ministry types seem “plastic”? The best answer to this that i have read is from Tim Keller in his book Reason for God. In basically his 2nd last chapter where he spends about 20 pages apologizing for the types of churches and Christians that unbelievers who might read his book, come to faith and then visit a nearby church, will encounter. He notes that it shouldn’t be unusal to find more especially hurting and messed up people in churches… given the very nature of the gospel. You have to sense your need for a change and by definition be messed up in the 1st place… to actually think that church and God could be an answer for you. Couple this then with “zeal of the converted” phenomena so common and integral to most communal experiences (think of church as a room filled with “take no prisoners” AA sponsors) and you have a very volatile mixture of unstable people with very high expectations of others… particularly their leaders.

    Hence any crack… any backsliding… any poor behaviour… is met not with the grace that the messed up people in the pews have found through Christ… but rather with the wrath of the converted that have discovered an infidel among them. (Ever had your AA sponsor come down on you for not checking in on Friday and Saturday nights?)

    Hence… given the choice between selling insurance and being plastic to keep the wolves at bay… lots and lots of leaders chose to put on the smile and practice what has been called “public piety” by an actual elder in a actual church i was part of an interview for. We want you to be “very publically pious” was the actual quote. Perhaps it was my fallen nature rearing up, but in my mind I immediately thought of Jesus’ words… “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean.”

    Instead of saying that though… i smiiled broadly… set my shoulders straight… looked at him slightly off centre and said… “Well it is important to said a good example…”

    1. Did you see the HBO special about Ted Haggard?

      Love the moment when he says he’d never go back to the “double life” again . . . that when it’s all said and done being out in the open is a better place to be.

      A worth while movie to watch if you can.

  3. I did not see The Haggard movie… is it on The Youtube?

    I did read the over 500 page I Was Wrong by Jim Bakker. Rambling and infuriating at many points… but sobering for anyone wanting a relatively “no holds barred” peek behind what and who makes big buisness ministry REALLY happen in North America. Sorta kinda wanted to take a shower after each crack at reading it though.

Leave a Response