Authenticity—Is It Worth the Hassle?

<p>Even with the goal of seeing musicians' hearts in worship, <strong>the congregation just sees musicians’ public personas—their public selves.</strong> A person’s public self isn’t necessarily fake, but it’s always filtered to some extent. Because a public persona may be seen as fake, vocalists have to combat that perception if they want to convey authenticity.</p><p>But conveying authenticity is a lot of work! So <strong>w</strong><strong>hy not just focus on singing true words and forget the personal stuff?</strong></p>


“Authenticity” can mean a lot of things—as I’m using the word, authenticity is where leading musicians sing true words that convey their personal beliefs and and, in so doing, express their inner self.  For example, while singing the true words “Holy, Holy, Holy! Lord God Almighty!” the musicians convey their personal belief in the words and that they are truly worshipping God in the moment of singing.

(Some churches require musicians to be Christians on the grounds of “authenticity,” but that’s a different meaning for “authenticity” than how I’m using it. I’m talking specifically about conveying the reality of your faith in ways that other people can perceive, not just having faith.)

There are specific things musicians can do to appear authentic. For example, vocalists can use cry breaks, bent notes, and strained facial expressions. In some churches, relaxed/peaceful faces, closed eyes, and uplifted hands can also read as authentic.

But these common practices just indicate what may or may not be actually authentic to a musician’s heart.

The Problem: Persona

Even with the goal of seeing musicians’ hearts in worship, what the congregation just sees musicians’ public personas—their public selves. A person’s public self isn’t necessarily fake, but it’s always filtered to some extent. (Think of how we phrase things differently when talking with an older person versus a child or with a sibling versus a parent—it’s not that one version is better or truer than another, just that we show slightly different facets of ourselves to the people around us.)

Because a public persona may be construed as fake, vocalists have to combat that perception if they want to convey authenticity.

Strategies to Convey Authenticity

Besides the vocal tones and facial expressions I just mentioned, musicians who are highly trained may avoid any virtuosic seeming music so they don’t seem to be showing off.

As a related strategy, vocalists might only choose songs a congregation could sing instead of repertoire that only a soloist could sing. (Again, this helps them avoid looking like they are showing off.)

And the most important factor for musicians who want to convey authenticity is their connection with their communities (either of their local congregation or the broader community or denomination their local church is part of). When people in the congregation know the folks on the platform as visible members of their community, those musicians can minimize the appearance of a public persona and instead present themselves as authentic.

But why bother with authenticity in the first place?

It’s not a goal in many church services—for many churches, the truth telling is about singing words the church community believes to be true, and not about having a vocalist who conveys their personal beliefs about the words.

Given that conveying authenticity can be such a hassle (and, depending on your viewpoint, might be practically impossible to achieve)—why bother? Why not just focus on singing true words and forget the personal stuff?

Some churches have this goal of authenticity because of their beliefs about instantaneous (“born-again”) conversion. In this way of thinking about salvation, the reality of conversion is revealed by a convert’s transformed life—it’s the visible testimony to their changed inner state. Because of these teachings about salvation, testimony becomes an important value for everyone in the church. In church services, every leader has to have a personal testimony of being born-again and living a transformed life. Every leader who’s speaking or singing needs to be communicating from their hearts. Otherwise they are lying—they are personally sinning—and their communication will not be effective.  In other words, their ability to convey truth is directly related to their ministry in the church service.

All the hassle of conveying authenticity is worth it, if you believe that your testimony of being born-again could influence another person toward salvation.

But for churches and musicians who don’t believe in born-again salvation—and especially churches who take a more sacramental view of what happens in church services—what’s the point of having musicians convey their personal faith in a church service?

At best, it’s a lot of work with no guaranteed benefit. At worst, the focus on individuals’ personal faith distracts from corporate worship.

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