“Relevant” … a cool new Christianese word that seemed to be popping up on the scene around 2005ish. There’s even a cool magazine by the name Relevant that aims at reaching this culture through methods familiar to them. But what is behind the word? Why is it so popular and at the same time so controversial? I believe the issue has to do with the very heart of the Christian mission is – spreading the Gospel and turning souls to God.
What’s The Problem?
The problem is when a church tries to be “too relevant” because they may, in their attempt to draw in unbelievers and keep them, water down the gospel so that it is more easily received and less offensive. But then you must ask yourself – if they hear a watered down gospel and choose to “get saved”, are they really saved? What’s the balance between not offending and presenting the saving truth of the Gospel?
No Pain, All Gain
I guess pastors think that if they preach the straight Bible that they will come off as too preachy and loose their attendance, or worse – their tithes (sarcasm)! It’s as if this visitor friendly message is the rebound effect of the “hell, fire and damnation” trend that filled many churches in previous generations. Now many churches preach “blessings, comfort, and prosperity” so much so that the issue of sin (which created the need for the Gospel in the first place) is not even mentioned! And if the preacher does not explain the existence of sin, and thus the need for a savior to forgive your sins than what are those converts getting saved for? An easier life? Prosperity? Social acceptance after hitting rock bottom? Is this true salvation if it’s purpose is not to be delivered from the very thing that keeps us from God?
Connect & Communicate
Basically the job of the Church is to connect and communicate truth. But what do we communicate, and how do we connect? We communicate the Gospel which contains the love of God, our need for salvation from sin, and our hope and redemption we have in Christ Jesus. How do we connect and communicate the message?
Any method that works unless that method diminishes the original contents of the message or leads to a different outcome.
So what are churches doing in hopes of grabbing the attention of those unchurched or unbelieving that visit their church?
Here’s a few that I thought of:
- Rock style worship or contemporary music that is musically driven rather than lyrically driven (as hymns were).
- Church facilities that accommodate the lifestyle of the world – comfort, style, coffee, doughnuts, video games, and wireless internet
- Cool graphics and videos scattered throughout the service
- Adding comedy to sermons and games to break the ice (youth groups)
- Sculpting sermons that are focused on the bettering of your soul and Earthly life
- Refraining from mentioning controversial or offensive Biblical topics such as homosexuality, secret sin, hell, demonic activity, angels, healing, speaking in tongues etc.
- Use of secular music before or after service or being played by the band
- Use of curse words on the platform
- Acceptance of Christianity as just another world religion that truthfully leads to God and it’s own form of salvation
You may have noticed that the repercussions of each point increased as the list proceeded downwards. It may have even shocked you that curse words would be used by a preacher or that other religions would be seen as an equal to Christianity within the Church. But these things are real and happening right now. I do not have a problem with the first four points but even with those things they must be kept in check and done for the right reasons.
Preference vs. Principle
Now on the flip side of things there are many churches (of the more religious or conservative groups) that say there should not be anything that sounds like rock music, close to no technology present in the service, and nothing but pews to sit in. Their reasoning is that the alternatives are “too worldly”. The result of this is that they loose the attention or interest of the people who were not raised singing hymns, using no technological help, or enduring the potential discomfort of the pew.
What these churches are doing is making a personal preference in to a principle and then they use obscure or generic scriptures to back up their point.
In 1 Corinthians 7 Paul does an interesting things, he voices his own personal opinion, but he states that it is his opinion and not a command from the Lord. This is so that the Corinthians don’t get in to error or division with other churches over a preference that they believe to be a principle. We distract ourselves with unnecessary rules and obligations when we make preferences in to principles.
So the result is a church that only communicates in the ways that long time Christians understand and appreciate, leaving out the needed relevance to welcome new believers, non believers, or young people foreign to the Christian culture. They feel left out, bored, tired, and unwelcome. This is what we want to avoid by making sure out churches are reaching and connecting with young or unsaved people.
These same churches may have also been reluctant to make ANY changes in their churches for the past 60 years, and with that I have a problem.
A huge problem with the race to relevance is that some pastors who are visitor friendly believe the Gospel message is no longer relevant to their audience. With this view the leader reasons “well than, I have to change the message I’m delivering so what does this culture want to hear? Whatever they need is what I’m going to aim at and preach so that they stay happy.” However, the culture today is an evil one that seeks their own carnal desires. What we want is not always what we need. The result of all this is that many preachers (definitely not all) change their message in to one of prosperity, comfort, and ease because this is what people want to hear about and the Gospel is out of date (in their mind).
However, Truth is immortal, it never dies, changes, or corrodes. The same goes for the Gospel: humans are still as sinful as we were in the 1st century, we still need salvation from our sins, and we still need God to encompass our whole life. God is the only thing that was finally satisfy us.
The only difference between people in Bible times and now is this: we have electricity! So let’s make sure we have the right mindset about being relevant to the culture today.
It’s not the original message or mission of the church that has grown out of date or irrelevant for our culture. It’s our culture that no longer knows what they really need. They are jaded by what the culture has fed them as good and satisfying. However when we come in to the kingdom of Christ we must leave behind these old preferences, desires, and outlooks on life and adopt a Christian perspective on these issues.
Primarily, they don’t need more money in the bank, they don’t need relationship counseling sermons, they don’t need “you can do it” messages, or justification for their problems and faults. They need all of God to fill all of who they are and the only way this will come to be is if people hear the true and full gospel and accept it and then act on it.
The challenge to be relevant is to present that saving Truth in a way and a language that helps the listener personally grasp the weight and truth of it all.
Relevancy In The New Testament
Jesus and the Disciples knew they had to be relevant and communicate in ways that the listener understood what the heck they were talking about. Jesus spoke in parables about spiritual things yet he used common themes in the stories such as farming, debt, virgins, employment, olive trees, thirst, and human relationships. The Apostles were also relevant in their attempts so spread the good news of Christ to the nations. In Acts 17 Paul is talking to the people of the city of Athens, he acknowledged their religiousness to their many gods and in his sermon to them he quoted their pagan poets. These poets were Greek and not Christians, they had likely writing about their gods such as Zeus, yet Peter quoted their poets whom the people understood and used it to portray a spiritual truth. In The same chapter Paul mentions an altar that is titled “to the unknown God”, Paul turns this around on them as well and uses it as a prop to explain the truth of the One God. This would be the equivalent to using the lyrics of a secular song that your audience may be very familiar with, or using a scene / plot of a secular movie in order to portray the Gospel message or some aspect of it. This is being relevant to your audience, using Christian or spiritual words is ineffective because your audience likely does not know what you mean by those words.
These are excellent examples of the truth of God being presented in a creative and resourceful way so as to communicate effectively to a set group of people. Other tools that may be used are dramas, music, art or film.
*For a good laugh check out Ignatious The Ultimate Youth Pastor