May 6, 2006

relevance... overrated?

Why did the church ever buy into a lie that we have to be "relevant?" Maybe I missed something, but when did it ever become irrelevant to help people connect with God?

Yeah, yeah... I know what the real conversation and inferences of relevance mean. After all, I gave my life to Jesus Christ through a seeker-sensitive megachurch and honesty have nothing but good things to say about it. But what I mean to illustrate is that we so often feel as though we have to prove how "cool" Jesus is or how much we aren't like those crazy televangelists but are much "saner, hipper" Christians.

And so here it is as I see it... take it or leave it:

We are not called to be anything other than fully-devoted Christ-followers. Whether or not discipleship in itself makes us geeks or totally hip is irrelevant... we are called to follow Jesus no matter what it does to us or how it appears to the world.

Thankfully, the love of Jesus is relevant to all people. So maybe all Christians reading this might want to consider stopping all attempts to "market the message." Rather, let's holistically love God, authentically love others, and redemptively love our enemies so that we just might BE the church in all its glorious relevance.
"Don't be flip with the sacred. Banter and silliness give no honor to God. Don't reduce holy mysteries to slogans. In trying to be relevant, you're only being cute and inviting sacrilege. " (Matthew 7:6, The Message... um, yeah...)


Sandra said...

Great thoughts!

Cory said...

Ok. Good to see you fired up. Maybe not the way you intended but this particular post seems a bit angry.

So here's my non theological background take. We don't have to market the message but to be relevent is important. To me it seems like we need to figure out what being fully devoted to Christ looks like, because in Acts it must have looked pretty inviting to have the church explode like that. Now, it seems like being fully devoted to Christ means I have to stand at some soldiers funeral and protest. It looks like fanatics blowing up abortion clinics, it looks like a bunch of people wagging their fingers and looking down their noses at everyone else and condemning them for their actions when it is pretty clear not one of them has ever walked on water. It's reducing the relationship with the most Amazing, Holy, Powerful, Just and yet Loving Person and Savior into a system of do's and don'ts.

I think the challenge we face, is how we can show to the world using the same crap that gets shoved down their throats by the media and society, that says we're whaco's that there really is a God, that He loves us unconditionally, and desires us to have a relationship with Him. And when we chose to really draw close to Him it doesn't make "sense" and it may not conform any longer, but there is no place you'd rather be than there. Kind've like Narnia.

So bottom line. I still think relevence is relevent. :)

Tony Myles said...

Hey Cory... good check, and thanks for the accountability. I did post this after reading something on another blog that spoke to the issue of how the church is often nothing more than the loudest sales pitch in the room, seeking to tickle emotions instead of drench souls with living water.

So basically I think we are saying the same thing... maybe my words came out a bit raw. What I mean by relevance is that it seems as though we've bought into the idea that we have to somehow prove we're slick and cool instead of just being the kind of people God has called us to be (which, by the way, are people who love God, love others, and love their enemies). I don't know a lot of people who are looking for us to sell us a version of church that "isn't your grandparent's church" in as much as they long to be a part of a community that ministers to their physical, spiritual, emotional, and mental needs.

When we do that, we *are* relevant in the most biblical sense, without feeling as though we have to be relevant in a marketing sense.

Don't know if that makes sense. ;)

Sandra said...

Interesting comments between you guys. We've recently conducted a "poll" (which I, personally, didn't agree with) at our church consisting of questions that covered every area you could think of regarding "church life". One of the things I found interesting was the need for comfort from our folks.

Let me say, quickly, we have a wonderful seeking Godly bunch of people who want very much to honor their Father and serve in whatever way He sets before them.

But, deep down, comfort and convenience is a big issue.

So, here's my question...
As an example, say we put in a coffee bar somewhere in the church. A place where people can go get their favorite drink instead of the styrofoam cups of bad coffee brewed in the metal containers of the last 40 years...say that gets them there, finds them comfort somehow, and in the process they find Jesus and learn to have a deeper relationship with Him, is that wrong? (in the relevance discussion) Or, what if that gives them the final "thing" that displays hospitality so they aren't afraid to invite someone who also needs Jesus Christ...

I honestly don't know the answer. But I do think this is a society of convenience and comfort, and somehow we have to reach them where they are. After building genuine relationship, we can help them take a journey to where they need to be...

Maybe I'm off...but your thoughts interested me because we (and I think many churches) are wrestling with the same thing you've written about.


Tony Myles said...

Good questions... and to be clear, I'm all for building bridges with people of all spiritual backgrounds.

However, what I may not have been clear on is I'm not for building an entire movement or church on "relevance." We shouldn't make our primary question, "How can we please people" but rather "How can we please the heart of God?"

Granted, people are obviously on God's heart, and so building bridges culturally is what we do because it's what he does. For instance, we did a whole series on the life of Job but labeled it "LOST" and built it around the TV show metaphorically. Keep in mind, though, that the Scripture drove the messages... not the metaphor.

People are one of God's highest priorities, but then again... as Jesus illustrated... the glory of God is a higher priority. God didn't come to be relevant in a way that felt cool but to be relevant in a way that we needed him. So often it seems like ministry is about showing how right we are and how everyone else is wrong... kind of like what teenagers do when creating cliques. I don't know... maybe Christianity is less about us being right and more about Jesus being right in order to illustrate how much we are just guessing.

That said...

I have high respect for anyone - ANYONE - who chooses to engage lost people for Jesus Christ. I don't care how they do it... because they are doing it. I will never speak against that effort, nor will I question their Christianity.

However, I do question the choice of my fellow minister types who rely on marketing techniques as the primary tool. There's a difference between being creative because we want to honor the creator versus being creative for the sake of just being creative. Maybe I'm splitting hairs on this, but I feel sometimes like I can "taste" the difference.

If a coffee bar is going to reach your community, pray about it and see if that's what God is leading you to do. Don't do it because the church across town has it or Rick Warren recommended it. Demographic studies are great, as are looking at what other churches are doing. But ultimately, I believe we should do the things God is leading us to do and not because it makes sense on paper.

Because, honestly... when did anything Jesus did ever make sense on paper? Only in retrospect do we have this insight.

Sorry... just rambling, and I'm a bit off this weekend. Hope it came out okay.

Sandra said...

Maybe, because Jesus doesn't really make sense, do we struggle so much with trying to make sense of it all. Salvation, in general, doesn't make sense. Grace doesn't make sense. Forgiveness doesn't make sense.

We look at what we're trying to do as we "brain storm" in worship and staff meetings. Sometimes, as we continue to develop an idea somebody will be bold enough to say:
"this feels like a 'program'".

That's always the kicker that makes us step back and look at what we're doing. We don't ever want to be a program. We want to be genuine people trying to follow God and search out the other hearts in the world who need Him.

I agree with you in your thoughts. It's a very interesting and necessary subject. Thanks for sharing.

Carter Clark said...

so what is the basic message? the gospel is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow, right?

where we (the church) misses the point (great book by the way) is in the way we present that message. we need to be current with the way people learn & are impacted.

now with that said, i have never been one to hang a title or word to describe anything -- "the church needs to be more relevant." what does that mean?

i will not spin off on that. but i think i need to remember people are still coming to know Christ today - relevant or not.

Tony Myles said...

There is a great summary of these thoughts written by Donald Miller at this blog.