I once read that the reason the world is dissatisfied with church is because the church spends too much time answering questions that no one is asking. That one hit me between the eyes. We have to be relevant…no compromising on that one.It is important that the church understands its own relevance in the world. There are a few things that will help us understand and communicate relevantly to a lost and dying world and to Christians who are trying to grow in their relationship with God.
1 – Relevance requires discernment. We have to be able to distinguish minutia from core/foundational teaching. There is a place to discuss minutia, just not every time, all the time and to whoever shows up. There is a place to discuss core/foundational teachings from scripture…the vast majority of our time with those who are willing to listen. Core/foundational teachings are by default relevant…otherwise they wouldn’t be core teachings would they? Now, we can communicate those things terribly and make them appear irrelevant. It takes great effort to do that but I have seen that done and probably done it myself. In the same way, a good communicators can take minutia and present it in such a way that it appears relevant. All that to say…we have to be relevant. In order to do that our agenda must be set with things that are relevant to those who come and my belief is that there is nothing more relevant than teachings that are foundational to Christian faith.
2 – The world doesn’t set the agenda as to what is and is not relevant. One thing we have to remember is that the world will always be the world. The world does not set the agenda for the church. God does through Christ and scripture. So while we have to be relevant to the world (salt and light) we don’t have to set our agendas based on what the world wants to hear. Dead people don’t know the way to new life otherwise they wouldn’t be dead long. That means they don’t always know the right questions to ask. What they might think they need to hear (itching ears) will not always be what they need to hear. They might not know something is relevant to them when it is exactly what they need. That is why Paul said, “the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Cor 1:18). So we cannot set our agenda based on what the world believes to be relevant.
3 – Relevance is countercultural. The truth is, what we most need to hear is not something we learn naturally. The way of Christ is not something that comes easily or lines up with the rest of the world around us. If we are just communicating things that soothe the world we are neglecting what is most relevant to them. We shouldn’t be countercultural to push envelopes and be edgy for the sake of being edgy. You can get a lot of attention and publicity that way. We have to be countercultural in areas where the world runs counter to God’s kingdom in order to reorient people to God’s way of doing things.
4 – New is not always relevant. One of the things that I drives us to discuss things that aren’t relevant is the search for something new. When you have been in church your whole life you pretty much guess you have heard it all. There is a drive for something new, something fresh…a new way of looking at the same old thing for the 5000th time. Preaching can feel like a burden to take something old and make it sound new or else pull some random story out of the bowels of scripture to shed new light on something (ever read the Prayer of Jabez?).
5 – Creative is not always relevant. That is why book and movie titles (and plots) are so terrible…if you have to come up with a new one after millions of good titles have already been taken, what do you do? You get creative. The Gospel doesn’t need our help. It doesn’t need our creativity to bring life where there is death. Certainly good communication seems attractive and can be quite powerful in how we experience the message…but what is most important is not all the packaging, wrapping paper and bows. The most important thing is what is inside the package, the core truths that are transformative. Creativity can be a mask for lack of relevant and meaningful content.
6 – Relevance is counterintuitive. The things we most need to hear are often not what we want to hear and run counter to everything else we have ever been taught. That is why Jesus said if you want to save your life you have to lose it, if you humble yourself you will be exalted and just because you aren’t honored by the world doesn’t mean you aren’t invited in as a welcome member of the kingdom of God. If you are worldly you shake your head at these things and deny them. If you have a desire to follow Christ, these things are transforming.