In church life, it seems we always desire to be relevant. We want relevant teaching and preaching with practical application. Relevant youth and children’s programs, and even relevant music. There is, however, a danger in always trying to be relevant – just when you think you are finally relevant, you discover you’re not, and that culture has already passed you by.
One great example is a book I recently rediscovered in my own personal library called “An 8-Track Church in a CD World.” The inside of the book is still relevant in a number of ways, but the title and cover might make you think otherwise.
The book was published in 1997, and within a few years people were questioning if MP3’s would replace CD’s. People wondered along the same lines when cassettes took the place of vinyl records.
The publisher’s desire to be relevant may have caused plenty of people to initially pick up “An 8-Track Church in a CD World,” but it certainly makes a reprinting in 2015 unlikely without changing the title. Trying to be relevant can, at times, result in a message losing any staying power.
In his now classic book In the Name Of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership (Crossroad Publishing, 1989), Henri Nouwen argued that one of the great temptations for Christian leaders is the temptation to be relevant. By trying to be relevant, Nouwen asserted that within Christianity, “many discussions […] seem more like political battles for power than spiritual searches for truth” (pg. 31).
I don’t know about you, but that sounds pretty relevant to me. As Christians we should pursue God’s truth in love above all else – above cultural fads, above political power, even above a desire to be right about everything.
So here are a few questions (for myself included): How are you pursuing God’s truth in your daily living, or in the ministries you are involved in at church? Do you talk about current events and politics more than the spiritual aspects of what’s happening in the world? It’s easy to claim that our opinions about hot button issues are spiritually driven – but are they?
Of course, we all want our ministry to be relevant to people’s lives (that’s what it means to live incarnationally – as Christ Jesus himself), but sometimes the most spiritually pressing issues may not be the surface issues we so often consider on the nightly news. We may readily talk about the evil and danger of ISIL, but one deeper issue is – how should Christians respond to persecution and violence in the world? Planned Parenthood certainly has practices which anger and break many hearts, but perhaps a deeper issue is – what value do we place on human life and dignity, and does that value have implications even beyond one’s feelings about abortion?
The one flaw in trying to be relevant is that we sometimes isolate certain issues, failing to see the connected whole. We can even lose sight of spiritual issues that run far deeper than evening headlines. So perhaps a good question for all is – what deeper spiritual issues am I failing to identify? As Christians, we should certainly stay abreast of the latest happenings and events in culture, but never without asking – what’s the spiritual side to all this?
There are, in my opinion, four primary dangers to obsessing over relevance:
- Obsession with relevance may cause us to forget that Christ lays claim to every aspect of our lives, and not just popular political issues. What about issues that rarely make national headlines?
- Obsession with relevance falsely leads us to believe that our “problems” are the most important ones in the entire world.
- Obsession with relevance can lead to seeking influence for the sake of influence. After all, it’s hard to be “relevant” without the influence of a public platform.
- Obsession with relevance means that talking heads and robed judicial appointees determine what the Church talks about, and not the Holy Spirit or the Gospel.
Confession: I have written numerous blog articles recently that are completely driven by the nightly news. It can be exhausting – trying to write articles or espouse opinions that keep up with the daily news cycle.
Sometimes our desire to be relevant clouds out deeper issues. The good news is speaking to deep spiritual issues that cut below the surface may actually make the church more relevant than ever. How do you balance striving to stay relevant with keeping spiritual truth in perspective? I would love to hear your feedback and ideas below.