Friday, May 26, 2006
Thoughts on Relevance
I've been thinking a lot about relevance, and to what lengths the church should or shouldn't go to be relevant to the world. It seems that much of the church in America is trying hard to be cool and fun and attractive, but is it watering down the Gospel? What are people being attracted to? If they want good music and entertainment, there's plenty of that elsewhere. Inspiration, self-help, humor, support groups, and good coffee can be found many places. And while there's nothing wrong with these things, there's nothing uniquely Christian about them either. Any business, club, religious group, etc. could, and does, do them to attract customers, adherents, or members. What people need is Jesus and the hope, healing, and salvation that He alone can give. There are lots of country clubs, but there is only one God who died to save us, who calls us to repentance, who freely gives forgiveness and bestows eternal life.
I want to make it clear here that I'm making a distinction between corporate worship, which I believe is what's supposed to happen when we meet together as a body, and evangelism, which should be happening in our relationships with unbelievers. When we go out into the world, I do think we should be relevant, meet them where they are. Paul said he became all things to all men that some may be saved, but that was a starting place: he also determined to know nothing among them but Christ and Him crucified. Maybe the problem at the heart of this is that we've lost a sense of mission. We expect the lost to come find us, join us on a Sunday morning, and be comfortable "checking us out". But aren't we supposed to go out into the world, find them, love them, give them a glimpse of Jesus, and hope and pray that the Father will draw them? Maybe if we stopped thinking about evangelism in terms of a program or event and started thinking about it in terms of relationships with the people we cross paths with things would be different. If our corporate experience of worship is truly one that is focused on God Almighty, and not on our needs, then we should be strengthened, our spirits nourished, and equipped then to go out and live as those who bear the light of Christ to a dark world. If our lives are characterized by joy and love and peace- the fruit of the Holy Spirit of God in us- won't that be attractive to the world?
Here are what a few others have to say on the matter:
Eugene Petersen "When you start tailoring the gospel to the culture, whether it's a youth culture, a generation culture or any other kind of culture, you have taken the guts out of the gospel. The gospel of Jesus Christ is not the kingdom of this world. It's a different kingdom."
"I think relevance is a crock. I don't think people care a whole lot about what kind of music you have or how you shape the service. They want a place where God is taken seriously, where they're taken seriously, where there is no manipulation of their emotions or their consumer needs."
Os Guiness "Worship is for the Lord and his people. It isn't primarily for seekers, although we suddenly take them into account."
"I love C.S. Lewis's idea of resistance thinking. He said if you only adapt the gospel to what fits your times, you'll have a comfortable, convenient gospel. But it'll only be half the gospel. And it'll be irrelevant to the next generation. Whereas, if you follow resistance thinking—or looking into the gospel for things that are difficult, obscure, or even repulsive as he says—then you're true to the whole gospel. And secondly, you're relevant to any generation."
Marva Dawn "Nowhere in the Bible does it say, "Worship the Lord to attract the unbeliever." Nowhere! We worship the Lord because God is worthy of our praise. Instead, the Scriptures frequently tell us that we are witnesses. Evangelism happens in our daily lives, our regular encounters, our simple conversations and carings (or at evangelistic events which have a focus different from that of worship)--in order that we can bring others with us to worship God.....Worship is the language of adoration addressed to God and the language of God's instruction to equip us for life and witness. Good worship will be evangelistic, but that is not its purpose, for worship is directed to God as its subject and object. Good worship will both nurture the character of believers and the community and also form us to be the kind of people who will reach out evangelistically and in service to the world around us."
Ryan Bolger "The worship service is no longer an evangelistic service for outsiders but a space to practice heaven for a period of time, facilitating the offering of the community life to God in worship. If a guest of the community finds God in the service, all the better, but this is not the focus. Mission happens in the 'world' in the world formerly known as secular, on their 'turf' -- not ours. As servants, the Christian connects with the seeker through service in their world."
Frederica Mathewes-Green "The well-intentioned idea of presenting the appealing, useful side of faith fails, I think, because it doesn’t question deeply enough the basic consumer ethos. The transaction that takes place between a shopper-seeker and the goods acquired (groceries, furniture, the key to the meaning of life) is one that leaves the seeker in control, in a position of judging, evaluating, and rejecting the parts he doesn’t like. But entering faith is more like making a promise or beginning a marriage. It involves being grafted into a community, and requires a willingness to grow and change. If it didn’t, if it merely confirmed us in our comfortable places, how could it free us to be more than we are?" (From At the Corner of East and Now)
Brian Kay "...the Church will be most provocative and alluring when it is being itself, being who God has constituted it to be, that is, being a mini-society that proclaims the Person and work of Christ, and imitates his sacrificial service. The Church will be least relevant when it is caught in the act of reinventing itself to gain more friends. I remember as a teenager that the surest way to get me to avoid a Christian event was to show me a flier promising "cool music and awesome teaching." That meant that for sure the music wouldn't be cool, and the speaker would be more aware of himself, or me, than of God."
I have a lot of thoughts about this, and a lot of questions. How much should the church change with the culture? To what extent should we try to be seeker-friendlly? It seems that too often God is presented as a commodity to be bought and sold, someone who can meet needs better than any other. But isn't the basic human need salvation from sin and restoration of fellowship with God? Isn't that the one thing that we can offer that no one else can? God is Truth, and He is to be worshipped as such. I know there many facets to this issue, and I certainly haven't touched on them all. Have we, as Eugene Petersen said "taken the guts out of the gospel"? Am I wrong in making a distinction between what happens on a Sunday morning (or whenever the believers gather) and what should be taking place in our lives in the world? What is the place for "culture" in the church?
I'd really like to hear what other people think on this issue because it's a huge thing facing the church today. My hope is that this will generate some discussion. So please leave a comment whether you agree, disagree, or just want to throw your opinions into the mix!