Friday, April 18, 2008

Irrelevant church

Relevance is a preaching buzz word. I was reminded of its potency by a recent article,(Chicago Tribune April 16), about worship services at Relevant Church in Tampa. It featured "Day 21 of Relevant's 30-day sex challenge, aimed at helping married couples rekindle that sensual spark .." Apparently, the teaching is traditionally biblical though provocative - that's why it captured the headlines! This sex series clearly fits with this church's main aim to be relevant, and 17,000 have visited their internet site since this series began.

Yet, I find the word "relevant" dangerous. Of course, Christian teaching should cover every part of life, and the Christian gospel should be heard in ways that current culture can understand. If it comes across as irrelevant then it's not God's news. Can you imagine a church calling itself: the Irrelevant Church?

But the question is: who is it relevant to? Relevant preaching may easily start at Point B, with us. It makes God relevant to our lives. It fits a god message into fallen human-sized living. But what really matters is what's relevant to God? Begin with Point A. When Isaiah goes to worship (Isa. 6) he is confronted by God's holy glory. When Jesus preaches, it's for repentance and faith and a journey in his kingdom (Mark 1:14). It fits renewed humans into God's new creation living (2 Cor 5:17). It turns human living upside down by spiritual transformation into kingdom living. Beginning with Point B misses God's transcendence.

I have a troubling vision. I cannot imagine a church calling itself "the Irrelevant Church," but I think its possible God might call some churches exactly that! Any thoughts out there?


Anonymous said...

Hi Michael,

I agree that the word "relevant" has become more of a buzz word these days. It's funny because it was also a big buzz word back in the late 60's and 70's when I was younger-ish person. We used it "against" the established church people of our day - claiming "church" wasn't relevant to us! We wanted guitars in worship, not to wear ties, to be able to grow our hair long, and other things like that.

Today, there is even a magazine called "Relevant." I know because my kids subscribe to it, and love it! BTW - It's actually quite good - I've read it myself.

In recent months I have decided to find out what this "Emergent Church" thing is all about, since I really didn't know. I've been listening to podcasts, reading articles and blogs, and getting a sense for what it is all about. The "emergent conversation" uses this word "relevant" a lot also.

I can't really judge the motives of the Relevant Church and their 30-challenge. Did they do it to actually help married couples? Were they being "missional." Was it for publicity? Does a program like this make a church relevant? I'm not sure.

The dictionary definition of "relevant" is: "closely connected or appropriate to the matter at hand."

It seems to me that the word has two sides - as you've pointed out. What is "relevant" to us is often based upon lots of factors, many of them external, trendy and cultural. And so, what is "relevant" to God, may be very different than what is "relevant" to us.

Still, I think the "church" needs to take this "relevancy" issue into account at it tries to reach out to the culture around it with the gospel. I think it is part of what we must do to be "missional." We must learn the language and culture of those we are trying to reach. This includes making the gospel relevant in the understanding and culture of those being reached. Is this not what God did by talking on human flesh - he became relevant for us?

When we adopt this Incarnational mission model, becoming "relevant" to those around us may gain us a relationship, through which we can then introduce the One who can reveal what is actually relevant to God.

I believe that God wants to reveal how our desire for relevancy can match His, and in the process, we can experience life at its fullest. We can't get there on our own and we need help. We need the "church" to care enough to bridge that gap, to point people in the right direction, and for the Holy Spirit to do the rest.

Sadly, there are many churches that don't need to call themselves: "The Irrelevant Church" - because everyone around them already views them that way.

James said...

Great post Mike,

The title caught my attention (for obvious reasons), and this is something I've been doing a lot of thinking about. "Relevant" has become a buzz word, especially among the emergent churches (like Randal said).

I kind of regreat naming my blog "the relevant church," and I ended up sticking with the name due to lack of a better word. And my blog is actually going to be making a new shift in the near future (which you're being let into the secret by this comment) of changing to a new name and it's kind of on a new premise.... this new premise is built on the innovative church. I dislike the idea of being "relevant" because it implies jumping onto what everyone is currently doing and where the culture is currently at.

What if the church was so stinking creative and innovative that the word was like "woah! Look at what the church is doing! Forget Hollywood, and forget MTV. Lets be 'relevant' by joining the church in their innovation"? What if the church formed the culture because the church because the church defines what is "relevant?"

I honestly believe the church should be at the forefront rather than right behind everyone else.

Andrew said...

As a young pastor who's also just completed some research on Baptist ecclesiology and the missional church I have recently been haunted by the question "to whom are we first called to be relevant - society or the Triune God of grace revealed in Jesus Christ?"