Thursday, April 18, 2013

On Being Relevant

How important is it for the Christian church to be relevant? What are the underlying concerns?

We need to preserve our message. Christianity has a definite message to communicate (Galatians 1:8,9; John 14:6; Acts 4:12). If we change this message to be relevant, we become irrelevant in the strictest sense of the word. If we have nothing to tell people that is not different from what they have always heard, what is the point of the whole thing? The Christian message is: God has invaded history (John 1:1-18; Philippians 2:5-11; Hebrews 2:9-18) that He might pay the price for the wrong things we have done (1 Peter 2:24,25; Colossians 2:13,14; 2 Corinthians 5:21), resulting in forgiveness and life forever with Him being offered to those who will rely on Him for it (Ephesians 2:8,9; Romans 4:4,5; Philippians 3:9). It is not a moral system, though it has implications for our moral behavior. Rather, it says our moral behavior is not good enough and we need God's forgiveness (Galatians 2:21; Romans 3:19-31; Titus 3:5,6). It is not a self-help program to show us how to improve our lifestyle, though it has implications for how we live. Rather, it says we will face problems in this life but can trust God to bring us through them (John 16:33; 2 Corinthians 4:17,18; Romans 8:18-25). It is not a mystical experience, though it affects how we regard life. The fact that we know God results in our experiencing life in a new way (Jeremiah 9:23,24; John 1:18; 1 Peter 1:8). Now the Christian message is strange from the world's point of view. If we are not clear, we will be understood as teaching one of these other things.

We need to love people. This is God's command (Matthew 22:36-40; Romans 13:8-10; Galatians 5:13,14). It is not enough here to put on a superficial veneer of relevance. We need to genuinely reach out to people where they are and meet their needs (James 1:27; 1 John 3:17; Galatians 6:9.10). Now part of loving people is communicating to them where they are at in a way they can understand (Colossians 4:6; 1 Peter 3:15; 2 Timothy 2:24-26). Genuine love does not necessarily mean telling people what they want to hear, but what they need to hear. But we must do it in such a way that they comprehend it and are not driven away by our manner of approach. But we also need to be completely honest and not sell people a bill of goods (1 Thessalonians 2:3-5; 2 Corinthians 2:17; 1 Peter 3:10). We accomplish nothing if we do not convince people to have a genuine faith in what we have to say. Therefore, if by relevance we mean reaching out to people where they are at, with the genuine message, in order that they may understand and receive that message, it is a good thing. But if it means manipulating people into becoming superficial converts, it is wrong.


  1. The message must stay true to the scriptures but the method must always be relevant to the one who hears the message. Here is an example.

    A few old folks complained that the pastor had jeans on for our Easter morning service. Yet many homeless folks from the mission (we are a downtown church) and other young visitors were made to feel comfortable by his appearance.

    The pastor was not using his appearance that morning but just being himself - and that came across clear to most. In a sense he was relevant simply because he was himself.

  2. I remember how I groused to God in the late 1990s when the worship music at church began to change. He reminded me of how the older folks in the 1970s loved hymns but sang praise choruses because those songs attracted younger folks like me. Sometimes we older folks need to embrace relevant change to love our younger friends. And it turned out that I began to like that music once I gave it a chance. :)

    1. I understand this issue well. I was a country boy who grew up hating Rock and Roll. Then God brought me to the point where I realized that this is the music most people were used to and if we were going to reach people we needed to reach them through music they were familiar with. So I made the transition and now I like Rock and Roll. Sometimes it is just a matter of getting beyond your prejudices.

  3. "getting beyond your prejudices"

    Well said Mike!