Mission Issues

Thinking and re-thinking missionary issues

Relevance and Uniqueness

I’ve just been reading a newsletter that someone had sent me. It is focussed mainly on church leadership. In the letter the author discusses the question whether it is important for the church to be relevant in today’s society. I know that I have, on various occasions, accused a church or a congregation of being “totally irrelevant”. However, the author warns that the desire to always be relevant may eventually lead to a church rather listening to what the world wants than what God wants. And he then ends the letter by saying: “In that case we’re actually saying: ‘Sorry, but I have nothing unique to offer you.’”
This got me thinking about the question whether a church could indeed become irrelevant. It seems to me that there should be a fine balance in the church between tradition, teachings and the way in which the church presents itself to the world. When I accuse a church of being irrelevant, I normally mean that they are clinging to certain (not necessarily Biblical) traditions, regarding them as of higher value than for example showing love to people in need. Or preaching only dogma and never coming to basic Christianity. Being relevant, as I understand it, is to interpret the Bible for today, in such a way that the age-old message of the Bible brings hope to those hearing the message, but without compromising the truth of the Bible.
What I hear the author of the newsletter saying, is that many churches, in an attempt to be relevant, opt to be dictated by the world as to the contents of the message it proclaims. Or, as we often see today, that churches start implementing every conceivable form of electronic equipment in an attempt to be “relevant”. And I am convinced that this is not what God intended. No, I don’t have a problem using electronic equipment. I used a video clip myself in church yesterday. But I do think that many people tend to misunderstand the meaning of being relevant. I’ve been in fairly “traditional” churches, where the message that was preached was totally relevant. I remember, as a student, that I attended a Roman Catholic Church service one Sunday with my classmates and I stepped outside surprised that the message which had been preached was more evangelical and more relevant than many messages I had heard in my own church. I’ve also been in churches which are much less traditional where the message meant absolutely nothing for people living in the 21st century.
The author of the newsletter says it well when he remarks that the modern person is sick and tired of trying out new things. All around us things are constantly changing. The modern Christian isn’t necessarily looking for new things. They are looking for something which appears to be genuine and not superficial. They are looking for something which they are willing to die for!
The Biblical message on a Sunday becomes relevant for me when I am willing to go back into my normal life on a Monday, knowing that I will die if need be, for the truth of the message I have heard. I don’t often have the chance to sit in a church while someone else is preaching, but when I do, this will probably become my rule of thumb: Am I willing to die for the message I’ve just heard?

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Monday, August 18, 2008 - Posted by | Church, Hope, Mission, Theology

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