What Makes a Church Relevant?

Yesterday I met with a group of pastors to discuss how we can be “relevant” as churches. There were a lot of ideas brought forth in our discussion and I don’t intend to regurgitate everything that was said. What I would like to do is share with you where I landed in this whole discussion.

Obviously “relevance” is one of those buzz words that is often tossed around today. Most people want to be relevant and that includes pastors and their churches. But how do we find relevancy? How do we speak to a culture that would rather not give us a voice as Christians?

In the recent past, churches have tried to remain relevant by being “cutting edge.” One example of this is worship music. In the 70’s and 80’s, many churches changed their style of music so that guitars, drums, keyboards, etc. became a regular part of the Sunday morning worship service. Countless “worship wars” were fought on this front and it’s still a touchy issue in certain churches, even to this day. I am not here to tell you that one side was right and the other wrong, but simply to note that the introduction of “rock n roll” and bands like the Beetles no doubt played a part in this shift. People asked; why should church music be boring when the songs on the radio are hip and groovy? And so the ball got moving and a worship music transition was underway.

I will never forget one of the classes I took in college. The class was called “Understanding Today’s Youth Culture” and what we learned during that week of classes can be summarized in one sentence. If we are going to understand today’s youth culture, we must enter into the culture. Seriously, that’s what the class was all about. We were instructed to watch the same movies, listen to the same music, play the same video games, and so on. We were actually assigned a movie to watch during class time. My group ended up watching a terribly vulgar and disturbing movie that was not at all pleasing to the Lord. Yes it’s true – I actually paid money to take that class.

You know and I know that we don’t need to immerse ourselves in the culture to know that people are hurting today and in need of the Lord. Being relevant does not mean we do all the things the world does. Rather, the best way to be relevant and to speak to the world around us is by living holy lives. As the apostle Peter tells us:

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation” (1 Peter 2:9-12).

The best way to be “relevant” is to live lives that are set apart unto God. When the people of God truly love one another and serve the world around them, it becomes clear that the Spirit of God has done a work in their lives. People will take notice simply because that type of lifestyle is so rare these days. Wow! Those Christians actually love one another. Wow! Their lives are actually different and praiseworthy!

Just to be clear, I am not suggesting that we tenaciously cling to the “old ways,” whatever the old ways might be. All too often the only justification ever given as to why we do something is simply “we’ve always done it that way.” If that’s the only reason you can come up with, then it’s not good enough. But I am also not suggesting that we do everything in our power to stay “cutting edge.” Often, the tool or the technique that you think will make you relevant today will probably be obsolete 6 months from now. That’s just the reality of our world. Try as you may, but there will always be another church down the street that is more cutting edge and hip than your church.

Jesus said, “In the same way, let your life shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). So what makes a church relevant? The answer lies in the people of the church and the character of the lives they lead. A life that shines is a “relevant” life. I guarantee you that a life transformed by the power of Christ’s gospel will speak to this hurting world. And no matter how hard the secular world tries to muzzle our voice and influence, they can’t deny the way we live.

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