Being Relevant

I just stumbled upon this post from Conversant Life: Friday Night Church & A Call To A Higher Standard. He says a lot of good things, including challenging the idea of relevance. I suggest reading it. I want to highlight this point:

I’d challenge us to quit using the word “relevant” all together when trying to define church. What would it look like to be a post-relevant culture? To stop playing catch up, to create rather than copy with the confidence that we have a direct connection with the greatest creator of all?

There was a time when I was all for relevance. Now, I’m really not sure if how much of American Christendom understands what it means to truly be relevant. I think that in trying to be relevant, the American church is making itself less relevant. Moreover, trying to copy popular culture, which by definition, is culture based on fleeting popularity, is just not a good idea. There are a lot of semantics involved in this discussion, and I don’t want to paint with too broad a brush, because really, it depends on specifically what a given church, organization, or person is doing to be relevant. So with that disclaimer, what does it mean to be relevant?

What do people need? Really need? Style may get people in the door, but substance is what keeps them involved. A life that isn’t just about them. Relationships with people who love each other. A God who is bigger than we can imagine.

I believe it’s important to UNDERSTAND culture. Culture is the context within which we communicate. If I, as a middle-class white American, were to move to inner city Denver, I wouldn’t instantly have shared meaning with people around me. There are a lot of things I’ve never experienced, wouldn’t understand, and even words that may have different meanings than I’m used to. How would I be relevant in that context? If I simply copied the culture around me and started to use the lingo, and did this before developing trust, that would likely make a lot of people cynical. I might even seem fake. I once listened to a pastor at a contemporary service who obviously was used to a more formal environment. He used an anecdote from the Spider-Man movie, and did so in a way that made me wonder if he’d even seen the movie. He failed to be relevant and to me, sounded like an idiot at that moment.

There are examples, though, of missionaries like Hudson Taylor in China:

The party donned Chinese clothing, notwithstanding – even the women missionaries – which was deemed semi-scandalous at the time. When other missionaries sought to preserve their British ways, Taylor was convinced that the Gospel would only take root in Chinese soil if missionaries were willing to affirm the culture of the people they were seeking to reach. He argued, from the example of the Apostle Paul, “Let us in everything not sinful become like the Chinese, that by all means we may save some.”

This is going beyond mere attempts at relevance to being incarnational. It’s letting go, dying to ourselves, taking the time to understand the culture of those around us, and involving ourselves in the lives of people around us. Do that, and relevance will be a byproduct. I realize, in saying all that, how hard it is to live that out. That’s precisely why we so often don’t do it and settle for creating a safe version of pop culture with a little Jesus thrown in where we can invite people on our terms. It’s easier than going to where people are at and being Jesus to them.

My thoughts on this are a work in progress. Am I on the right track or totally off base? Anything to add?