Relevant does not mean watered or dumbed down to fit the culture. Sadly, that’s what many of the fire and brimstone self-appointed guardians of the faith have claimed and aimed their prohibitive preaching at over the last half-century. They’ve done such a good job that a majority of the church is at least 25 years behind the times in technology and methodology. No other section of society can afford to be so out of step and survive. Once an organism loses its ability to change or adapt or remain cutting edge—it ceases to exist. Sections of the church are dead and don’t even know it. They have become non-relevant or not applicable to the world we live in.
Before you get the wrong idea, I believe the message of the Gospel never changes. I am, as Jude so aptly put it, a contender for the faith, which was once for all delivered to the saints (v. 3). The Scriptures are God-breathed. Therefore, I believe they are 100% inspired, infallible, and inerrant. I just happen to believe God’s Word is also relevant at all times to all cultures in every generation. My task is to find ways to communicate its eternal truths so that anyone can respond.
The biggest culprit is preaching one thing and living another. That makes whatever we have to say unimportant. It’s like telling your children to do what you say, but not what you do. That never works and only creates rebels. If we can’t live what we preach then perhaps we need to be quiet until we get our own house in order. By the way, there is a biblical word for this particular behavior. It’s called hypocrisy and it is killing us.
A relevant church living out and preaching a relevant gospel means Christ’s message is pertinent for this moment in history and applicable to the person no matter the situation. That is the gospel of the kingdom that Jesus preached. He communicated the timeless message of God through germane stories and appropriate illustrations. He knew how to weave a tale that could cut the fluff out of the defenses of both the ultra and non-religious. He was a student of His culture, understanding the nuances of society, the details of current events, and the distinctions of religious practice. He knew His audience and spoke to their particular situations in a clear authoritative voice. He did not preach down to them but lifted them up with the tenor of His teaching. Oh, there were moments when His words cut like a scalpel or smashed like a hammer, but the richness of their depth brought healing and deliverance if heeded. He never destroyed a hungry heart that was willing to listen.
Our problem is we no longer listen to our culture, but expect them to listen to us. We cannot get what we are unwilling to give. Listening does not convey agreement, but it certainly communicates respect. When we listen to people’s needs, fears, dreams, and desires we are in a far better position to speak into their lives. But we must use methods and means that they will understand so the message of Christ can effect a life-altering change.
Jesus is relevant. His message is always cutting edge. It’s the church that has painted herself into the corner of irrelevancy. It’s not our message—it’s our obsolete methods that have to go. The problem is for many groups the methods have become the gospel rather than a vehicle to transport the message of the gospel. We must learn the language of our culture if we hope to reach it. Otherwise, the message we have been given once and for all will be lost in the translation.