Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Quest For Relevance

Do you remember how “The Passion” movie was touted by some as the greatest evangelistic tool of our times? Remember how this movie was supposed to impact society, as churches turned into theaters, to reach the lost? This is but one high profile example of how, in many quarters of the church, there has been an underlying philosophical or theological shift; a trans-denominational movement.

Some, in their quest for relevance, believe that if we as the church are to be significant to the postmodern man and woman in 2011, then we must change. We must find out what people are looking for, what they want. And if they’re looking for entertainment--and we know they are--then we’d better be more and more entertaining. Sadly, this is the mind-set of many churches today who have completely sold themselves to the seeker-sensitive, felt needs, and consumer mentality of the church growth gurus of today. Like Hollywood, these churches have a bottom line: attract an audience.

Unfortunately, the seeker-sensitive, felt needs church, whose “driving purpose” is to market Jesus to the unbeliever, [the unbeliever who is viewed as a consumer who will do business with us if we package everything just right], is not impacting the culture. Today’s seeker-sensitive, felt needs church mimics the culture. It mimics the culture in various, and often obvious, ways. This church’s philosophy is: We will look how you want us to look. We will speak the words you want to hear. We will play the music you prefer. We will even offer multiple services to suit your preferences--a veritable smorgasbord of the sacred to satiate your every whim. This church will say, “It’s all about Him” and then behave as if “It’s all about you.”

This type of church will not preach the biblical Gospel. It will not preach the biblical Gospel because the biblical Gospel will offend the unbeliever. After all, if the unbeliever is a consumer and our product is Jesus, we must make our product more palatable to our sensitive consumer‘s tastes. Certainly, it will meet its bottom line [getting people into the church] but it fails to realize that getting people into the church is not at all the same thing as getting people into the Kingdom of Christ.

For example, the seeker sensitive, felt needs church will never tell the unbeliever/consumer that he is a sinner deserving the wrath of God. Goodness no. Instead, it will invite him to its small group fellowship which is entirely devoted to helping him discover how to live his best life now. It will non judgmentally share how to be more whole, healthy, wealthy, and fulfilled.

Then two or three sessions later, a few testimonials will be offered in order to demonstrate how "having Jesus" improves marriage, children, work, social status, and finances. The seeker will find that Jesus will do all of this if he'll just "let Him;" if he will simply choose to be on Jesus' team-- or if he’ll graciously decide to let Jesus be on his team (we wouldn't want an unsettling argument as to whose team it is). And should the unbeliever/consumer venture into a Sunday morning service, he will hear a 15 minute speech comprised of a joke and 3 points about how God wants us to think as highly of ourselves as He does.

I ask you, reader: Is this the Gospel message of the Holy Bible? I think not. Some contend that while they appreciate the Gospel, given our cultural milieu, simply preaching the Gospel will not work. The idea is that while the message may not change the method must change. Clearly, this sentiment is misguided.

It is misguided because when the method changes, i.e. when our paradigm of ministry shifts from that which is God-centered to that which is man-centered; the message does change. It is also misguided because it fails to realize that God not only ordains the message, but also God ordains the method. The Apostle Paul is emphatic: “Preach the word!” (2Timothy 4:2). Are we so presumptuous as to believe that biblical methodology is antiquated; that the advice of church growth experts is superior to the exhortation of the Apostles of our Lord?

Yes, the church must be relevant. But the church is never more irrelevant than when she tries to be relevant. The church is never more misguided than when she abandons that which is absolute and eternal in her quest for that which is "relevant" and temporal. Think of it thus: Cultures are in constant motion. The prevailing superficial philosophies of today, the fads of the present, will be outdated ten years from now. If the church is to mimic the culture she will be in a state of perpetual flux.

But God does not change. Truth does not change. Human nature does not change. In the 21st Century--like every century--only the message and method of the Holy Bible will suffice. Only when the church is fixed on the eternal, rather than fixated on the fluctuating, can she be true to her Lord and relevant in all ages.

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