Relevant is the Easy Part

April 7, 2010

Lately, all I can muster inside is a good rant.

Before writing this, I spent several days cleansing my heart from anger, resentment and any notions of wanting to hurt someone. It was a good exercise and I feel much cleaner. But elements of two separate rants are still buzzing in the brainbox and I have to get them out.This entry is the first one.

I am really angry with church teachers who are striving to be “relevant” when they preach or teach. It’s not exactly that I’m against being relevant – I’ve used that tool for years. But my primary criticism of so many preachers is that being relevant has become the goal instead of a tool.

Every city now has dozens of churches who make some version of the claim, “we are a church for those who don’t like churches“. Fairly soon, churches for people who don’t like churches will be in the majority. What many of these churches mean is that they feel church is out of touch with modern culture and therefore can’t reach that culture unless they preach relevantly. What they fail to realize is how easy that is: Only a moron can fail to be relevant if they want to. Show a movie clip, quote Men’s Health or Spin, play a song from the charts or drop an American Idol reference and you are instantly relevant. If you go the next step and talk about you and the “boys” watching UFC, mention how you and Bono are on the “same page”, or can show a Youtube video very few have seen, you go to the top of the relevant heap.

I am not thinking of any preacher in particular. I really don’t need to. Almost everyone outside of rural North Dakota is trying to be relevant. Last weekend, the Easter services were full of U2, Black-eyed Peas, Biggest Loser, Final Four and ‘How to Train Your Dragon’ references. Each church had their “house bands” playing CCM with alacrity and only one out of eight preachers wore a tie. Anyone off the street could come in and instantly feel like they were on a set of TMZ or The View.

None of that is my rant. I used a Zombie movie reference last Sunday and it fit. Here is the bone stuck in my throat: THAT IS NOT THE ONLY TOOL IN YOUR TOOLBOX. In some ways, it is like a drug that once you start using  can suck you in and ironically make you irrelevant from God’s point of view.

Sure, Jesus used contemporary stories (we call them parables), but he actually did that to weed out the true seekers from the wannabes. He also told people to eat  his flesh and drink his blood. He also chased people away. He also prophesied to the crowds and made them very angry. His own family tried to lock him away one time and he had to rebuke his closest followers on numerous occasions.

Try using some of the other rhetorical preaching tools once in awhile and see if 10,000 people still flock to every Easter Service. Here are a few you might want to try sometime.

1. Prophetic: Jesus knew what was in the heart of the Pharisees and called them “blind guides” and “vipers”. When was the last time you used a viper reference? Being prophetic means to speak as if you are speaking the very words of God (1 Peter 4:11). I have listened lately for a preacher to speak to my heart with conviction and God-content. I can count a hundred Youtube videos for every prophetic message.

2. Counter-cultural: The only reason Jesus was so against the religious leaders of the day was that they were setting the cultural tone. He was counter-cultural and spoke against the authors of modern culture. Today, he would have a lot to say about Tiger Woods, three-car garages, whining about the economy (when we still make 2000 times as much money as most of the rest of the world), and secular companies controlling Christian Music. He would have blasted Avatar for its godless plot instead of applauding its amazing CG. He probably would have offered his books for free to all who wanted them…and none of the commitments he called for would have lasted for just 40 days.

3. Biblically-centered, not culturally centered: I don’t mean a person should preach a commentary verse by verse. That is the job of each believer to study the Bible inductively. But the overarching themes of the Bible should be the themes of preaching. For instance,  there is little said about marriage in the Bible overall, but a lot said concerning caring for the poor. Total the current load of marriage seminars on Sunday mornings and compare that to the amount of preaching on living selflessly.

4. Exhortations: When you don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings, Hollywood is the place to go. If you want to challenge them to live dangerously, live on the edge, live spirit-focused, Hollywood won’t help. Hollywood is too busy ridiculing 40 year-olds who haven’t lost their virginity and lionizing 12-year olds who are following in Suburban Mom’s footsteps and selling dope to their friends. Jesus challenged people to stop crapping all over a woman caught in adultery, and then turned around and preached a short sermon to her: “Go and sin no more”.

5. Evangelism: Stop  “pre-evangelizing” everyone with the hope that somehow the incarnational message will seep in like a topical anaesthetic. “How will they hear unless someone preaches” is from the Bible. Along with being missional, incarnational, relevant and post-modernly accepting, actually tell them what it will be like if they are shut out of God’s Presence forever.

6. Raise the Standard: We often think that people will find God more acceptable if we bring the bar lower for them. Let’s not talk about sin or judgment or consequences, let’s talk about the benefits. Yet Jesus told us that unless our righteousness exceeds that of the Pharisees we will never see the Kingdom of Heaven. I know he meant we were to receive His righteousness, but that comes through surrender. According to Romans 12:1, the spiritual service of worship is not singing the same song 11 times, but presenting our bodies as living sacrifices. Only when we know a “poverty of spirit” will we really begin to see God.

Rant #1…complete. For now.



  1. This is completely relevant. *S* I understand and agree with you. Get’em!

  2. Linda, you are so funny.

  3. Amen. Thank you for being honest and not sugar-coating it.

  4. Mike, What I find interesting is that 1) eventually the counter-culture will be the culture and we will all have to revert to liturgy to be counter-culture.

    2) When did the cross stop being relevant? I had a revelation in my own life about XX years ago sitting in a small group with a number of “fringe” believers. I discovered that my goal was to make them try and “like” the gospel rather than presenting the gospel and letting it be relevant for them where it needed to be. And if they rejected it then so be it. At least they were rejecting the gospel and not some quasi-version I was trying to create so it would be accepted.

    There … now my rant is done.

  5. Aaron: Awesome points my friend. And Katy, nothing ever gets accomplished by sugar-coating than attracting bugs.

  6. Unfortunately, there are not many teachers who can use relevance as a tool instead of a goal. Erwin McManus, Charles Stanley, Jack Hayford, Francis Chan and Beth Moore accomplish it. Others have made too much of relevance. Still others have used the other tools, but have ignored the value of relevance. That is also a shame.

  7. You GO BOY!!!! I find this issue is a side effect of the way America does ‘church’ (gag). The need to fill the building and pay the staff eclipses the potential of a Holy Spirit motivated gathering. Talk about scratching itchy ears!

  8. I watched Joel Osteen yesterday and could not figure out how he fills a stadium. His topic was, more or less, “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff.” He gave a few examples of how he tried to control his wife because of his own OCD(my term, not his), and had no scripture references whatsoever, in spite of the fact that he has everyone hold up their Bibles before he starts his message. There wasn’t any gospel that I could see. He did say, at one point, that God told him thus and such, but nothing about how his listeners could hear from God themselves or that God would like to communicate with them, too. A soothing, comfortable message, but no real grace or life-changing truth. After all, don’t we all wish, for our own peace of mind, that we didn’t sweat the small stuff so much?

  9. Barb: I am not at all an Osteen fan. I did, however, love his dad, who is the one who began the “hold up your bible” thing. Joel is a feel-good preacher that is all in vogue in some circles. But he was never much of a teacher and I can’t figure out why people like him except that he appeals to the selfish center in all of us.

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