Sometimes I struggle with relevance. Being stuck inside, isolated and away from community can do that. For me, not having a career anymore has made that worse. Is this something that matters for individual people? Even though it is really important that businesses and organizations remain relevant, or useful, innovative and up with the times, I am curious to know what the Bible says about being relevant and if my irrelevance is relevant!
I cannot ever remember being part of a church family that was not caught up in being relevant. When I was 10 years old, man landed on the moon and we watched it on TV at church. When the “Jesus music” took off in the 1970’s, it was a chance to win people through music that was set to drums and guitars and sounded like songs on the radio. Then there were the clean comedians and the full length movies that showed up in real movie theaters! There are plenty of other examples but I think you get the idea that everyone wants to be effective in context of the culture, even Christians.
By definition I am using the word to mean one thing is pertinent or practical and useful in relationship to another thing; in other words, why it matters and how it is important to the situation at hand. When looking at scripture, the first thing I think of is the sons of Issachar who studied the times and knew what to do. (1 Chr. 12:32). The other passage that is often referenced is in 1 Cor. 9:19 when Paul says he has become “all things to all people”. These 2 things seem to offer an appearance to the idea of biblical relevance and yet somehow I am not convinced that relevance is very important in the grand scheme of things. Similarly, I don’t believe that the Bible can be made relevant; it IS always relevant and all we are asked to do is show people how relevant it is! Paul really wasn’t interested in being cool or “fitting” in to the world’s mold. He wasn’t willing to sin to share the gospel. I am not trying to sound judgmental but I really find that some activities now being considered “acceptable” are simply a compromise. In fact, I have heard people talk about what they can do or don’t have to do under the banner of the freedom that’s found in Christ. While there may be a pretense of serving Christ by the use of a certain activity, when the veneer is stripped away, isn’t it really about feeding one’s appetite for the world and justifying it?
Additionally, I think the problem is in trying to be so relevant that we lose sight of reality. Instead of getting as close to Christ as we can, we are trying to look so much like the world that no one can see Jesus in us. We are more enthralled with looking palatable to the world and somehow the gospel seems to disappear or lose its primary importance. What a futile task. It is impossible to stay relevant in a world that changes constantly. In fact the only constant in life is change! New grows old rather quickly and, since we have become a people fixated on “new”, we always need something different, something greater, something better. And so we steadily spend most of our energy trying to find the latest, greatest thing instead of leaning into the relevance of Jesus. When did it become a race to see how much we can be like the world and still be a Christian? 1 John 2:15 says clearly, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” James 4 adds, “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.“
Don’t get me wrong. I spent years in student ministry studying the culture and trying to creatively share the gospel in meaningful ways. I understand that there are important cues to avoid and I know that some of the things I did in ministry back in the day would now cost me my job and maybe even my witness. I know that what works in one ministry won’t work in another. I think that is what Paul is talking about when he was trying to be all things to all people or when the sons of Issachar studied the times, but the culture does not change the relevance and the reality of God’s inerrant Word!
So the question remains: How can I be relevant without swallowing the lie that I have to be like the world to win the world, or that I have freedom to sin? When God’s people can’t behave like Jesus because they have added to what it means to be like Jesus there is a problem. When your faith prevents you from exercising your faith then something is definitely wrong! Jesus was always relevant. So how can I go and do likewise? How can I do the right thing, at the right time and in the right way relevantly?!
I just reread this rant and somehow I am feeling better. Hmm wonder if that is relevant?!