Seems like yesterdays post generated a lot of good discussion -- lots of stimulating comments. A special thanks to Presbyweb for picking up the post.
The comments from yesterday, however, seem to center around the idea that I'm bashing or critiquing the idea of being relevant. Obviously I didn't communicate clearly enough, and for that I'm sorry. My intent was not to point the finger at some particular church and say "they're doing it wrong", nor was my intent to say that we're wasting our time in doing demographic marketing or seeking to be relevant.
These things are helpful tools -- however, I was trying to raise the caution of their becoming idols. The key part of yesterday's post was this quote:
"Anytime a church makes an appeal to a demographic more important than faithfulness to Christ, there is a problem. CS Lewis taught me (particularly in his great book The Great Divorce) that we are capable of making idols out of anything -- even good methodology."
To give another perspective -- when I started working with the Purpose Driven Life and working us toward the 40 Days of Purpose, I received very good advice from my friend Erwin Goedicke, who has been doing this pastor thing for a while. "Don't let being Purpose Driven become the Purpose" was his counsel. Dyah makes a great point in her comments about judging church styles -- she give her criteria "..God is there and he is the center. And for me, the average christ follower, that's all that matters." And that's exactly my point. The temptation for church leaders is to put the methodology at the center (because we think about growing the church all the time) and forgetting that our methodology is a servant to the King of Kings.
Yet another perspective -- David Bryant's ministry (which I referenced in an earlier post on revival) -- he is calling churches back to subjection to the Supremacy of Christ. He challenges us that we treat Christ more as a mascot than a master. That we often trot Christ out to pep up the fans, and then push him back to the sideline so that we can play our little games.
Or perhaps another perspective (and this is why it is on my brain -- because I'm reading this book) -- Mark Driscoll, pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle (which is one of the cutting edge missional churches in the country) has written a teriffic book called The Radical Reformission (follow the link to check out reviews on Amazon). Mike Foster tossed it my way, and I've devoured it. He makes exactly the points made by Dyah, Arnold, and Yenny on yesterday's posts -- that we need to slay the cultural shibboleths of "churchianity" in order to be relevant. He makes the case that we are all missionaries where we are, and we need to talk to the lost around us and find out the questions that they're asking so that we can answer them (particularly eye opening is his list of questions that he gets in Seattle -- for instance "can I tattoo the body God has given me?", "Is it okay to improve my appearance with plastic surgery?", "Why are smoking cigarettes, drinking coffee, or taking prescription mood-altering medications oday, but smoking pot is considered a sin?", "Are there any sexual practices between a husband and wife that are outlawed in the Scriptures?" -- and these are the tame ones). So believe me, he issues some withering critique at the old traditional way of doing church.
But then he comes right back with this statement: “Today’s danger is not only nostalgia. Equally damaging to reformission is the tendency, most common among young Christians frustrated with the constraints and failures or backward-looking churches and ministries, to ignore church history and its lessons in pursuit of unrestrained and undiscerning innovation. The irony of this innovation is that churches and ministries that pursuie it become so relevant to the culture that they are, in fact, irrelevant and are unable to call lost people from or to anything because they have lost the distincitive and countercultural nature of the gospel.” (52) Understand, this is not from some traditional tall steeple guy -- this is from a guy who goes into gay bars and who ministers to people with so many piercings, they look like the fell into a tackle box.
All this to bring it back to my point -- we can make an idol out of anything: even "relevance", even "patriotism", even "family values", etc. It doesn't mean we don't pursue these things -- it means the subject them to Christ.
The second half of the post talked about being true to ourselves -- and I think that's a key point as well. I go back to my youth ministry days on this one -- if you're trying to reach someone, and you do it by trying to adopt everything they are for yourself, you look ridiculous. Haven't you ever seen a 40 year old desperately trying to look 18? Not only is it phony, but the people you're trying to reach can tell its phony. It seems much more respectful to be yourself -- and then seek to understand the other person as an individual -- seek to learn from them, acknowledge what you are, and what you aren't.
Again -- Driscoll talks about meeting up with a friend of his who had come out of the closet as a homosexual. Driscoll went with him to a gay bar, and even sat in on a planning session for the gay rodeo. He didn't try to pretend to fit in. He just came and respectfully listened -- and that opened up doors for conversation.
And lest anyone think I'm judging other pastors/churches here -- the main reason I wrestle with these topics is that I know me. I know my own tendency to get so caught up in organizational process, that I forget the sovereign God who is over all our organization and who is to be served by our organization. I know my own temptation to want to please people so much that I waffle on things of critical importance. I'm painfully aware of my own inadequacy to the task of being a pastor, administering a church, bringing hope to the hurting, expounding the word of God, and speaking truth in a loving and relevant way. I desperately need God's grace to make it day by day in what I do. I write these things because I need the reminder myself -- that Christ is the king of all creation.
Soli Deo Gloria