Church In Mission: The Problem With Being Relevant Pt.1

God make us relevant

Series contents | Introduction | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five

A big question concerning the church in Western culture is, “how do we make the church more relevant for today’s world?” We see this question get answered in many ways: from youth pastors using the video games like Halo to evangelize their teenagers, to church buildings with Starbucks, to Jumbo trons pumping out “Christian commercials,” to building structures designed after today’s modern malls, to churches creating myspace groups or online social networks.  I know I have been guilty of thinking that relevancy is the most important question the church faces, and while the best of intentions are behind this, I ultimately think it’s the wrong question.

When we look at the church and it’s relationship to Culture we can see that question of relevancy is a cloaked version of consumerism.  In a world where everything is new all the time, we think of being relevant in terms of newness.  Do we have the latest and greatest gadgets, clothing styles, and super-sized this or that?  Relevancy is a way of saying, “are you keeping up with the cultural status quo?” In other words, in seeking relevancy, as a mirror of what goes on in our culture, we inadvertently adopt a secular capitalist way of thinking of thinking about mission.  Relevancy (as understood within a consumer society) as the primary question for the church and its mission is motivated by an underlying presupposition that the church is old and traditional, and that old and tradition are inherently bad things. It also assumes the that their is some universally accepted “culture” that we can attain, and once it’s attained we will be relevant.

Over the next four featured posts I want to address the church’s mission in our contemporary society, as I set out to develop a perspective of mission that refuses to be co-opted by the consumer desire to be relevant and in turn becomes more transformative and creative than any mission based on the prayer “God, make us relevant.” In order to do this I will  use three ways of thinking about the church in relationship to culture which I borrow from John Howard Yoder’s missiological text “For the Nations” (a text I cannot recommend highly enough).  I hope you will join me in critically thinking about these issues and engaging in dialogue that can help to create a fresh vision for the church’s mission in our society today.