The church’s misguided quest for relevance
Relevant: appropriate to the current time, period, or circumstances; of contemporary interest. (Google dictionary)
Very rarely does a week go by in which I do not hear about the church experiencing a generational upheaval. It normally goes something like this: “If we are going to survive in the modern world then we are going to have to change along with it. Young people will never come to a ‘traditional’ church. If we do not tailor it to their desires, we cannot hope to win them.”
More churches than I can count have seen this push result in splits and hard feelings and broken hearts. The tragedy of it all is that the very attempt itself is a misguided attempt.
A few years after we were married, my wife came to me uttering those two words that at once make a heart soar and lock the stomach up in knots: “I’m pregnant.” That began an incredibly predictable process, one that has been the exact same ever since God created man and woman.
Her body began to change in order to sustain this new life growing within her. She got bigger. And some nine months after conception, she went into labor. She gave birth to a child.
There is nothing odd in any of that. In fact, there is not even anything “cutting-edge” in any of it. This is the exact same thing that her mother and her mother before her all the way back to Eve have experienced. When the Roman army was the scourge of the earth, the process was the same.
When the Roman Empire fell, the process was the same. Through the dark ages, the process was the same. When the printing press came into existence the process was the same. When the Mayflower sailed to America the process was the same. During the Revolutionary war the process was the same. When the Wright brothers took flight the process was the same. When man set foot on the moon the process was the same.
And yet, despite all of that “sameness,” who would ever begin to argue that the conception and birth of a new life is ever not relevant?
Mind you, things on the surface of this process certainly have changed. We now have such things as anesthesia and epidurals and antibiotics and comfortable birthing wings in clean hospitals. But the entire process of conception and labor and birth, the core ingredients to the production of a new life are still the same they have always been.
I fear that the modern church is not just changing things on the surface in their quest for relevance, but changing as drastically as if men would now be the bearers of the babies. By this I mean that the church seems to be changing, not just technology and tools, but the very nature of what it is in order to attract a new crowd not comfortable with what it has always been. The prophets and the Lord himself and the apostles preached incredibly pointed messages against sin. The modern church shuns that like the plague, afraid to offend anyone. In Romans 12:2 we read, “And be not conformed to this world.” The modern church seeks to be as much like the world as possible. The New Testament mentions the need to teach and preach sound doctrine scores of times. The modern church eschews doctrine, regarding it as “divisive.” The Great Commission focuses the attention of the church on soul winning and baptism and discipleship, the modern church opts for motivational speeches and membership drives and entertainment.
Are gains being made? Yes and no. A church full of people who have never been brought to the awareness of their sinfulness and therefore have never been truly born again is a gain at the exact same time that it is a profound loss. A church fed on poetry and platitudes but having little to no awareness of the actual content of Scripture is a gain at the exact same time that it is a profound loss. And a church that has become so very much like the culture that the culture feels very comfortable being what it is is the most profound loss of all.
Philippians 2:15 says, “That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world.” God never called the church to be so relevant that they fit in with a crooked and perverse nation; he called us to be so different that we shine as lights in contrast to them.
No one ever followed the darkness out of the darkness. Only a light leads people out of the darkness. The quest for relevance in a church is misguided for this very reason; when it behaves like it should, it already is relevant, just as a flashlight is relevant to someone lost in the darkness and needing to find his way home.
Bo Wagner is pastor of the Cornerstone Baptist Church in Mooresboro, N.C. He is a widely traveled evangelist and the author of several books, including a kid’s fiction book about the Battle of Chickamauga, “Broken Brotherhood.” He can be contacted by emailed at email@example.com.
Evangelist and author