I have attended and worked with enormous churches, and also with very small ones. I have worked with churches that delivered impressively polished, theater-worthy presentations, where event timing was measured in the seconds, all of it driven by headset-adorned technicians working feverishly behind the scenes to keep the flow of the service as smooth and fluid as it can be. I have also worked with churches where we were not entirely certain what was going to happen from one moment to the next. Whatever happened happened, and we just rode the wave. I have worshiped with groups that met in gorgeous, multi-million-dollar facilities, complete with beverage restrictions in the worship center/auditorium, and I have worshiped with believers who met in apartment living rooms, with overflow seating on the floor.
What the body of Christ needs to understand and to become convinced of is that none of that matters!
There is a growing obsession in today’s church with what might be referred to as “cultural relevance.” Somehow, somewhere, someone has convinced hundreds of thousands, if not millions of contemporary believers that we cannot be effective at reaching our communities with the message of Jesus unless we become culturally relevant. It is outside the realm of possibility for that line of thinking to be more misguided.
Do not misunderstand me to be saying that cultural relevance is wrong. I am not saying that. Indeed, I would argue that cultural relevance (properly defined) is a non-issue. The gospel of Jesus Christ is culturally relevant, and we are incapable of making it non-relevant. To say that the gospel of Jesus is not culturally relevant is to assert that contemporary culture does not need Jesus. Thus, to them, he is irrelevant. Such an argument is asinine.
My disagreement with striving after cultural relevance is not with the cultural relevance of the gospel, but rather with the prevalent mentality in evangelicalism that says the church must adopt the marketing methodologies of the world in order to reach the world with the message of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection.
Neither am I saying that we should avoid doing assessments of our audience in order to capture the attention of our hearers. As I write this, I am actively preparing a workshop for Christian authors and bloggers in which I will walk them through how to identify and connect with their ideal target reader. I do believe in understanding the demographic and psychographic makeup of our audiences.
The apostle Paul stated quite powerfully that he became a slave to all to win as many as possible. (1 Corinthians 9:19-23) He became “like” a Jew, and “like” one under the Law, and “like” one not having the Law in order to appropriately influence each segment of society. However, nowhere in that passage did Paul say that he altered his message. He altered himself! The change was always with him, his person.
It was to this same church that Paul said, “And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. (2 Corinthians 4:3) He did not suggest altering the message, softening it, or removing some of the more difficult aspects of it to “unveil” the message. To emphasize that truth, let’s look at what Paul said that led up to his statement:
We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. – 2 Corinthians 4:2b, ESV
We do not shamefully tamper with the word of God just to make it palatable to those outside the body of Christ. Brothers and sisters, understand that the world is hostile to the gospel. The only way to make the world not hostile to the gospel is to make it something other than the gospel. I choose, rather, to stand for truth rather than posture for the approval of a world that stands opposed to everything that defines me.
Pining for Approval
Why do we even want to be liked by and approved by the world? James, the brother of Jesus said, “You adulterous people! 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.” (James 4:4, ESV) “Adulterous” is a strong word, powerfully describing how we look to God when we breathlessly chase after the emptiness of what society esteems.
Jesus himself said…
If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. – John 15:19, ESV
This same Jesus said, “Blessed are you when men hate you, and ostracize you, and insult you, and scorn your name as evil, for the sake of the Son of Man.” (Luke 6:22, ESV)
We don’t want to become like the world. We want the world to become like Jesus. It is that very tension that I have heard described as “the struggle between holiness and Hollywood.” The fact that so many Christ-followers are enamored with the entertainment that the world provides is fairly disquieting. Our environment bludgeons us with endless filth to leave us worn and weakened, but the Bible calls us to be transformed by the renewing of our minds.
And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. – Romans 12:2, NASB
It strikes me as absurd that we should alter who we are as followers after Christ, and how we worship when we come together as a body of believers, just to make our worship of God an easy swallow for someone who does not even love Jesus, fall at his feet, or acknowledge him as Lord and King. We need to be far less concerned with what the world thinks of us, of our worship assemblies, of our church family, and far more concerned with God’s truth and God’s glory.
Lifting Jesus Higher
Our ministry is not about us. It is about God. If we cause it to be about us, then we need to re-evaluate why we are doing what we are doing, because such a ministry is not of God. Ministering in any way that draws attention to us, to our church family, to our music, to our videos … anything other than God, robs God of the glory that is rightfully his. Rather, we should say with Jesus’ cousin, John, “He [Jesus] must increase, and I must decrease.” (John 3:30)
So, if becoming like the world in our method and our message is not the answer, how do we get people introduced to Jesus? Jesus himself answered that question before we even asked it.
And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself. – John 12:32, ESV
As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; – John 3:14, NASB
So Jesus said to them, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me.” – John 8:28, ESV
Instead of investing our efforts in discerning ways to become sapid to a world that hates us, immersing ourselves in the latest George Barna research nuggets, we should apply ourselves to lifting Jesus high above all else, and in so doing, Jesus will draw all men to himself.
Next week, we will dig more deeply into what it means to lift Jesus high, and what impact that will have on us personally, and as a body of believers.