Everyone has a story to tell; some nugget of truth, wisdom and experience to pass on that will enhance the situations of those that follow them. It is what we do—we teach, train, and edify by our personal experiences and gained knowledge. But so often, as life goes on and circumstances change, I see that often the wealth of knowledge that one possesses is not respected or wanted by those that need it most. It is considered irrelevant and useless information because it is presented in a judgmental and critical “you-have-to-do-it-this-way” manner.
I think the same thing happens in many industries and in all walks of life, including the church. The relevance of one’s experience is lost in the presentation. No matter how valuable it is, it becomes moot in the wake of inflexibility.
Because of the nature of our ministry, we are involved with many ministers and visit many churches. It seems that there are a lot of churches who have a dwindling if not non-existent population of young people, congregations are dwindling, and doors are closing. Others are filled to capacity. Why?
If you speak to any of the people who are un-churched, yet committed Christians, you will hear things like: “I’m tired of playing the church game. I just want to get some good teaching and worship God”. Or “I’m so bored in Church; there’s nothing there for me to do; the list of rules is stifling and unrealistic, my kids are ostracized if they wear their jeans to service,” etc.… The local church has become irrelevant to the community it seeks to serve.
Not long ago I downloaded a Bible app on my little phone. I love it! I can get around quickly, look up multiple translations, take notes, highlight text—it’s wonderful! It’s always with me, and I can easily read it during a break at work. I am thrilled not to have to carry what seems like a ten-pound book around with me, with papers and notes falling out all over the place. Imagine how I felt when I was in a service recently to hear the pastor say that he has a problem with people looking at the Bible and following along with the sermon on their electronic devices. He wanted all e-devices stowed during his service. There are very few young people in that congregation whose work just hasn’t quite caught up to this e-society in which we live.
Yet, recently I was in another church, with probably over 1000 attendees on a regular basis, and it seemed to me that almost every single person there followed along on their phones or tablets with a pastor who had nothing more than his I-pad. Every week visitors come to that church, listen to the unchanging, uncompromised word of God, and answer the altar call.
Relevance. The message of Christ is the same in both churches, but one has learned how to reach and build relationship with a community who are accustomed to the world- wide web way of life.
The church that hears from heaven on how to reach people, how to spread the good news of Christ, and how to effect change in their community is the church that has been able to break down barriers and is not threatened by change. It is the one who first acknowledges the validity of progress in the life of its people, embraces it, and keeps moving on. Instead of having a problem with it, they learn how to use it to reach and touch people in their community, and ultimately to the salvation of many, all to the glory of God.
The church was never meant to be a stagnant entity. It is an organic declaration of the relevant truth of the redeeming gospel of Christ. Somehow, in our witness, we must eclipse changes that become the cultural norms of society in our sphere of influence without compromising the integrity of the Scripture and the truth of the Cross. People will never even listen to the Word if we don’t work on relationships and build bridges instead of walls.
I’ve heard of the cowboy church, the biker’s church, and churches for those being exploited and trapped in the sex industry. Christian works that seem to be able to reach a segment of society that no one else can, all while delivering the message of the Cross. You or I may not understand them, and may not be called to work in those vineyards, but we are called to be unified in the Spirit as followers of Christ. That doesn’t mean we are all to be clones and be the same, but we are to follow the direction of Holy Spirit in our ministries while respecting the work of others. It is not our job to throw stones at those who do things differently than we do.
We must know, believe and exhibit the Scripture. The only way that I know to do that is first to know God, renewing our minds with the study of the Word, and in prayer. Learning to hear from God and let the Holy Spirit be our guide, even if it seems unconventional, is key. We do it not for any self-gain, but to the glory and honor of He who has given us eternal life through Jesus. The simple truth of God’s message does not change and always remains relevant. We must be willing to be changeable and malleable under the potter’s Hand, with a purpose and passion for His work, even if it leads us into uncharted territory in what is required of us.
The relevant church will change without compromising the integrity of the Scripture, the redemptive work of Jesus and the cross, the power of the Holy Spirit and the unconditional love of the Father. She will respect the work of others who may do things differently, while preserving the unity of the Holy Spirit.
Eph 4: 1-3 (NASB): “Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, 3 being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace”.