How Shall We Be Relevant?

Betsy Childs
Relevant. It is a word used so often in the world of Christian ministry that, if you didn’t know better, you might think "Thou shalt be relevant" was the eleventh commandment. Some Christians strive to be relevant in superficial ways; they make sure that their churches follow the latest corporate fads, that their pastors dress according to current trends, and that their music is iPod-worthy. For some, the mark of a relevant church is the strength of the coffee it brews.

Others go deeper by investing time to understand popular culture. They endeavor to make the gospel relevant by relating it to the barrage of messages that fill page and screen.

I am not about to argue that Christians should cease all efforts to be relevant. I believe that relevancy is important, perhaps even essential, to the expansion of God’s kingdom. However, I believe most Christians have limited the definition of relevancy, and have consequently overlooked the natural relevancy of the Christian message.

My colleague Michael Ramsden has said, "If you believe you have to make the gospel relevant, you are assuming that it is irrelevant…. But the gospel is not irrelevant; the gospel is perceived to be irrelevant, and all you’re doing is removing that faulty perception."

I believe that showing the relevancy of the gospel has more to do with being different from the world than it does with looking the same as the world. How, besides chasing an elusive image of progressiveness, can Christians remove the perception of Christianity’s irrelevancy? Consider with me three key areas:

Transparency. If Christians want to be relevant, we must fight the temptation to put on masks and pretend that all is well in our lives. When we admit our struggles, people can relate to us, and we give them permission to be open about their own struggles. Transparency, even when our spiritual lives are in a tangle, is a sign of spiritual authenticity, and authenticity is rightly prized by our culture.

Sin. Christians need to be honest with the world about sin and its consequences. Humans innately know that all is not as it should be. We only need to read the headlines to know that our world is deeply broken. We must resist the urge to sugarcoat poison or anesthetize wounds that are still bleeding. Though it may not be a comfortable subject, the truth about sin is vitally relevant.

Joy. There are few things rarer, and hence few things more sought-after, than true, abiding joy. The good news of the gospel is that joy does not have to depend on our circumstances, and it is not something that can be bought or earned. True joy is found only in God himself, and God delights to be delighted in. Christians do not always feel joyful, but we can point the world to the source of true joy by pursuing it in God. It has been said that the greatest crime in the desert is finding water and keeping silent. We live in a world deserted by joy, but we know where it can be found.

Culture critic Brett McCracken writes, "True relevance is not about making faith fit into a hipster sphere as opposed to a fundamentalist box. True relevance is seeking the true faith that transcends all boxes and labels." The gospel itself is the most relevant thing we have to offer to the world. We must be careful not to obscure its true relevance with our own well-intentioned attempts at it.

Betsy Childs is associate writer at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.

Copyright (c) 2007 Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM)

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~ by thoughtcrime2 on June 4, 2007.

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