Relevance. It has become the ecclesiological buzz-word of the postmodern culture. The church spends large amounts of time, energy and money on this idea of relevance, and Christians themselves are doing everything they possibly can to feel like—in some part—this term is an identifying mark on who they are as followers of Christ. This idea of relevance is admirable and necessary. But as I look around and evaluate my own attitudes toward this culture and understandings of how the Church relates to it, I (first and foremost) might have it backwards.
I believe that on some levels the idea of relevance has been reduced to a formula of learning to speak the right lingo, dress the right way, be familiar with the right music and movies, be involved in the right causes, go to the right churches, hang out with the right people, eat the right foods, drink the right drinks, have the right hairstyle and, most importantly, be familiar with all of the most relevant leaders and thinkers of this postmodern/emergent generation.
Honestly, admit it, when you encounter someone who does not know who Rob Bell or Brian McLaren are, does it not surprise you just a bit?
Granted, these elements of relevance are not bad things. It is not my place or anyone else’s place to grade the authenticity or effectiveness of someone’s faith based upon how they dress, what music they listen to or who they know. But I’m afraid that an attitude has developed in many Christian communities that tends to evaluate a person’s relevance based upon this formula, and if all the necessary ingredients are not there, then we are quick to write someone off as being “out of touch”—or in other words, useless.
Relevance is essential, but I think so much time and energy and effort is put into pursuing the wrong thing. I believe that relevance is critical if we are going to be fully-devoted authentic followers of Jesus Christ that truly leave a mark of hope and love in this world. But I don’t believe it is our responsibility to consume ourselves with the pursuit of becoming relevant.
Why? Because relevance is the consequence of a much greater cause. The fact that we have to spend so much time trying to be relevant should tell us something. It is an indication that relevance is not something that happens naturally. That’s why we have to spend so much time manufacturing it according to the formula. The truth, however, is that when we engage ourselves in pursuing the Kingdom of God and setting our hearts on becoming a people through which His Kingdom is most effectively able to be ushered into this world, then our lives will supernaturally develop within them a brokenness for the broken, a longing for the lost, a hope for the hopeless and a love for those who do not know love.
This to me is what it means to be relevant. It is the supernatural consequence of Kingdom-living. It’s not about pursuing the consequence, but rather pursuing the cause and allowing the consequence to express itself in our lives. As a result, relevance is no longer something that we must pursue; it simply becomes something that we are. No frills, no formulas. It’s just who we are as followers of Christ who are absolutely devoted to exposing the beauty of His Kingdom to a world in desperate need of something beautiful.
Wear the torn and tattered jeans, listen to the indie-pop music, read the most current authors, even buy a Mac if you want—but never substitute those things as what it truly means to be relevant. Relevance is found only through the inevitable expressions of a heart that is pursuing the greatest of all causes.