Postmodernism has become a popular tagline for the present cultural shift we have experienced in modern times. What began as a social movement in the 1960s has become a mantra for everything relating to culture. Christian leaders and churches are responding to a postmodern and post-Christian culture by creating an ongoing conversation for those wanting to influence culture. As leaders and researchers continue the dialogue of relevance to a postmodern culture, a few distinct voices can be heard reexamining the Church’s role in a modern society. A paradigm shift has occurred in the way we view the Church’s function in our postmodern society. Attempts to become more relevant to contemporary culture have led to some misconceptions concerning Christians’ influence on culture. As we examine our place and voice in a postmodern society, we must reevaluate our personal lives. Are we making Jesus look appealing to our culture at the expense of our personal convictions and values?
Francis Chan, pastor of Cornerstone Church in Simi Valley, California, recently spoke at a national leadership conference on the effects of postmodern thinking in the American church. Chan stated that after a 3 month sabbatical from ministry he came to the conclusion that his church was not where it needed to be in comparison to New Testament ministry. He went on to comment, “If Jesus had a church in my city, my church would be bigger.” Chan’s comment was from a humble and sincere heart. He truly believed that his message and ministry had become popular but not relevant to New Testament truth. Chan referenced Jesus’ comment in Luke 14:26-27 that reads, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even life itself—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple” (TNIV). Chan made the comparison between the New Testament church and our modern churches. He said that our modern ministries and churches have become too focused on becoming popular to a society marked by plurality and social acceptance.
By reflecting on Jesus’ ministry as well as the apostles, we see that they were not always popular with their culture. We as Christian leaders must be willing to evaluate our lives and ministries to see if we are compromising our message and convictions to appeal to an ever-changing culture. In our attempt to be relevant to a postmodern culture, we must be sure that we are staying true to the message that we find in God’s Word. The plurality of our culture should not affect the Truth that we as leaders convey and teach.
Our mission as Christian leaders is to bring reformation and deep change to our culture–not become just like it. If by examining our lives and ministries we find areas that are marked by compromise, we must take the necessary steps to become more relevant to spiritual truths expressed in God’s word. By becoming more like Christ, we become more relevant to culture than we could ever imagine. Jesus is relevant to culture. Josh Mayo, young adult pastor and author, commented on this phenomenon in his sermon “Sexy Jesus.” He said that many times in our postmodern mind set, we try to make Jesus look appealing and increasingly popular to our society. The problem with this line of thinking is that we begin to make Jesus look like something that He is not. When we modify our convictions to relate to culture, we undermine the truths that have the power to transform lives. We should trust that Jesus’ message is relevant in and of itself to a world that is hurting and longing for Truth.
I recently had the privilege of attending the Genesis Youth Conference in Fort Smith, Arkansas, where Earl Creps, church planter and author was speaking. He said that many of us in the present movement have subscribed to the religion of criticism. Instead of becoming more like Christ ourselves and living a relevant life, we criticize churches and ministries that are not doing ministry the way we prefer. In a postmodern culture, we must be careful to not become a critic of everything and a supporter of nothing. Whenever we subscribe to the religion of criticism, we can no longer help hurting people–we enter into an ineffective state in which our criticism outweighs our contribution to society. Through a retrospective examination of our personal lives, we can become a true example to those in our culture who are searching desperately for hope and salvation.