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Useless Relevance

I got punched in the face last weekend.

I got punched in the face last weekend.

Several of the guys on staff at RELEVANT went on a men’s retreat with a local church. While I could write a year’s worth of columns about what happened in those two days, there was one sentence in particular that stood out.

“Your so-called ‘relevance’ is useless.”

It hit me in the midst of prayer, and it hasn’t stopped spinning through my every thought since then. I’m still not sure if it was God speaking, or if it was me telling myself what I already secretly knew. Don’t misinterpret what I’m saying. It isn’t that this whole relevance movement within the Church is useless. (If so, I’d be looking for a new job.)

It’s that my relevance is currently useless.

Take a step back and look at what we mean by “relevant.” You can’t talk about being relevant without talking about to whom you are relevant. To me, the whole point is to become relevant to the world—meaning that our lives, our faith and our actions matter to those around us. Instead of separating ourselves in a Christian ghetto, we want to engage those around us in an ongoing dialogue about faith, life and God. In order to do this, we must get on the level of nonbelievers. We must understand them and be engaged with them. Thus, the cornerstone of the relevance ideology is evangelism. We want to engage and influence others for Christ.
Here’s the problem: I don’t know non-Christians. I used to know lots of them. Now all that I know are two guys in my apartment complex with whom I rarely speak. For the most part, I am not using my so-called relevance.

I listen to pretty cool music. I’m somewhat well dressed. I watch a lot of TV and movies. I consider myself pretty open minded and progressive in terms of social and political movements. I like most people. I could be a good friend to non-Christians. I could be active in my community and influence those around me.
But I’m not.

I work with Christians. I live with a Christian. I hang out with Christians. Somehow, I have ended up in the same ghetto that I was trying to leave.

Something tells me that I’m not alone. Most of the culturally relevant Christians I know spend very little time with people who don’t know (or barely know) Christ. We know how the game is played. We’ve got the stats memorized. We’re even wearing our uniforms. We could be all-stars if we’d ever decide to play.

So there I was, in the middle of a worship service with these thoughts racing around—this accusation to which I had no good defense. Then, it got worse.

I thought, “Perhaps I’m only using relevance as an excuse to do what I want to do—a reason to justify entertaining myself however I want to.” I’ve allegedly adopted the world’s habits in an attempt to infiltrate them. In the end, though, many of us have been influenced by the world more than we have influenced it.
This isn’t to say that we’re bad people. Perhaps we’re really focused on discipling other Christians and building up the Church. But if this is the case, why do we preach the gospel of relevance?

The first time I met Matthew Paul Turner, author of The Christian Culture Survival Guide (Relevant Books) and The Coffeehouse Gospel (Relevant Books), he said something to me that I’ll always remember. “Christians are trying so hard to be relevant,” he said. “But we fail to remember that we are only made relevant by our love for others and by Christ’s love for us.”

So if the way that we change the world is by loving God’s children, we need to engage ourselves with the people who need to feel God’s love the most. I hope that a lot of you can’t relate to this. Hopefully, you are friends with the friendless and a changer of the world. But a lot of you probably are like me—trying too hard to be relevant that we forget to do something with it.

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At the retreat, I saw more than 200 grown men of various ages, upbringings and socioeconomic status. Many of these men were just coming to know Jesus for the first time. They came to the retreat for healing. They came for the Father’s love. Many of them shared stories about how they ended up coming to retreat.

“My friend Dave goes to this church. One day at work, he invited me to come to church with him …”

“My uncle Mike wanted me to come to this with him. I really didn’t want to, but now I’m so glad that I did …”

Who can say that about me? When I get to heaven, whom am I bringing with me?

In the past week, I’ve been challenged by this idea of useless relevance—more commonly know as irrelevance. My challenge to you is the same as the one to myself: May we no longer use relevance as a crutch. May we transform the world instead of being transformed by it. May we understand that we are made relevant by our love and by how we shower that love on others.

Tyler Clark is the producer of the RELEVANT Network. He also won a headstand contest in third grade.

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