The articles are everywhere: “Top Trends in Worship”, “Ten Ways to Draw New Congregants”, “How to be Relevant in Today’s Culture”. They are well-intentioned, sometimes helpful and even necessary. But is our focus on being relevant to today’s culture – working so hard to “draw in” unbelievers and engage checked-out Christians – misplaced?
It’s a question we need to ask as increasing numbers of millennial Christians leave (or never enter) the church. Bending over backwards to make worship cool enough, marketing our services with just the right graphic design, and changing how we talk about Christianity to be more palatable to a broad audience may, in fact, draw people in. But does it make disciples?
Matthew 28:20 was Jesus’ last command: “Go and make disciples of all nations.” This is the calling of every Christian. In Acts, we watch the apostles live out this command across cultures, and it teaches us principles for interacting in our own. But while the apostles DID change their presentation of the gospel when speaking to Greeks versus speaking to Jews, they did not change the gospel itself. They did not make the truth of God more palatable; in fact, the message they preached frequently got them imprisoned and even beaten. Preaching the exclusive gospel of Jesus divides people. It makes people upset. The “good news” is only good to those who recognize their need; to those who don’t, it’s offensive.
We don’t like to offend people. I know I don’t! I don’t want what I believe to make people uncomfortable. But the reality is this: Jesus makes people uncomfortable because Jesus points out our sin. He stated that He was the only way to God in a culture (even then!) that had MANY ways to reach Him. Jesus Himself was rejected for this. The apostles were rejected for this. And we will be rejected for this.
The loss innate to following Jesus is often ignored by the modern, western church, and we would do well to revisit it. Jesus said there would be a cost to discipleship. People won’t always like us. They might even mock us. And changing Christianity to be more “trendy” and “relevant”… we have to ask, Is this really what Jesus and the apostles would have done?
Hear me when I say: I am an advocate for recognizing and working within cultural norms in order to best present the gospel message. But let us not get caught up in being so “relevant” our gospel loses its power. Catherine Booth says it well:
“When the Church and the world can jog comfortably together, you may be sure there is something wrong. The world has not altered. Its spirit is exactly the same as it ever was, and if Christians were equally faithful and devoted to the Lord, and separated from the World, living so that their lives were a reproof to all ungodliness, the world would hate them as much as it ever did.”
This is a challenge to the lives we live. Do our words and actions reflect the effect of Jesus Christ? If so, we will eventually, inevitably, be at odds with the world. We will be at odds but also loving toward this world we are in, because they desperately need the saving truth of Jesus. They need to be reached. But the best way to reach them is not through graphic design, a new program, a cute t-shirt, or a worship set. It’s through the truth of God, in love.
Read more on this topic in Phylicia’s post, We Can’t Afford Vague Christianity.