Relevance has been a huge buzzword for the church over the past several years. The line of thinking is that the traditional way of "doing church" was failing to connect with the general public on a variety of levels and a considerable disconnect began to take place. Efforts were then made to start "doing church" differently which ranged from designing a church building not in the traditional cathedral-style but in a more multi-purpose (gymnasium) type of building. Music has changed, mixing in audio/visual elements such as Powerpoint on the screens, the use of drama, words to the songs on the screen rather than hymnals, "casual Sunday" dress codes, lights, stage decor and even the use of smoke/fog to list just a few of the new-age differences.
For the record, I am in favor of much of this. The Vineyard practically wrote the book on several of these elements from launching the contemporary Christian music/worship era, wearing shorts, flip flops & Hawaiian shirts back in the day to holding worship services in warehouses and storefronts rather than traditional sanctuaries. With all of that said, I have been concerned that instead of relevance simply being an important issue for church leadership to consider it has instead become preeminent.
Jesus said in Luke 4: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” Luke 5.16-21
This is one of my most favorite passages as Jesus is essentially announcing the Kingdom here and I love the picture He creates. My concern is that, in an effort to make sure we have good sound, lights, graphics, printing, an inviting atmosphere, etc, that we might have inadvertently forgotten the message that Jesus saves, heals, restores, delivers, gives hope to the hopeless... is actually what's preeminent (superior, supreme, of most importance for those in Michigan reading this).
The good news is that we don't have to choose to only do one or the other, we can be a "both/and community" to borrow the phrase from Rich Nathan. Rich uses the phrase "both/and" all the time. It means we don't have to choose between relevance (good light, sound, musicians, decor...) or a solid message, we could and should do both.
To take it a step further, even the message isn't enough (let me explain before hurling insults). In the passage above, Jesus merely made his message known and as a result, few believed him. In fact they tried to throw him off of a cliff, but we don't have to read much further before we see where an audience was amazed by his teaching because it had authority and he demonstrated that authority by delivering a man who was oppressed.
The truth is that Jesus didn't just proclaim the Kingdom (talked a good game) but he demonstrated it as well. My prayer is that we, as leaders within the church (not just pastors & paid staff by the way), would be about the proclamation AND demonstration of the Good News of the Kingdom. Lights, sound, stage decor and quality music/ musicians, video, etc, are all great, they really are, but nothing will ever be more relevant to an individual or a community than helping those who are poor, giving sight to those who are blind and setting free those who are imprisoned and bound.
I'd love to hear your thoughts on this so feel free to share, comment or ask questions!