Continuing our dialogue on engaging the culture, Baptist Press recently discussed the issue of relevance with Mark Dever. Dever shared several concerns regarding an overemphasis on relevancy in ministry and the church. As he says, “I would like to suggest that the most fundamental problem in the church is not that we are not relevant enough in relation to the world, but that the church is not distinct enough from the world. Our churches must reflect the character of God.”

Dever goes on to challenge church leaders to “channel their energy toward maintaining purity in the church instead of spending great amounts of time and ministry on relating to the culture.” Yes we need to meet people in their context. However, that concept should not require a program within the church. In the midst of normal, everyday life we should find ourselves dealing with the same things as others within our community and sphere. So relevance should be very natural. This natural relevance should also lead to a shifting of priorities within the church. Instead of being driven by numbers or results, we should be driven by faithfulness to the Word of God and the Christian life. We need to be more concerned with pursuing God and less concerned with how many people fills the pews or walk the aisle (which brings on a whole other discussion).

I recommend this article to anyone like myself who is consistently pondering these issues. I think Dever hits the mark dead on.

3 Replies to “Relevance vs. Distinctiveness: What’s the Real Problem?

  1. This is a great topic Jeff and I’ve been wanting to jump into comment for a while but never have enough time to organize my thoughts. Let me throw this out there as I was considering your last couple posts:

    We often treat “culture” as a singular entity – responding to a “we need to be in the culture but not of the culture” mentality. But I’d propose that there are multiple cultures within our multi-layered society. Certainly American culture is different from Indonesian culture… but I would say that within American culture there are multiple cultures, and each of us are involved in at least one if not more of those sub-cultures. Our involvement in those sub-cultures places us in a sphere of influence where our personal interests can have impact on those we encounter. Ultimately that is where ministry happens.

    I’m not proposing that this is a new or unique idea – it’s been discussed before, and you have hinted at it. I suppose when church leaders say they want to be culturally relevant, they’re primarily speaking to pop-culture. But pop-culture doesn’t really have one overarching definition either… I guess we all feed into what pop-culture becomes.

    I’m wary of a church that tries to be all things to all people – that church probably has a misguided view of what pop-culture even is, and at best is completely out of touch with it. If a church wants to be relevant, it needs to understand the sub-cultures from which its people come… and those cultures cannot be summed up in a one-size-fits-all definition. So [church leader] don’t try to assimilate yourself into what you think culture is – you’re probably wrong – be who you are at heart and strive towards who God is calling you to be. And on a grassroots level, when you meet that person from that sub-culture you don’t understand, find the common ground and start building the relationship there, because as different as our many cultures are, striking similarities can be found in the oddest places.

    The last thing I need Sunday morning is some pastor posturing about how hip and cool he is – I don’t need one more marketing message in the week coming from the pulpit of all places.

  2. I’ve said for a long time that the first time a church bought a building was the downfall of Christianity.

    Tithing then goes toward paying building costs and other administrative costs. I’m sure that’s what Christ intended. To pay a secretary to answer the phones with His Holy Tithe.

    What does that have to do with Relevance? A church naturally grows, the Gospel has that great effect, but we Christians choose to build a bigger building so we can stay together. Instead of spreading through the culture like a brush fire, it burns in one place like a bonfire. The bonfire needs fuel to be brought to it to stay ablaze, but the brushfire consumes everything in it’s path in all directions leaving a changed landscape in it’s wake.

    We find ourselves ministering to ourselves, using money for the benefit of ourselves, and we remove ourself from our culture.

    We become salespeople for So and So Baptist and stop being Gospel town criers.

    We “attend” Church, we “go to” Church, instead of BEING the Church.

  3. Brian…my friend…I couldn’t have said it any better. Sounds like one of our many road trip conversations. I find myself constantly asking the same question as I consider Christ, the gospel, and believers. The question is this: What should the church look like? I look at so much of what is called “the church” today and it feels so far removed from the Bible and what Christ said about the church. The church is the people and not the building. It is about gospel-centered lives and not so much about programming. One concern I have about the church today is that things have gotten so big and complicated that it takes 100 people just to take care of a church building and technical/logistical needs of each ministry and program. I could go on for days but fear I would spend the rest of the evening on here. In any case, the church should be about a community of believers striving to grow together in faith and godliness which results in changed lives that impact the surrounding culture and community. Though this can be done in many different ways, I fear we have overcomplicated the matter.

    And as Burns mentioned, it is becoming increasingly popular to speak from the pulpit as opposed to preach from the pulpit. Thus, we get a feel good pep talk or motivational speech about our best life now. How do we consider what the church should look like and conform ourselves to that notion when we do not hear the word preached with passion and authority from the pulpit? Yes, we can read and study Scripture on our own. But when the Word is absent from the pulpit, it sends a message to the rest of the church community that it is not necessary in everyday life. It is a shame.

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