Sometimes We Can Be Too Relevant

I occasionally feel bothered by our efforts, as the Christian church, to adopt the world’s ways in order to appeal to the world. There are lots of advantages to doing that, and yet, I don’t know, it sometimes just doesn’t feel right. Maybe I’m just getting old and allergic to edgy.

Then along comes Chuck Swindoll, interviewed in a recent issue of Leadership Journal. Last fall Pam and I attended his church, Stonebriar Community Church, located in the Dallas suburb of Frisco. It was a very traditional service, with an orchestra and choir and hymns. In many ways, the service didn’t really appeal to me, probably because it’s been so long since I’ve regularly attended a non-contemporary church. But Swindoll’s sermon was superb. And really, isn’t that where the emphasis should be–on delivering a really great meal for hungry parishioners? As opposed to spending numerous man-hours putting together videos and dramas and light-shows and kick-butt music?

We were told, by someone who got a back-stage tour of Stonebriar, that they have all the best audio-visual equipment, including big screens on side walls on which they could project a larger-than-life Swindoll while he’s preaching. But he doesn’t let them do that. He wants people looking at him, rather than to the side walls. That’s not an ego thing–it’s not like he wants the attention. It’s a communication thing, of him directly engaging with his listeners eye-to-eye.

But back to the “being relevant” issue. We’ve all heard cautions that, when the church adopts the world’s methods, we lose our distinctiveness. On the other hand, being distinctively different from the world may make us seem out-of-touch, dated…irrelevant. So I’m a bit torn. No sense glorying in our distinctiveness when the pews are empty and the people in the homes surrounding our church are going to hell. And yet….

In the Leadership Journal interview, Swindoll had the following to say, and it’s good, thought-provoking stuff:

We’re tempted to think of the church as a business with a cross stuck on top (if it has a cross at all). “We really shouldn’t look like a church.” I’ve heard that so much I want to vomit. “Why?” I ask. “Do you want your bank to look like a bank? Do you want your doctor’s office to look like a doctor’s office, or would you prefer your doctor to dress like a clown? Would you be comfortable if your attorney dressed like a surfer and showed movies in his office? Then why do you want your church’s worship center to look like a talk show set?”

Martyn Lloyd-Jones said, “When the church is absolutely different from the world, she invariably attracts it. It is then that the world is made to listen to her message, though it may hate it at first.”

Some time ago a group of church leaders decided that they didn’t want to be hated. They focused just on attracting more and more people.

But if we’re here to offer something the world can’t provide, why would I want to copy the world? There is plenty of television. There are plenty of talk shows. There are plenty of comedians. But there is not plenty of worship of the true and living God.

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