Relevance? or Reality?

Is the church relevant today? It the question being posed by BBC Newsline’s latest mini series on faith. With footage of a declining traditional church, a doom-mongering priest and of vibrant youth events with cool music and trendy speakers the impression given was that unless the church is ‘relevant’ it will die off. But what are we talking about when we talk about relevance? For many people and the BBC programme it seems to be about aesthetics – the church is relevant when it has ‘contemporary music’ (don’t get me started on my views of lots of ‘christian’ music) or cool visuals, or trendy speakers who sit on stools and dress down to give their talk. But if this is what we are thinking about when we think about being relevant to our culture I think we’ve got it all wrong. The church – God’s people on earth – his means of bringing the good news of the kingdom can never and should never be irrelevant. I think the problem is more the church is not dealing in reality. Too many churches and too many Christians pretend. The bible is full of the gritty questions of life, of meaning, of purpose, of love and loss, relationships, justice and injustice. God deals in reality and in the messiness of people’s lives. The message of the gospel is one of reconciliation that speaks into every part of our lives. The problem is that churches have become divorced from reality, many play at Christianity, pretending to live happy lives, not acknowledging the reality of how messed up things are at times, not admitting when they don’t understand. The show Christianity we see in many places, and many of us (me included) is almost a denial of the gospel which actually tells us that we aren’t ok, that building our life on anything other than God won’t work long term, that God became one of us and lived among us in poverty and oppression, that there is hope of redemption and resurrection through a path of suffering and death, that we are forgiven but won’t be perfect until Jesus returns.

So maybe the issue isn’t that the church needs to be relevant and have up to date music, glitzy multimedia presentations, and trendy TV show host-esque communicators, maybe for lots of us the problem is that churches don’t deal with the reality of people’s lives – if there was more honesty and dealing with the issues we all struggle with instead of peddling trite shite then maybe the church would connect better with people around them as it is speaking abut the issues they are facing and bringing good news into those situations.

If Jesus was present in many of our churches today (of course meaning more than just a Sunday service!) I imagine he would bring a dose of reality that may not make him very welcome…

A few thoughts in progress from a slightly fuzzy post lunch Friday brain…


10 thoughts on “Relevance? or Reality?”

  1. Good post.

    People often talk about how ‘young people’ (y’know, that generic group) will only be attracted by trendy and ‘relevant’ stuff, but I disagree.

    I think young people, like everyone else, will be attracted by the truth of the gospel and the love of a genuine community.

    ‘Trendy’ people will be attracted by ‘trendy’ services, music and churches, and when the church up the road gets trendier, a good lot of them will be straight off there instead. You get into the trap of having to be more and more ‘attractive’, ‘branded’ etc., and the end result is that the church ends up a slave to fashion, can’t keep up, and then falls over as though dead.

    Far better to attract people who want what the gospel offers, even if that means fewer people in the short term.

  2. yeah the living it out is the tricky bit. A question though – how can we begin to make the steps from the bottom up in some churches where the leadership doesn’t get it and isn’t prepared or know how to live honestly and authentically?

  3. Great post

    I think a big problem is trying to highlight the importance of engaging with reality to churches which think the solutions about relevance lie within themselves rather than out in the communities around them.

  4. top post. much to ponder.

    i too react against the phrase ‘making’ jesus relevant.

    truth, reality and creativity are needed hand in hand tho. not either/or but both/and. it’s going to take us all!

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