Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Making Myself Irrelevant

I'm sick to death of the use of the word "relevant" in relation to Christian preaching. Either a church uses it to advertise ("Look how relevant we are!"), or a pastor is castigated with it ("His sermons aren't very relevant.")

In these usages, I surmise that "relevant" means something like: You can begin to use this stuff and put it in practice immediately. It's not all airy-fairy, pie-in-the-sky preaching.

Well, I'm sick of it. I'm especially sick of the fact that the preachers who are loudest about their relevance seem to be the ones of the Emergent stripe, who have almost totally left off the systematic preaching of the Scriptures, in favor of topical sermonettes on how-to instructions that would fit perfectly well on an episode of Oprah.

When greater "relevance" is sought in preaching, one or more of the following may really be going on:

1. The preacher is so boring that it becomes impossible to grasp the fulness of his message, leaving the hearer with disjointed bits and pieces that cease to function together as a consistent truth. The boring preacher is another thing I'm sick of, but that's fodder for another post. It's tough to retain anything when you're nodding off.

2. The preacher has abandoned the Word in favor of trying to be relevant. (It's amazing how this works, but the one who chases "relevance" in his preaching is the one who has left behind the very thing that makes his preaching useful at all.) He has lots of good jokes and interesting stories, and he has developed his personal preaching style to an art form. He's interesting, but delivers nothing real.

3. The preacher has done a poor job of showing how the truths of the Word of God ought to effect his flock. Yes, pastor, this is part of your job description. You err if you simply exposit the Word, even faithfully, and fail to help your people see the application. Even doctrines like the Trinity and the Incarnation (and maybe especially ones like that) need to be presented in a way that elicits a change in your hearers. That's right: I said the Incarnation ought to have an observable effect on people who believe it. Shame on you if you leave the weighty doctrines of the Word under a glass case, behind a velvet rope. Encourage the people to reach out and touch it and grapple with it. It won't break.

4. Either the pastor or his congregation, or both, have lost sight of the power of the Word of God to effect immediate change with respect to our deepest need. What could be more relevant than eternal life? Than deliverance from hell? Than being transformed into the image of Christ? Than conquering the remaining motions of defeated sin? Pity the Christian who believes he's so advanced that the hearing of these things is no longer relevant in his mind.

5. The congregation is lazy. It can't maintain a train of thought for longer than a commercial break. It can't be bothered to really think anymore.

6. The congregation equates the presence of the Holy Spirit with their breaking out in goose-bumps. It's become so experience-oriented that it can no longer believe that the central act of Christian worship is the attentive, faith-filled hearing of the Word of God.

7. The congregation has to be entertained. This is just as much a tragedy as the boring pastor in #1 above. Both are evils to be despised in the churches. As a preacher, I refuse to try and compete with your satellite television, your Ipod, or your X-box. Stay at home if you're addicted to those things, and call upon them in the day of Judgment.

8. The congregation wants to attach Christ to their old lives; they don't want Christ to put their old lives to complete, utter, irretrievable death. Give me some tips about how to raise my kids. Help me be a better business man. Give my family some moral guidance. But don't talk to me about dying with Jesus, about what real repentance is, or why I might need to do it.

9. The congregation has developed itching ears, and can't stomach the preaching of doctrines which challenge the traditional teaching they've always received. All this talk about fallen man's depravity and moral inability to turn to God in faith...well, Preacher, that ain't they way I always heard it. God loves us enough to let us choose to go to hell if we want, didn't you know, Preacher?

I could mention more if I really sat and thought about it. I'm sure you could too. Give me Revival, not Relevance.


Gordan said...

Maybe just coincidence, but I'd say numbers 1 through 9 were all quite true of the church my family and I used to be members of.

Brenda said...

Same here, Gordan, in just about every church I've ever attended.

Preach the Word, Brother Preacherman, and save the anecdotes for the potluck!

May the Lord raise up more preachers who desire themselves to be irrelevant.

Reformed Renegade said...

A very relevant post. Thank you.

Gordan said...