Culturally Relevant: To Be or Not to Be?
:: by Kenny Chessor ::
The mere mention of the phrase is sure to get a rise out of most people involved in ministry. More than likely, you’ve formed an opinion on the subject after seeing it done right, or perhaps seeing it done completely wrong. Whichever side you’re on in this debate, the question is being asked and will continue to be with each generation to come.
Can the church hold onto its values, while still being relevant to a world that is constantly moving away from them?
In no way do I claim to be an expert on this subject, but my years in youth ministry (or student ministry depending on how relevant you’re trying to be) have afforded me some insight. I only ask that I may humbly submit my opinion for your consideration.
Now to answer the question…don’t you hate it when someone asks a question, only to run from it the entire article? In short, I feel the answer is yes. The church can hold to its values, while still being relevant to a world that is constantly moving away from them. I’ll attempt to approach the subject from both ends of the spectrum.
TOO RELEVANT: We’ve all seen it done. They try so hard to connect with this generation; they’ll seemingly stop at nothing to appear “cool” and “hip”. For the record, using the words cool and hip immediately disqualifies you from being either. You know that guy who keeps trying to work Lady Gaga and Lil’ Wayne lyrics into their sermons to gain street cred. They’ll usually start their youth services off with a popular YouTube video that all their students have seen a year ago when it was actually new.
Last year I was at a youth event put on by an organization who for years has preached against television and cinema. To my surprise, the service started with a video presentation of how special effects have changed through the years in film. Which, I must say, was extremely cool, but what significance did it have to the service?
The danger in trying too hard to be relevant is more than likely the message you’re sending to your kids is this: The world is cool….really really cool. Let me ask you this: if your youth service was one of your students, how would you try to help them? We’ve all had to counsel with a teen who was was trying to mimic the world in every aspect of their life. They seem to want to be as close to the world as they can be, while still maintaining a spiritual walk with God. How does your youth service differ from this? Are you trying to pattern your music, media, and subject matter after what is cool by this world’s standard, but still hope to have something spiritual happen in the end? Maybe if we can look through this with this lens, we can see our folly to be “cool” for the sake of being cool. It’s been said a million times: “The message doesn’t change, but the method needs to.” And while I agree with this, I must warn that we be careful not to let the method become the message. I fear we can get so carried away with the latest method, that the message of Christ gets watered down or completely drowned out. Then, our students leave thinking saying , “WOW! That was really cool!” but when asked, struggle to give an idea about what the point was.
NOT RELEVANT AT ALL: Possibly without meaning to, this group projects that the world is so evil, that a good Christian must completely disengage from it to be holy. If you find yourself in this group, I’d like to start off by saying, I believe your intentions are well meaning. I believe as much as anyone that we should come out from among them and be ye separate. This is not the debate.
It’s been well said that the problem isn’t the ship being in the sea, but the sea being in the ship. This is definitely true, but I feel most people use this as an argument to dismiss any cultural ventures to reach the lost. Let’s keep with this ship in the sea analogy. Obviously, the church is the ship and the world is the sea. So what is the ship’s purpose, I ask? If it is to sail on safely to the other side, with no other objective, then by all means, sail on. However, we find that the ship has a very special purpose for being in the sea altogether. You see, there’s fish in the sea. Jesus declared to his first disciples, that he would make them fishers of men. How effective can a fisher be if he has no knowledge of the fish or the water it lives in? The best anglers not only pinpoint the lure that is most attractive to the fish, but also learn how to present it. Should I use a top water jig? Maybe I should drag a worm across the bottom. The fact is, we’re all trying to catch fish…but some of us are using different bait and presenting it in a way that ensures a catch.
The fact is, most churches are already engaged in culturally relevant evangelism. However, hopefully it’s relevant to the culture that the church is in. Understanding this, we know we’ll only win certain types of men if we only evangelize with one method. So maybe we should rethink what is relevant the next time we knock another churches style. If I’m expected to win lost teens, then I must be a student of youth culture. The same is given to the man trying to reach the farmers and oil riggers of our world.
We understand that God’s Word is timeless. It never changes. Nevertheless, culture is fluid. It’s always changing. Not only that, there is not one culture that is widely accepted in this generation. We live in a fractured culture. It will also change by geography. What works for downtown church in the major city will not work for the country church in the rural location.
Paul said, “I am made all things to all [men] that I might by all means save some.” Paul was a man of study. He had a seemingly endless knowledge of the scriptures. But everywhere he went, he found ways to present the message to different cultures. Even to a group of polytheistic pagans. I think we should follow this biblical example. First, by becoming students of the Word of God. Then, by becoming students of our surrounding culture. By doing this, I believe, we’ll insure our student ministry will always be relevant.
Rev. Kenny Chessor serves as Louisiana District Youth President and is also the Student Pastor at Voice of Pentecost in Baton Rouge, LA