A modern tactic used to bring people to the faith is to show them how the Church has benefited the lives of believers.
The most compelling testimonies have a story component that shows the transformative nature of our Lord. Some respond by asking the question, “What can the Church do for me?” Without personal benefit, why would someone ever choose to be Christian?
As much as we may wish that the Holy Spirit would show how every aspect of the Church was relevant to our lives, sometimes it is difficult to discern. We strive to understand the relevance of the Church because without the transformative nature of Christ, we have little reason to believe or practice the faith. What would be its purpose?
The transformative effect is a promise of Scripture, but it is problematic when the first step in accepting Christ is a move towards self-fulfillment. The importance of the transformation is in the ability to serve God while being fed and fulfilled through His sacred Scripture. The transformation should not have the primary intent of bettering our own lives, but rather in service the Christ and His people. As Chuck Colson says in his book Loving God, “For we should read God’s Word not for what we can get out of it, not for what it will do for us, but for what it will teach us to do for our God.”
What it means to be relevant
Relevance is the only way concepts become tangible and accessible. We better conceptualize the importance of an idea or belief when we understand its “significant and demonstrable bearing,” which is the way Webster’s Dictionary defines “relevance.” Without relevance, our conversations and lives would be a bit disjointed and chaotic. It is understandable that in a world overrun by such chaos and distress, people desire to be surrounded and comforted by that which is relevant to them. The Church has a duty to bring them what they need, rather than what they perceive to be relevant.
Our thoughts are deepened when the relevance of our faith is made clear, in part, through experience. For instance, when thinking about the beauty of a flower, it is relevant to then think about the immensity of God’s creation. It’s humbling to think that His love for this world comes down to the finest of details. The relevance of the second thought is that the complexity of God’s creation has “significant and demonstrable bearing” on the flower, and therefore deepens the human experience.
How relevance applies to the Church
Though relevance is essential in deepening our spiritual lives, it should always be put in its proper place—second to the Truth. The truth of the Church persists through our need to make it tangible and real in our lives. As servants of Christ, we worship Him regardless of how “real” the truths seem in our day-to-day because we know that Christ will reveal Himself to us—in his time.
Genesis 1:26 says, “Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness...’” This is the proper order of creation. We need to make sure that we are offering the reality of Christ, and not a self-serving counterfeit that seems to be the real thing or is most receptive to a secular audience.
The decline of church attendance and practicing Christians should come as no surprise when we offer non-believers luxuries instead of the necessities they yearn for. A life of faith is tough and rugged, not comfortable and convenient. It’s not for the faint of heart, or those who aren’t willing to give everything. People want something to believe in, and a solely “relevant” Church is simply not enticing.
What it does not mean to be relevant
Often relevance leads to the dilemma of treating the Church as a “product” to be sold. We have an infinite supply of the Gospel message, and people have a hunger for truth and substance. The problem with this approach is that products, unlike Christ, are not an end in themselves.
When the Church is “sold” to people, their first thought, like with any other material gain, is how this product is going to serve them. Scripture speaks contrary to this self-satisfying notion on every occasion the issue of how to live ones life arises. We are called to serve Christ and in turn we will not be let go. Even in the worst of circumstances, the Lord will care for us (Isaiah 42:3).
Regardless of how relevant the Church is, we are called to bring the Gospel of Christ to all. The foundation of Christian worldview is about applying and bringing the truth of scripture to everything we touch.
If we could not clearly see how Scripture applied to our lives, would we ignore it? Scripture doesn’t say, “Bring forth what people want to hear, so they will be satisfied with what the Church can do for them.” Scripture says to bring the Good News to the far corners of the earth, period.
The Church is meant to serve Christ, and we do that through serving each other. We feed the hungry, clothe the naked, tend to the sick, and visit those in prison as if they were Christ themselves. Do we do this because it’s relevant to us? No, we do it because Christ said so, and our love for Him is so great that we choose to obey.
How to be relevant
As a pleasant byproduct of the Church, we will find relevance. It is through the grace of God that He brings us joy. When we live a life like Christ, and serve Him, we discover that we more closely mirror His blessed face. But, we must never forget that His blessed face was marred with sweat, blood, and tears in sacrifice and love to us. We are called to bring that same sense of giving to each other, in His name.
The more like Christ we are, the more we will be relevant to His children. The more like Christ we are, the more we will feel love. Luke 6:45 proclaims that “out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” We will be relevant when we serve Christ, but we do not bring a relevant Church; rather we bring the one and only Church, which just so happens to be relevant.
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