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Keeping the Message Relevant

Wes  —  February 12, 2013

As it pertains to Christianity, and specifically preaching, a term I hear more and more is, “relevant.” I am constantly hearing, “Congregations need to keep their preaching and teaching relevant, if they want to grow.” I certainly don’t disagree with that sentiment. Obviously, the opposite of relevant would be irrelevant; I don’t think we need irrelevant sermons and lessons. So, should we endeavor and strive for greater relevance in a hope to retain and gain people in our pews?

Mirriam-Webster defines Relevant as, “having significant and demonstrable bearing on the matter at hand.” Certainly, that should define the message we preach; it should always have bearing on the matter at hand.

But, isn’t the message we are supposed to be preaching the gospel? The gospel of Jesus Christ was relevant in the First Century and is just as relevant in the Twenty-First Century. We must understand it is not the job of Christians to make the gospel relevant, but to help the world see the relevancy of the gospel!

That will always be a struggle. The Christians of Paul’s day struggled to help the world see the relevancy of the gospel, just as we struggle to help them see it today. Paul said the wise men, the scribes, and the debaters of his age considered “the word of the cross” to be foolishness (1 Corinthians 1:18-20). In other words, they saw the message and the messengers as being completely (and laughably) irrelevant. Yet, Paul did not change the message to suit the people. He didn’t try to make the message hip, cool, or wise. He simply preached the gospel,

For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men (1 Corinthians 1:21-25).

The worldly minded will always see the message of the cross as foolish and will always see Christians as fools! When we try to make ourselves seem wise, cool, hip, and eloquent – we miss the whole point! Paul said that he was not sent to preach the gospel “with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power” (1 Corinthians 1:17). In other words, when the messenger becomes what’s relevant, the message becomes irrelevant.

In an effort to be relevant, many have changed the message and are now preaching a completely irrelevant message. They are eloquent, they are cool, they are popular, and they have essentially “emptied [the cross of Christ] of its power.” They have crafted and customized a palatable and relevant message for the people, instead of helping the people to change their perspective and understand the timeless relevancy of the gospel.

The Bible is being treated, by many, as a practical self-help guide to life. The Bible, to many, is simply a guide to what they need to do to have God make them more happy. After all, that’s the relevant message people want to hear. In their theology, it seems God exists to bring happiness to man, rather than man existing to bring glory to God. This self-centered theology may be socially relevant, but is eternally irrelevant.

We could spend our time trying to make people think we’re funny, witty, cool, and up-to-date with all the latest technology. We could make people believe the message is all about them and their happiness. Or, we could spend our time showing people the spiritual transformation which can happen in their lives through the power of the gospel. Let us preach Christ and say to the world, “Put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls” (James 1:21).

May we never become a people who are socially relevant and eternally irrelevant! Instead, let us do whatever we must to show the world the eternal relevancy of the cross!

I love you and God loves you,

Wes McAdams