I agree that movie nights and pizza parties won't hold our kids; these provide no distinguishable difference from the social lives of most college dorms. But what does it mean to be "relevant?" Here are a few things relevance is not:
- Relevance is not being hip. Some think that relevance is wrapped up in the style of worship that's played on Sunday morning or how fashionable the youth pastor appears. But that isn't relevance, it's faddishness. If a church is trying to be relevant by importing Ray Bans, beards, and baristas, it won't work. College campuses will always be more cutting-edge than the church, and will change more quickly.
- Relevance is not using the newest media. While a great web site, sermon video integration, and similar technologies can help the church communicate its message more effectively, it doesn't make that message relevant to its audience. These are methods of communication, but what's being said is more important that the medium used to say it. Advertising has tried to use every conceivable method of communication invented, but in a house of all boys, the sale of pink dresses has no relevance to me whatsoever.
- Relevance is not offering "how-to" clinics on crafts, workshops on budgets, or cooking classes. I have no problem with churches reaching out to their congregations in offering such instruction. This can many times be a good service to provide to a community that could not otherwise afford to enroll in a community college course or something along those lines. But relying on such activities on their own does not offer relevance in the lives of others.
Relevance Means Making a Difference Where it CountsSo, what is it to be relevant, especially to young people today? The concept of relevance is much deeper than clinics, communications, or pop-culture. Relevance means making a real difference where it counts. The early church was relevant because they dealt with the difficulties that real people faced. While the Greek writer Celsus criticized Christianity as being the religion of "only foolish and low individuals, and persons devoid of perception, and slaves, and women, and children, of whom the teachers of the divine word wish to make converts,"3 it is precisely these individuals, the disenfranchised, that Christianity helped the most through its teaching that all persons bear the image of God and are therefore equal. In a letter written just over one hundred years after the founding of Christianity, the anonymous writer addresses Diognetus who was seeking to understand the attraction to the new Christian faith. He reported:
They share their board with each other, but not their marriage bed… They obey the established laws, but in their own lives they go far beyond what the laws require. They love all men, and by all men are persecuted. They are unknown, and still they are condemned; they are put to death, and yet they are brought to life. They are poor, and yet they make many rich; they are completely destitute, and yet they enjoy complete abundance. They are dishonored, and in their very dishonor are glorified; they are defamed, and are vindicated. They are reviled, and yet they bless; when they are affronted, they still pay due respect. When they do good, they are punished as evildoers; undergoing punishment, they rejoice because they are brought to life.4Relevance comes when we meet the needs, the questions, and the struggles of others. Someone who can help you through the real questions and challenges of your life becomes very relevant to you. Community projects reaching to help the poorest in your own community are a relevant thing to do.
Apologetics Offers RelevanceAnother way of meeting people is to meet then where they are struggling intellectually, too. Apologetics ministries can greatly help in this area. As apologetics wrestles with the conflicts people face in defending their faith against the social and cultural disintegration we see happening around us, it becomes incredibly relevant. A lot of people have doubts or very difficult questions that they are afraid to share with others, thinking they would be perceived as weak in their faith. Yet, the church should be the first place they come to find answers. Young people are especially searching to find the answers to a host of issues. Their friends and teachers will many times contradict what they've been taught at home or at church and they simply don't know how sift through the milieu to find out what is true. Apologetics can help them get the right answers and help them to share those with others, vindicating them when they are defamed.
Just as guarding against heresy is one hidden benefit apologetics offers the church, another is providing more relevance to the congregation and to the youth. The truth is always important, we should be helping our kids find it and share it well.
2. Stetzer, Ed. "Dropouts and Disciples: How Many Students Are Really Leaving the Church?" Christianity Today. Christianity Today, 14 May 2014. Web. 27 Feb. 2015. http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2014/may/dropouts-and-disciples-how-many-students-are-really-leaving.html?paging=off.
3. Schlabach, Gerald. "Celsus' View of Christians and Christianity." Celsus' View of Christians and Christianity. Gerald W. Schlabach., 8 Aug. 1997. Web. 02 Mar. 2015. http://www.bluffton.edu/~humanities/1/celsus.htm.
4. . "An Anonymous Brief for Christianity Presented To Diognetus." Christian Classics Ethereal Library. http://www.ccel.org/ccel/richardson/fathers.x.i.ii.html Accessed 4/6/2014.