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The Problem with Relevance

Honestly, I like the word relevant, but I also have a problem with it. It is subjective.

When someone I know, who believes like I do and shares my philosophy of ministry says, “I want my ministry to be relevant”—I know what they mean and I agree. They mean, without compromising truth or God’s Word, I really want to reach people and make the truth of God’s Word accessible and applicable to life in the 21st century. Yes, I agree. Jesus did exactly that.

But, when someone with a seeker-sensitive or emergent philosophy of ministry talks about relevance, usually they are way off the map of what is biblical. Many ministries have an “anything goes” mentality and are willing to move every ancient landmark and call into question any biblical value for the sake of “relevance.” Relevance has become a code word for “license to do anything under the guise of connecting.” It’s the grand slip and slide of today’s seeker sensitive and emergent church movement—as if “connecting with people and being attractive to the world” is the ultimate goal of Christianity.

The word “relevance” is subjective. The Bible is always relevant but the lifestyle it produces is always irrelevant to culture. And so it depends upon the context in which you speak. On one hand, the truth of God is forever relevant to human life—in ways that nothing else could be. It will never be out of touch. It is eternal, unchanging, unalterable, unshakeable, living TRUTH. Truth is always relevant. Yet, when a person actually lives a biblical life, they will always be considered irrelevant to a culture that rejects that truth and the lifestyle it produces. Biblical living has never been relevant to a culture that rejects God—it never will be. We must remember, even if, by well meaning motives, we could remove every obstacle that someone faces between them and the truth, TRUTH itself is the ultimate obstacle. Truth would still be rejected. To the God denier, God’s truth itself is unattractive and objectionable. In which case, it’s not a question of relevance, it’s a question of rebellion and unbelief.

So, the search for “relevance” is one that requires context. What kind of relevance are we after? What are we willing to sacrifice to be “relevant” and to whom are we eager to be “relevant.” What kind of relevance do we seek and why? Seeking to apply unchanging TRUTH in a relevant, accessible way—well that’s required both to lead someone to Christ and disciple them. Seeking to win the acceptance or to gain “cool factor” with a lost culture—whether by shaping our church services like late night talk shows, stepping into the pulpit with mod or effeminate clothing, or using shock-jock terminology in sermons—well, that’s going to be a losing battle every time, because even the lost culture knows that authentic, biblical Christian living is supposed to be different— oops… I mean, irrelevant. Don’t forget, God compares the unsaved life and the saved life to darkness and light—a rather stark contrast, don’t you think?

Let the TRUTH be relevant. But let our lifestyle be Biblical—and don’t be afraid to be irrelevant for God’s glory.

“But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light:” (1 Peter 2:9)

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  • ate it up! thanks!

  • That was one of the most relevant articles on this subject I have heard. Great treatment of the subject. I am glad you put forth a voice to stop the high-jacking of this term by the “emerging” church movement.

  • You nailed it! I have noticed that for many of the seeker-sensitive types, the word “relevance” is the only word in their vocabulary. They need to add a few words like “discernment”, “balance”, and especially “holiness”. Your last statement was excellent: “Don’t be afraid to be irrelevant for God’s glory”. Thanks for another great article!

  • Excellent article. So thankful that a great church like Lancaster Baptist has taken a strong stand in our country against the emergent church trends.

  • Thanks for this excellent article! Well-stated!


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