The issue of “relevance” seems to be a two-edged sword.
On the one had, who doesn’t want to be relevant?
Relevant can mean–having sensible or logical connection with something–like that which is currently being discussed. And the church should be part of the conversation.
Relevant can also mean–having some bearing on or importance for real-world issues, present-day events, or the current state of society. And the church should be making an impact in the real world.
But do we sacrifice our uniqueness–our mission in the world, when we seek to be like the world?
John the Baptist and Jesus were both part of the conversation. They had the most important message, one that was very much needed, real and could change society. (See Matthew 11:1-19)
But they approached society in very different ways.
John was unique in is dress, diet, and desert seclusion.
Jesus was unique because of his birth (but so was John but no as miraculous), his person (so was John but not so majestic), his power, his authority and his mission.
John led a life separate from the world. Jesus lived in the midst of the world–even with (or especially) among those with the greatest physical and spiritual need.
John was criticized for being different.
Jesus was criticized for being like the world.
But there were very much like.
Their first message–“repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand”
The reaction of the crowd–flocked to them and confessed their sins.
Their message to the religious elite, the hypocrites–condemnation.
Their character–unblemished, blameless (though they were accused), authentic, real.
Their allegiance–total submission to God.
So what does this say about relevance and the church?
1) that character and mission are more important than mode
2) that there is more than one way to impact society
3) that the message should not be compromised
4) that seeking approval from the world is not the goal
5) that seeking isolation from the world is not the goal
6) that religious hypocrisy should not be tolerated
7) that while the things of God should be accessible to all, they demand our all
8 ) God is always relevant
9) the Gospel is relevant to all, in all societies, at all times
And probably many more.
The point–as Ed Stetzer as has said, relevance is a tool not the goal.
The point–character, mission and message should not be compromised in order to make the “church” relevant.
The key–the gospel of Jesus Christ, proclaimed with clarity and passion by lives lived authentically and with compassion for the glory of God.