Tuesday, October 21, 2008


I prefer relevance. I certainly prefer it over irrelevance. Relevance is important. But as important as relevance may be, it is not supremely important. Some churches act like it is the only thing that matters.

A friend of mine who is a pastor was telling me about a new "fast- growing" church that, to some degree, is organized around alcohol. The pastor often wears a shirt advertising an alcohol purveyor. Groups are organized around drinking (some of their groups are called "Beer, food and God" groups). The church offers (and sells out) tours of area breweries and wineries. My friend has a close friend on the staff of the "drinking church" who told him, "I am so excited to be a part of a church that finally gets it!" He's not excited about alcohol, per se, but the fact that the church is so free and relevant.

Having grown up in a very legalistic environment, I can understand longings for freedom and relevance. But freedom for what? Relevant in what ways? To me, the "drinking church" (or cussing church, smoking church, porn church or other attempts at relevance) is a bad idea for several reasons.

1. It is either extremely naive or arrogant to not be in touch with the pain being caused by alcohol in today's society. There are millions of people in America who are waging a life and death struggle with alcohol addiction. They are at risk of losing everything to this disease. In my way of thinking these are precisely the people that Christ would want us to reach. The "drinking church" is unfortunately hostile to them and their recovery. True, folks with drinking issues could go somewhere else, but that leads me to objection number 2.

2. If you make alcohol a litmus test for your ministry you are not going to be "open" for more people, but "closed." You are holding up a "Not Welcome" sign to anyone who is an alcoholic, the child of an alcoholic, the spouse of an alcoholic, or those who love them. That is a fair number of people. Ironic, huh? In an attempt to be friendly you push folks away. If alcohol is lifted up it will draw some men to it, it will push others away. I want the cross only to be an offense...which leads me to objection number 3.

3. Christ has called us to be "other-worldly." We are to be in the world, but not of the world. I am not here to promote the artificial joys of this world. They get enough promotion. I am here to hold up eternal joys. My job is to let people know that there is a transcendent life. When people find the living water, they never thirst again.

4. If you are truly grace-based, you don't need to wear it on your sleeve because it will become obvious in the course of your dealings. In a grace-based environment, lifestyle issues should not get in the way of folks coming to Christ, for sure. But we don't need to be promotional on those issues, either. It is sufficient to say, "Only Christ matters." An analogy I might draw is the sequence of competence :

Unconsciously incompetent
Consciously incompetent
Consciously competent
Unconsciously competent

According to this sequence, you start out being unaware of your incompetence, and you end up being unaware of your competence. When you are in transition from incompetence to competence, you are "consciously" in transition. Here's how this applies: substitute the word relevant for competent. To be consciously relevant is not the highest form of relevance. The highest form is unconscious. When you are working too hard at being relevant, you are working too hard at being relevant.

For centuries the church has struggled with relevance. Now that there is willingness and opportunity to be relevant, let's not swing to the other extreme, and become irrelevant, by having relevance become our message.

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