Maintaining Relevance for Church Revitalization and Renewal

   

Relevancy is a big topic these days when it comes to the rapidly declining church and what can be done about the plateau or decline. Would you classify your particular church that you have been called to lead appropriately relevant any longer? I would like for us to reflect upon the idea of local churches relevance towards the community it serves in this article. Relevance is certainly one of the chief obstacles for most congregations fighting the throws of rapid decline.

   

Recently, a staff member told me of a conversation they had with a church, which was in rapid decline. What they wanted from our organization was not the assistance we had already been providing for the last four years, but now something more. They asked for us to fund a particular staff member to come to their church and do the things that they no longer wanted to do. What they were coming to realize was the five specific options they had for consideration back then were no longer viable since they sat down and did nothing but complain about the present church revitalizer and why both he as well as our organization expected them to work at bringing the church out of its decline. The last words, which came from, their lips were that the only thing we wanted was their building. While it is often in revitalization efforts that churches wait too long to do something, it is often too late by the time they see the writing on the walls of closure and then want help. I have said it publically and will say it over and over again that if a church waits too long to begin the church revitalization journey, many times the only thing any church revitalization group can do is to close the present church, deed the property over to a church revitalization network such as an association, and allow them to put either a church planter or church revitalizer in place in an attempt to keep a gospel lighthouse at that specific location. The church, which is working towards revitalization and renewal, needs to reply to the needs of the world in an applicable way, while caring out its Biblical directive to continue to make disciples if it is going to remain relevant. Jesus modeled relevance for us. He met people right where they were at in His culture. He powerfully ministered in the middle of the diverse social spectrum that surrounded Him (Jews, Gentiles, Pharisees, Samaritans, and Romans) and He contextualized the message in a way His culture could relate to.

   

Random House Dictionary has defined relevance as: the condition of being relevant, or connected with the matter at hand.[1]

  

With the world changing and the local church slow to respond to such changes, maintaining relevance is critical in this post-post-modern age. Someone has humorously alleged, "There are four signs of approaching age: baldness, bifocals, bridges, and bulges!" We are changing each and every day. A church is a living organism made up of spiritual believers who have had a salvation experience with our Lord Jesus Christ. As such we have made a commitment to the responsibility of carrying out the commands of our Lord. History seems to dictate that prior "movements" became "monuments" when they failed to discern the times in "becoming all things to all men so that by all possible means some might be saved". The greater question is: Are we open to preaching the gospel "by all possible means"? If the answer is "yes" then it's time to get relevant. If the answer is "no", then its only a matter of time before our movement resembles a monument as did many other great movements before us. Relevance is the relational key to keeping our timeless message timeless. The New Testament church is a spiritual, a functioning, a relational, and a reproducing body. Let’s look at the positives side of churches, which are being revitalized and how they are working to keep their relevance as they relate to the communities they serve.

   

R – Relational

  

We live in a world where people need relationships that are cultivated and sustained. The church is a social, relational organization. A relevant church needs structures to assist in developing and strengthening relationships. A relevant church seeks to create community. Churches that fail to start new groups and relevant groups, have decided to die. Relationship building will either make you or break you as a pastor/leader. If you are effective in drawing people around you in effective lasting relationships, you will have a greater chance to be effective. What makes a church secure and stable is not mere friendliness, but true concern, compassion, and caring for others. Most declining churches give little thought to how relationships develop within the church. There needs to be a purposeful commitment to relationship building with other believers (most of this is outside of small groups)! I have asked hundreds of unchurched people the question, “What is the one thing you would look for in a church?” That simple research indicates that more than anything else, people want to build meaningful relationships. As Christians, we know that people ultimately are looking for relationships with God. In today’s world, if the church is going to reach the unchurched, it must build bridges of relationships.

  

E – Evangelism

  

Declining churches often replace evangelism with feel good inward focused events, which while designed for the already initiated individual of the church, does little to draw or compel new people to the church. Relevant churches keep practices of effective evangelism front and center. Declining churches create events which provide a good time for the present membership, but does little to reach a lost community. In order to remain relevant the declining church needs a process to identify, cultivate and track prospects. They need to pray for lost people and keep the subject of lost people before the membership. The revitalizing church must have a plan to mobilize members for the task of evangelism. An ongoing plan to train members in evangelism is critical if a dying church wants to see a turnaround. The church revitalizer must model evangelism and apprentice those who could assist in the evangelization of the community around the church. We have learned that revival and renewal occurs when the Holy Spirit makes inroads into the souls of the least likely and the disenchanted. So we need to start praying and be prepared for the Spirit of God to move us outside the box. Any effective evangelism strategy has a plan to deploy the trained members into the field. If a church renewal effort is going to be successful, the church will need an effective plan to follow-up and disciple those who accept Jesus as Savior and Lord. This is one of the key ingredients towards revitalizing a dying church.

  

L – Loving

  

Displaying the love of the Lord displays a church’s ability to attract and connect with people at a heart level. Showing love is a way for church members to draw people to themselves, not because they are charismatic, but because they care about people and see the best in them. They relate at a heart level and trust comes easy. This is not an issue of whether or not large numbers of people flock to you, but whether people who know you seem to migrate to you or away from you. That's an important question to ask of your church and its membership. When you do hook up with people, do you quickly connect at a heart level? People like you best when you are yourself. They may not all like you, but they will like you best when you are yourself. They can trust you when they know "what they see is what they get." Be yourself.

  

E – Evolving

  

Relevant ministry is the buzzword among many church revitalizers as we work to help church evolve and stay relevant. Some churches are open to such conversation while others are afraid to think about what their church has become and the steps one must take to allow it to evolve into something much healthier. The world is changing faster than it ever has before, and without sacrificing the Truth of the Gospel, the church needs to change with it. Evolving ones church towards a future which impacts culture and community is important. There are some things pastors and churches can do to make sure they do not miss opportunities to minister to people in the midst of a changing culture. Networking ones struggling church with a healthy one willing to come along side of you and assist is a tremendous way to begin the journey back towards health. These churches can bring value and support to the membership of a declining church and offer encouragement while giving direction. These networking of churches working to revitalize dying churches help bring fresh vision and ideas back to ones community. Keep in mind is that change is not new to the church. Churches have been evolving in different ways, and for different reasons, since the beginning of time. Stop resisting the necessary changes which just might save your church. The apostle Paul was relevant in his culture by becoming a Jew to the Jew, and a Greek to the Greek. Are we willing to sincerely engage our culture with the love and message of Jesus? If so, are we willing to make the adjustments that are necessary? The need to remain relevant applies not just to the pastor, but also to the entire priesthood of believers represented in the local church.

  

V – Vision

  

Since the early 1990s, there has been considerable emphasis placed on the visioning process. With that has come a lot of confusion. Ministry leaders often misunderstand the issue of vision. A biblical understanding of vision is an appropriate step for bringing clarity to this issue. Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint (Prov. 29:18). It is clear in Acts 16 that the apostle Paul’s motivation for going to Macedonia was a clear and compelling vision or revelation that he received from God. In verse 9 we are told that, “During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’” Immediately, Paul redirected his actions in response to this vision. As a result, the gospel was preached and the church was established at Philippi. In the same way, church revitalization must flow out of a clear vision from God. Any other motivation, no matter how noble, is not sufficient. Therefore, it is essential that before one begins the journey of church revitalization that he understand what it means to receive a vision from God. For Paul, the vision he received was so specific and clear that it required a new direction. There was a new sense of authority in Paul’s life. He was compelled toward this new vision. God’s revelation of what He wants to accomplish in the reaching of a certain people group at a particular point in the future as a result of His church being faithfully revitalized. It is important to understand that this kind of vision is not created, for it already exists within the heart of God. Therefore, it is discovered as God reveals it to the listening church revitalizer. This revealed vision must be shared by the church revitalizer and the local body of Christ. Proverbs 29:18 has been interpreted by many as, “Where there is no vision, the people perish (KJV).” A descriptive translation describes the verse like this: “Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint (NKJV).” A personal translation may be, “When they do not have a word from God, everyone does what is right in his own eyes.” When believers are not hearing from God, there will be spiritual anarchy in the lives of the people of God. Since a fresh vision is the result of hearing from God, it is important that the church revitalizer spend time alone with God in order to hear Him clearly. For those who are initiators by nature, it is important for the visioning process to include time for prayer and fasting. A vision from God will become clearer and more intense over time.

  

There are countless ways to communicate vision, but the communication of the vision must be intentional. Therefore, the role of the vision caster is a primary one for the church revitalizer. He will need to constantly cast the vision throughout the process of revitalization and renewal.

  

A – Adapting

  

In Genesis 12:1-4 God gave Abram a revelation of what He wanted to accomplish in and through him. “The Lord had said to Abram, ‘Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.’ So Abram left, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Haran.” Notice Abram’s response to God’s revelation. Abram adapted immediately, left, and did what the Lord revealed to him. A good question to consider is, “If God revealed a new thing to you as the church revitalizer as to what He wants to accomplish in and through you, how long would it take you and your church to get in a position to respond?” Being prepared for the task of revitalization is about spiritually positioning ourselves to respond to God’s activity around us.

  

Regardless of the model you use for ones revitalization effort being able to adapt will allow you many opportunities to reach a new milepost and move towards significant renewal. Every church revitalizer should have a ministry to the body and a mission to the world. When this is happening a new milepost is being accomplished. This signifies that the renewing church has reached a new level of healthy maturity and another milepost has been realized. While mileposts may vary, each milepost serves as a key organizing principle for accomplishing the vision received from God. Mile posting allows us to ensure that healthy systems are in place prior to initiating the revitalization process. When there is a conflict between calendar and the completion of a milepost, calendar should be adjusted. Churches that are adapting themselves to receive our diversifying culture will be churches that thrive in the next ten years. Begin noticing the demographics of the broader community around you, and find ways to welcome them in your building. Adapt and embrace the changes that are right for your community as you move forward to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to earth. We ought to be discerning and creative enough to find fresh ways of pointing people to the Redeemer in a way that the least likely will start coming into the Kingdom. An adaptable church is only possible when an adapting pastor leads it. Adapt or die, it is your choice. Chose to become adaptable.

  

N – No Excuses

  

It was Benjamin Franklin who said, “He that is good for making excuses is seldom good for anything else.” We are skillful at the art of making excuses, aren't we? "I don't know how." "I didn't understand." "I couldn't find the right tools." "The voices told me to clean all the guns today." "I threw out my back bowling." "I have a doctor's appointment." Do you ever catch yourself making excuses when things don’t turn out as you had expected in your church? Have you ever tried to explain away why you didn’t, couldn’t, shouldn’t or simply wouldn’t do something? If so as a church revitalizer, these are subtle signs that indicate you are living a life of excuses, which prevent you from reaching your full potential for revitalization and renewal.

  

Declining or dying churches and church leaders often make various excuses for why they are not revitalizing their church. Some fear the failure around them and they make an excuse. Others are embarrassed because of what they thought would happen in their church has not. Some fear the things they must do to bring about the change needed for renewal so they make excuses. Still others lack confidence in their ability to revitalize the church. To eliminate excuses from our lives we must first look at eliminating all traces of fear. Fear traps and locks us away within our comfort zone. Living a life of excuses can have very serious and lasting consequences. Not only will excuses prevent you from reaching your full potential, but they will also hold you back from recognizing opportunities, talents and skills you might have, to help you overcome your problems. If you don’t challenge yourself to reach new heights, you will never really know what you’re capable of. New opportunities lie hidden around every corner, however you will never find them if you riddle your mind with constantly finding reasons to make excuses. Here are some of the most used excuses for why one has not revitalized ones church:

  

The task is demanding

 

My talent is inadequate

 

The time is not right

 

The teaching is dangerous

 

I cannot change

  

In the Christian world, we can find all sorts of excuses not to obey God's voice: "It's the preacher's job." "It's not my gift." "I've already served, let someone else do it." "I'm too busy or too tired or too old or too young." It has been said, "Excuses are tools of the incompetent, and those who specialize in them seldom go far." Gabriel Meurier stated, "He who excuses himself, accuses himself." Jeremiah had every excuse ready when God called him to be a prophet. His excuses are often our excuses for not heeding God's voice when he calls. Countering each excuse was a promise from God.

  

C – Courageous

  

Church revitalizers need to be willing to take risks for the good of the local church they serve. They need to be strong and of courage. In Joshua Chapter One, God instructs Joshua 3 times to “be strong, and be courageous”. Such easy instructions, but how is he to be strong, and courageous? It’s easy sometimes to be cocky, and pretend to be brave, but what Joshua needed was true bravery and courage.

  

God not only directs Joshua to be “strong, and courageous,” but he dictates to him how to be so. To live the kind of life that God wants us to in the society that we live in we too need courage the way that Joshua did. Sometimes it’s hard to be strong, and courageous. God says we are to stand on His promises. If we are to accomplish what God calls us, and instructs us to do, we as well must stand on the promises. The problem is many churches in need of revitalization are sitting on the premises instead of standing on the promises. Additionally, we can sense God’s presence. How can Joshua lead with confidence, how can he confront the battles that lie ahead? He can because the same God that was with Moses is with him. We have a God that will not forsake, and one that will not fail. Next, we must stay the path. If Joshua is to be “strong, and courageous” he must stay the path. Like Joshua, we must not turn, not compromise, not become distracted, must not become detoured from what the will of God is. Faithfulness is the key. Lastly, we must start the process of revitalization and renewal. Many in our declining churches have heard the word of God, sensed his presence, and his leading, but are we still just sitting. What are you waiting for? Now is the time to get going. There is ground to cover, battles to be won, jobs that are unfinished so let’s “be strong and courageous” and do it! Let us get going.

  

E – Engaging

  

Churches and church revitalizers must engage ones community if it is going to survive. Are you currently addressing the needs of your community with the Gospel? What on going outreach events are you offering to the area where your church is located? What are the positive impressions your community has towards you and your church? The church needs to do a better job of sharing the Gospel and its relevance. Those who hear the Good News also have a responsibility to receive the news and act upon what they hear, and to follow where the Holy Spirit leads. There are a number of questions that you can ask to help determine the characteristics of your community and work out where your church interests intersect with the needs of the local community:

  

What are the socio-economic and demographic characteristics of the area?

 

What are the social, economic and environmental challenges or priorities in this neighborhood?

 

What is happening in terms of neighborhood improvement?

 

What is the backbone of community economic development?

 

What employment growth strategies are promoted in the community?

  

Just as significantly, you will need to give careful thought to the best methods your church could use to engage the diversity of individuals and groups within the community. Consider that ones approach to reaching parents of young children will likely be different from your approach to reaching youth in the community. Ask yourself these following questions:

  

What languages are spoken within this community? How I can make sure that print and other forms of communication are accessible to as many community members as possible?

 

What physical barriers might prevent community members from participating in ministry opportunities and how can I best address these?

 

What is the best location for a meeting or event?

 

What is the best time of day for a meeting or event?

 

What other established organizations within the community can help encourage people to attend?

   

Wrapping it up!

  

If church is to be relevant than we must be willing to do our part to make it relevant. One of the problems we have as Christians is that we expect the church to awaken us, to get us excited about Jesus, and to motivate us to a new way of life. Well the truth is our faith does not work that way. Following Jesus requires us to be active participants in our spiritual growth by taking part in the spiritual disciplines listed above. When we participate in the spiritual disciplines, we begin to see and hear things in a different light. Words we hear on Sunday morning begin to take on new meaning, and before you know it we are excited and see the relevance of Jesus. Jesus never said following Him would be easy; but He did say the rewards would be great. With so many changes taking place in our culture today, is the church keeping pace? In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians he says:

  

Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings (1 Corinthians 9:19 – 23).

  

Our message must never change, but our methods do in order to reach the culture we have been commissioned to reach. It is a common mistake. Pastors and churches can be trapped by this misunderstanding and never know it. Specifically, that the church must do little more than open its doors on Sunday, and the non-Christian will come. Research over the past two decades undermines this mistaken notion. People are staying away from churches in record numbers. It is time to ask why some churches are no longer vital links to the unconverted and what can be done to change a faltering outreach to the lost. In some cases, Americans are turned off to both the message and messengers of organized religion. Too many, the church has appeared narcissistic and self-serving. Leaders often leave behind shattered lives in the wake of their compromised leadership. The church’s reputation was dramatically eroded and confidence in church leadership greatly shaken by the scandals of the 1980’s. In 1974, nearly one half of the adult population expressed confidence in religious leaders, but that number plummeted to 22 percent by 1989.

   

The church must consider the serious question of relevance. In the early 1990’s, a denomination surveyed a southern city where it wanted to plant a church. The survey centered on a single question: Why don’t you attend church? Seventy-four percent of those surveyed indicated they felt there was no value in attending church. Thirty-four percent believed the church had no relevance to the way they lived. While the church does not exist to accommodate secular definitions of relevance, we must also face up to the dilemma framed in the lyrics of an old song: “Why spend our time answering questions no one’s asking?”

   

There is a high cost of not understanding a generation, not doing the homework necessary to gain a fair hearing of the gospel. We must understand that it is possible to be culturally relevant, and at the same time biblically sound in our approach to the unchurched. These two ideas are not mutually exclusive. It has been said, “The only person who likes change is a baby with a wet diaper.” That might be a bit of an exaggeration, but from my own observation, most people have some hesitancy toward change. Change takes us out of our comfort zone, it doesn’t allow us to relax, it doesn’t give us the assurance in life we long for.

    

Even though we are uncomfortable, and should be uncomfortable, with many of the changes in our culture, we must also understand that this is the culture we have been called to minister to. This is our world, and God has placed us here for such a time as this. We have been called to bring the gospel of Jesus Christ to the people of this generation. If we are going to do that, and if we are going to do it effectively, we must take Paul’s example as our own, and present the message of Christ in a culturally relevant fashion. I believe the church should be culturally relevant while remaining doctrinally pure.

   

There are things, which are always changing. We change, as we grow older. Hopefully we get wiser, more mature, and are able to have better discernment as we age. We change physically. The ethnic make up of our culture is also changing. The Caucasian population is at zero population growth, while the African American, Hispanic, & Asian populations in our country are experiencing double digit expansion. In fact, by 2050 only half of the nation’s population will be Caucasian. The concept of multicultural church revitalization will become increasingly significant as our language, customs, values, relationships, and processes are in a state of flux. Unfortunately, the Church has not kept pace with society.

   

The church has always adapted its ministry and methods to the culture in which they live and serve. While Jesus, the Bible, and Divine Principles will always be with us and do not change; many other things are in a constant state of flux. Worship styles, technology, outreach methods, teaching styles, and much more, are always being adapted to reach those who are unchurched, as well as to disciple those who are already Christ followers. Jesus preached from a boat on the Sea of Galilee, creating a natural amphitheater. Today most ministers use a lapel microphone. Paul wrote on papyrus with a quill and ink, this week I used my Mac Book notebook computer to write this newsletter and developed key training for some of our local pastors. The early church studied from the scrolls and parchments, we have dozens of translations bound together in our choice of bindings and colors. Throughout the week I open my Logos Bible software and search the scriptures and various commentaries in milliseconds. Paul wore a robe while he was preaching. I do not wear such a robe! The church cannot minister to the people of 2015 with methodology designed to reach the people of 1950’s.

   

When I read through the Bible I find verses that tell me about a new song, a new heaven and earth, new wine, new life, new covenant, new creation, new man, and a new command. Our God is a God of change, and He calls the Church to be willing to change with Him. Want a great recipe for being relevant? Here is a practical one:

   

Become as Authentic as Possible.

   

Being an authentic church entails knowing who you are at the deepest level. Authenticity is the foundation of relevance because if you do not understand who you are as a church, and where you are coming from, you cannot possibly lead or influence others. You achieve authenticity through a rigorous inventory of your church’s strengths and a systematic mapping of the moments in your church life when you have been both highly effective and extremely gratified. Being real in the moment and able to speak courageously will help you share the truth in love.

   

Become a Life Long Learner

   

Achieving mastery as a church revitalizer is essential because, if you have no useful skills, you cannot be useful to others. Mastery goes beyond mere competence and skills. It means approaching one's life and relationships as an act of creation, rather than a reaction to people and events. It means approaching lifelong learning with a sense of fun that adds pleasure and energy to the tasks at hand. It means expanding your principles and practices so that they serve a greater purpose. One achieves mastery through a process of continuous improvement of your talents and abilities. Developing mastery requires the ability to put first things first, to take action before it is forced upon you, and to stay mindful while taking action.

   

Become More Empathetic as the Leader

   

Empathy is the capacity to recognize and share feelings being experienced by another being. It is the source of compassion, caring for other people, and the desire to help. It means the ability to experience the same emotions that another is feeling, without unnecessary judgment. Empathy creates relevance because it creates the deep connection that brings people together.

    

Take More Action 

   

It is your actions, ultimately, that make you relevant to others. All the authenticity, mastery and empathy in the world remain sterile, until and unless put into motion. It is through action that you change yourself and change the church. Without action, even a great and brilliant mind and soul remains entirely irrelevant.

   

What is the challenge before us? We must minister to our culture without compromising our message. To meet the challenge of ministering to our culture without compromising our message, we must have a Biblical worldview. A worldview is quite simply the lenses through which we see our world. Whether you realize it or not, we all have a worldview. What we need to do is make sure our worldview is in line with the Bible’s. "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus" Galatians 3:28. If we are going to see people through Jesus’ eyes, if we are to have His worldview, we will not base our feelings and attitudes on a person’s skin color, their nationality, their language, or their social status. We will love everyone as God’s special creation. Not only do we love these people as God’s children, we embrace them as equals.

   

To meet the challenge of ministering to our culture without compromising our message, we must be willing to embrace new methodologies. The Pharisees approached Jesus and wondered why His disciples were not fasting – why they were not keeping the Law. Jesus responded, "No one sews a patch of un-shrunk cloth on an old garment. If he does, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse. And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, he pours new wine into new wineskins" Mark 2:21-22.

   

These two brief parables of the old garment and old wineskins illustrate the incompatibility of the old system of Jewish law and tradition with the new cloth and new wine of the gospel of Christ. Jesus was always being questioned about the different methods He used. Jesus embraced what was new & effective for ministry. Jesus was the Master of presenting truth in the language of His culture. He used objects, seeds, soil, situational parables, coins, camels, and fig trees – all things that his audiences could readily identify with. And much of the methodology we employ will do the same thing -- whether it be drama, video, art, music, or stories, they will be used to present the gospel in ways that our culture can identify with.

   

To meet the challenge of ministering to our culture without compromising our message, we must be creative in worship. The Psalmist says: “Praise the LORD. Sing to the LORD a new song, and his praise in the congregation of the saints” (Psalms 149:1). John the revelator said: “And they sang a new song: "You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9). God wants His church to sing a new song. He wants us to creatively worship Him in our worship services. This in no way means that we cannot continue praising God with the grand old hymns, but neither does it mean we can shut out the new songs God is calling His people to sing. This is not an either or situation, it is a both and situation.

   

To meet the challenge of ministering to our culture without compromising our message, we must practice the art of becoming. It’s important to note that becoming relevant should never compromise the Gospel. No one has the authority to change the good news of Jesus. If relevance is approached in a way that is culturally sensitive, word-based and Spirit-led, it will never compromise the gospel or the power thereof. So our message does not change, but our methods must as we learn to relate a timeless message to a modern culture through a relatable context. This is making the ministry of Jesus manifest in believers. To follow Paul’s example is not easy. In fact, it does not come naturally it only comes supernaturally. We can only adapt to, and minister to our culture, when we make an absolute commitment to it, as did Paul. We are not talking about compromising biblical truth, but being flexible in our approach to both evangelism and ministry. Paul says that he was “free from all men”; that is, he was not obligated to conform to any man’s ideas of opinions. He had been set free in Christ and was obligated only to be conformed to Christ. But Paul surrendered himself, actually made himself a servant to all men. Why? So that he might win more men to Christ. Paul’s going along with the opinions and customs of others does not mean he was compromising his convictions nor being two-faced. It means that he was getting next to men, gaining their confidence and trust so they would pay attention to his witness for Christ. It is important to note that becoming relevant should never compromise the Gospel. No one has the authority to change the good news of Jesus. If relevance is approached in a way that is culturally sensitive, word-based and Spirit-led, it will never compromise the gospel or the power thereof. So our message does not change, but our methods must as we learn to relate a timeless message to a modern culture through a relatable context. This is making the ministry of Jesus manifest in believers.

   

1. Paul became as a Jew to the Jews, that is, to those who were under the law.

   

When Paul was ministering to the Jews, he went along with their customs and laws just as long as nothing violated his walk in Christ. His standard was Christ, not the law. But he placed himself under the law when ministering to the Jews in order to get next to them and win their confidence and trust so he could witness to them.

   

2. Paul became a non-religionist to those who did not observe the law.

   

But note a critical fact: he does not mean he became lawless and immoral. He still obeyed the law of God; that is, he was as always under the law to Christ. He still obeyed the will of Christ, which actually includes the commandments of God and more. Paul lived as a Gentile when among them in order to get next to them and win them to Christ.

   

3. Paul became weak to the weak Christians.

   

That is, he went along with their petty rules and regulations. He refrained from doing some things that were perfectly legitimate. He conformed to their ideas and opinions just to have an open door to help them grow in Christ. He laid his personal liberty and rights aside in order to reach the new and weak Christians. He would not dare become a stumbling block to them, nor would he cause them to shut him out of their lives by offending them and thereby lose his opportunity to help them. He became as one of them in order to win them.

   

4. Paul clearly states his purpose for conforming to the customs and opinions of men.

   

Paul is declaring that he went to the extreme when necessary in order to reach people for Christ. “I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some” (v. 22). What mattered in life was not he and his rights, but the gospel. The gospel was the consuming passion of his life. Why? He wanted to do whatever he could to win people to Christ.

   

In 1865 an editorial in the Boston Post read, "Well-informed people know it is impossible to transmit their voices over wires, & even if it were possible, the thing would not have practical value." In 1897 Lord Kelvin said, "Radio has no future."

  

Thomas Watson, Chairman of IBM in 1943 said, "I think there is a world market for maybe five computers." Ken Olson, President of Digital Equipment Corporation stated in 1977, "There is no reason why anyone would want a computer in their home." When the railroads were first introduced to the U.S., some folks feared that they’d be the downfall of the nation! Here’s an excerpt from a letter to then President Jackson dated Jan. 31, 1829: “As you may known Mr. President, ‘railroad’ carriages are pulled at the enormous speed of 15 miles per hour by ‘engine’ which, in addition to endangering life and limb of passengers, roar and snort their way through the countryside, setting fire to crops, scaring the livestock and frightening women and children. The Almighty certainly never intended that people should travel at such breakneck speed.” Grady Nut once said, “A man bought a new radio, brought it home, placed it on the refrigerator, plugged it in, turned it to WSM in Nashville TN, (home of the Grand Ole Opry), and then pulled all the knobs off. He had already tuned in all he ever wanted or expected to hear.”

   

It is healthy for all churches, ministers and ministries to re-assess their effective relevance from time to time. In determining the direction of our relevance, I would encourage allowing the church's younger generation to weigh in heavily since they often recognize what is irrelevant in the church more than older believers do. Of course this should be tested by the pastor and lay church leaders, but leadership will need to be flexible if we truly desire to live out Psalm 71:18 which it challenges us to "declare [God’s] power to the next generation, [God’s] mighty acts to all who are to come." Some churches are rutted and rather dreary because what has been will still be. While I am sure these were all fine men, they were not visionaries and they did not understand the changes that were to come to their world. As the church, let us not make the same mistake that they did. Relevance is simply discovering better ways to connect Jesus to a disconnected generation, while remaining authentic and without compromising the gospel. The book of Hebrews tells us that, "Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever". Since He personally changed my life, I know He is entirely relatable. Our job is to simply keep Him relatable throughout changing times. To do so, the church needs to pursue our mission with relevance. Our culture is radically changing before our very eyes, let us be ready for it with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Stay open to newness. Stay open to change. Relevance does not change the message; it simply reshapes its presentation. May we never allow stylistic inflexibility to confine us and make us like the very Pharisees that were willing to crucify anyone who challenged their traditions. Let us keep our relevance if we have it and find how to become relevant once more if we have lost it!

 

 [1] Relevance. Dictionary.com Unabridged. Random House, Inc. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/relevance (accessed: July 08, 2015).

    

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