Thursday, July 27, 2006

Are Satanic and Relevant synonyms?

I would like to begin to review books and magazine articles from time to time.
I will begin with an article that really caught me off gaurd. I began the article in an office a few weeks ago and today decided to buy a copy so I could read the whole thing.

Article Review
Christianity Today
Why Jesus used the 'S' Word: Apparently 'Satanic" can be a synonym for relevant.
Mark Galliu - Managing editor of CT. The article is an excerpt from his book Jesus Mean and Wild.

The article seems to be an attack on very large churches with exciting, dynamic ministries, published pastors, and recorded praise and worship albums. He relates a story of how he attended one of these churches and it became impossible for him to attend there for some reason. He then went to a small church where he found the 'people of God'. He said that there were "no studied attempts to be authentic or relevant or cool." He said "it was a more godly expereience to go to that little fellowship, because for all the good megachurches do, this little fellowship manifested the presence of Jesus in a way that is unique and absolutley necessary in our age.

He then relates the story of Peter's rebuke of Jesus in Matt 8:31-33. He says that Chrisitians have always been tempted to "confuse success with faith." He says that, like Peter, we still "thirst for glory and power." He says that growing churches have an unspoken assumption that growth signals God's blessing. He goes on to minimize church growth (not the principles but growth itself). He points out how church planters will study a target group in order to be relevant. He even points out that it works because these churches are bursting at the seems.

Next he relates his first church position out of seminary and the dreams of how one day in his church he would make worship really relevant. Shortly after he began to understand that most of the parishoners in this congregation found the services moving and meaningful. He talks about his desire to form a church in his own image when he was young.

He says that the typical church is often boring and irrelevant, full of bickering and gossip and hypocisy, but this is the institution, he says - not our dream institution - that Christ identifies with.

He then talks about the reformation and great awakenings as if they were products of the staus quo.

He closes by saying that "like Peter we have to die to our notions of relevance and success."

I don't understand the correlation between Peter's rebuking Jesus and intentionally creating a relevant atmosphere in the church. This is the premise by which he ties 'relevant' and 'satanic' together. If one of these relevant pastors sensed God saying "replace the keyboard with a pipe organ" and refused because he didn't think it would work, then Galliu might have an argument. I tend to assume that both relevant and irrelevant (I guess that is the only other option) pastors believe that they are doing God's will.

I would argue that his first church out of seminary was a relevant church. It was at least relevant to those to whom they intended to communicate God's message. A quick search on gives the meaning of relevant as "having a bearing on or connection with the matter at hand." So when the people are connecting with the message I assume that we are being relevant. When pastors say they want to plant a relevant church they usually mean that they want to start a church that will be relevant to its community as opposed to one that is relevant to its membership.

That brings me to my final comment. Churches that place a high priority on relevance are usually missional churches. They do what they do in order to fulfill the great commission, not to be successful. Being relevant does not have to do with a personal image of an ideal church. That would not be relevant. A relevant church will continue to adapt and change the way they communicate the unchanging message of the Gospel.

As my family prepares to plant a church in Paris, I am passionate about being a missional church; a relavant church; a life giving church. The average church in France has between 25 and 40 members and is not growing. There are about 400,000 believers in Christ in a population of about 60 million. We will do everything we can to be relevant to the emerging generation in France because my heart is broken over the thought of 59,600,000 people spending a Christless eternity in Hell. When our heart is broken over the lost and we become passionate in prayer for God to transform a generation and a nation I believe that God will lead us to be relevant. Imagine what an unchurched person thinks when they go to church, get singled out as a visitor, hear a message on justification or sanctifucation from a preacher in a sancuary behind a pulpit while reading a bulletin during the tithes and offerings. Sometimes I think that unchurched people going to church for the first time will experience what I experience when I go to France without an interpreter. I recognize some words but it is often difficult to put it all together to understand what people are really trying to say. When lost people get it and accept it, God changes their lives. Seeing life change changes the churched and the unchurched.


Design Ministry said...

Hey Ken, I read this article in CT too, so it's really interesting to read your thoughts. Keep up the reviews!

While I think there are obvious ways to be relevant with our message and the way we communicate it (i.e. an audio version of the Bible on an ipod rather than a hand bound illuminated manuscript written in black-letter from the 1400s). I have to say I really agreed with the way this article portrayed the essence of living out genuine faith in a bumbling community worshiping God despite themselves - in a very unhip way down the street from the mega church. The Gospel isn't trendy and its not supposed to be. When we try to bring it and paint the Christian life up to normal or hip, I think we cheat it in a big way.

Anyway, I'm excited to read about the your passion, and your vision for communicating Jesus to those in Paris!

Ken Witcher said...

My concern with this article is not that I think that "living out genuine faith in a bumbling community worshiping God despite themselves - in a very unhip way down the street from the mega church" is wrong.

I don't even think that the gospel should be trendy. It is timeless truth.

I don't think that we should paint the Christian life up to be normal or hip. But, I do think that people should know that you can be a Christian and still be hip.

My probelms with the article is that it paints large churches with exciting, dynamic ministries, published pastors, and recorded praise and worship albums as "confusing success with faith." It says that they "thirst for glory and power." It says that growing churches assume that growth signals God's blessing.

I generally believe that churches on both sides of the spectrum are doing what they do for the right reasons not for selfish gain. I think that they just disagree on the best way to achieve that goal. I know a lot of pastors of growing churches. They don't talk about God's blessing in their ministry as evidenced by the churches growth. They talk about how they can reach even more hurting people and bring them into relationship with the God that offers hope and help for the hurt.

I am excited to know that the people at the church I attend are so motivated by the excitement of changed lives that they bring their friends. And hundreds have made prfessions of faith already this year.

Jean Ohlerking said...

Right on!

Dave & Jean

FeatherIron said...

I read CT cover to cover every month, it is, by far my favorite magazine. When I read that article, I so did not get it! So I moved on to the next page. Bottom line for me is it went completely over my head-guess he was trying not to be relevant to this reader.

BTW, like you blog, very good thinker you got there.

Anonymous said...

The problem I have with the "relevancy" concern of many churches is that it rests on a false assumption, namely, that human nature changes throughout the ages. It does not. Therefore, the gospel message and the biblical methods are always appropriate. God provides not only the message but also the means.