Dear Church: Please Stop Trying to Be Relevant.

I received a message from a woman last week who was desperate to reach her wayward son. “I don’t want to offend him,” she lamented. “I don’t want him to think I’m irrelevant because I believe the Bible.”  She went on to say she was even more confused about how to reach her son because her pastor was unwilling to address cultural issues. You know,  we need to be careful not to “push anyone away.” Her pastor’s passive stance on issues that her family is facing confused her. Her struggle deepened. After all, what good mother would push her son away with Bible verses-n-stuff? Sounds a little “yesterday,” and “churchy” in today’s progressive culture, don’t you think? But is it?

I might be all alone here, but I think our struggle for cultural relevance is robbing the Church of the one thing that actually makes us relevant.  We sure can draw a crowd with our hipster services and feel-good gospel—but tell me, how’s that working for us?

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A few days ago, I read the story of a young Christian rocker named Trey Pearson. He has joined a chorus of other Christians in embracing his “true self,” by “coming out” as gay—leaving a devastated wife and broken family in his wake. In the name of being his “authentic” self, he has embraced what God says leads to death. With acceptance from people he thinks speak for Jesus, Trey has chosen to deny God and exalt himself. Trey said this was a “defining moment” for him – a moment when he finally found himself. Like so many before him, Trey has traded God’s truth for his own.

What’s a Christian to do? It’s a little bit of a crowd-shrinker I know, but here it is:  the answer is not to run toward “our truth.” The answer is to run away from it! The answer is to run toward the Way, the Truth and the Life— toward the One who died to set us free by His truth.

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My heart truly breaks for this young man, and for all those who will follow him. It’s age old spiritual warfare—SW101, if you will: Take out the pastor and declare open season on the sheep. Satan knows if he can take out a man or woman with a platform, he’s got a clear shot at those who follow that platform. So where were the true Christians when this man with a platform was engaged in one-on-one spiritual warfare with the enemy of his soul?

They were nowhere to be found. I noticed Trey was flanked by two of his “pastors” in an image on his blog. He talked about how these “pastors” were instrumental in helping him. A true follower of Jesus would have loved Trey enough to be honest with him. Honestly? The Christian life is about denial of self (Colossians 3:5) rather than the embracing of it. If we embrace our “true selves” then look out—because literally, all hell will break lose. In our natural self, we’re lost. But nevermind that. In the name of love, at least some of the Christians around Trey have sacrificed truth on the altar of compassion.

“Love” is taking on new forms these days. Except that it’s not loving to lie.

Dear Church, please stop trying to be relevant.

I was a pastor’s wife for nearly 20 years. As such, I can promise you right now that some church leaders are scratching their heads at this article, wondering how we got here.  So let’s be honest: we blew it when we ostracized a group of people because they sin differently that we do. When I was a young Bible college student, I knew heterosexual couples who were totally sinning on the weekends—but the guy who said he struggled with same-sex attraction got the boot. What a mess we made. Unfortunately, instead of recognizing our sin and  admitting that we are all broken in different ways, we’ve fallen off the other side of the narrow path. Now, we are sacrificing truth on the altar of mercy.

In the name of being culturally relevant and often, in direct rebellion against God, many churches have turned a blind eye to the sin of abortion, covered up the sin of its pastors and priests, hailed gay marriage as “progress,” and quietly condoned assisted suicide as “brave.” Even worse, we’re silent. When did we start believing that speaking the truth in love equals silence or timidity?

“For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.” 2 Timothy 1:7

When did we forget the grace of Jesus on our own broken lives? When did we forget to talk about it? When did we stop believing it?

We may think we’re drawing people to Christ by quietly accepting this massive shift in the culture, but the evidence is clear: our silence is costing this generation dearly. Among the casualties of a “relevant” church is the inconvenient truth that, aside from rare chromosomal anomalies, our DNA is set at birth. We’re either male or female.

Bottom line? I don’t think the culture wants our wishy-washy “relevance.” They don’t need our fancy programs or big buildings. The youth of today are grappling with issues we could not have even imagined twenty years ago. They’re being bombarded by bold lies that are causing many of them to do irreparable harm to their bodies and minds. What is our answer? What do we say, Church? We say the truth—in love—and we leave the results up to God. That’s freeing, really; to know we’re not responsible for the response, we’re just responsible to bear witness to the healing grace of Jesus.  We are simply called to tell people that truth exists—and that God defines it.

This is the challenge of the Church today: to tell the truth, as it’s put forward in the Bible. To stand for righteousness. To proclaim the gospel to a generation who thought Barak Obama would bring them “hope and change.”

 Under the watch of the “relevant” church, devastating lies have taken root in the culture. The depth of deception we are facing runs deep and wide, but God’s Word tells us that the gate that opens to life is narrow. The road that leads to life is difficult. It requires that we come before the Lord daily and ask Him to help us live in His truth, not ours.

 “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” Matthew 7:13-14

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The road is narrow—but it leads to life, and not just any old, run-of-the-mill life … abundant life.

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”
John 10:10

The thief is lying to us, as he has been doing since the Garden of Eden. Jesus says, “Follow Me, and I will give you LIFE!” Life that’s worth living and worth sharing. Life that’s bold and courageous. (Joshua 1:7) Life that’s rich and abundant. So no. I’m not against using the technology and music of this age to reach people with the gospel. I love the concert-worthy music many of today’s churches provide and, dare I say, I enjoy a delicous latte on my way to Sunday School. These things are good; but I have to ask: In our effort to be seen as “relevant,” have we lost the thing that makes us truly relevant? Because the thing that makes us relevant doesn’t need the trappings of modern “Christianity.”

What good is an entertaining church service that fails to entertain the questions that this generation is asking? What good is it if we can’t articulate compassion and truth in a way that clearly addresses the message of the cross? The cross is hope.

…and hope does not disappoint. Hope has a name. It’s Jesus.

The truth of the gospel has not changed. The saving power of a relationship with Jesus is all the relevance we need.

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Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.”Ephesians 4:25

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Heidi St. John
Heidi St. John has been married to her husband Jay since 1989. Together they have seven children from toddler to adult and have homeschooled all the way through high school. A favorite conference and radio speaker, Heidi approaches marriage and parenting with humor and grace. Her passion to encourage moms and set them free to be who God has created them to be will bless and encourage you.
Heidi St. John
Heidi St. John
Heidi St. John

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11 Responses to Dear Church: Please Stop Trying to Be Relevant.

  1. Liz says:

    Stay strong, sister in the lord!

  2. Colleen says:

    I’m confused. You mention that the church blew it when it ostracized a large group of people, sounding like you means homosexuals, but it is ok with other sinners who continue to sin. But none of the rest of your article screams love to me. I don’t hear compassion for the sinner but just misunderstanding and judgement for people who seem to be sinning a certain way. Help me understand what your point is.

    • Hi Colleen, my point is that the church, in an effort to be relevant, is sacrificing truth on altar of mercy. We are not called to do so. We all have sin issues. I was calling out the ostracization of homosexuals because it’s something that I’ve witnessed and frankly, I think it’s contributed to the backlash that we’re experiencing from the gay community. I am making an effort to remind the church that no one sin is worse than another BUT we must keep speaking the truth of God to this generation, even if we have messed up the message along the way. Our messup doesn’t change the power of the message. We have become a weak, powerless church because we’ve forgotten that the power of God is available to everyone who asks for it. We need to stop trying to be “relevant” and get back to what Jesus came to do: save the lost and dying. It’s a fairly straightforward message. Thanks for your comment.

  3. Lana says:

    You have really given us something to think about. What do you mean when you say “in our natural self we’re are lost? It’s located in the paragraph where you mention Trey flanked by two of his pastors.

    • Hi Lana, what I mean is that, if left to our own wisdom and desires, we are sure to fall into sin. The Bible says that the heart is wicked, and that apart from Christ, we can’t overcome it. Does that make sense? Thanks for the question!

  4. Sonja says:

    Heidi,I agree 100%, but the big question is, How is this done, practically speaking? Speaking the truth in love from the pulpit just Sounds like judgement and condemnation.

    I’ve seen it done both well and poorly on a one-on-one or very small group situation, but from the pulpit it Always sounds hellfire and brimstone. I’ve often wished/wondered if it would help if pastor would preach on ALL sin at the same time, show them all in the equal light that they belong….

    Our pastor does do a good job of preaching the difference between a mistake “missing it” occasionally here and there and a habitual lifestyle of sinning.

    But the practicalities of having the sin and loving the sinner are so very difficult. They are tricky on a personal/small group level. On a large scale,I see very knowledgeable and well-intentioned pastors try and fail at this all the time, which is what,I think, leads to this “experimenting with embracing everything”.

    • Hi Sonja—you’re right. It’s hard to come across as loving and truthful, but we must trust and lean on the Holy Spirit to speak through us. The voice of conviction that comes from God never sounds like condemnation. I think it’s important to pray and ask God for His words, His heart for the lost and a healthy remembrance of our own sin whenever we speak about any kind of sin. However, I would also say it’s crucial to remember that once we have spoken the truth and done so in a loving way, the results are up to God. Our fear of man is overshadowing our fear of a Holy God. Thanks for reading! Stay strong in the power of God!

  5. Katarina says:

    So called “progress” has cost us our souls. American Christianity is always revising itself. Almost no churches do things the way people did them 50 years ago, and they did things differently than the way things were done 50 years before that. This desire to be relevant is part of the function of individualism in modern Christianity. Maybe someone will be interested in reading a book called, “Surprised by Christ.” I highly recommend it.

  6. Alissa says:

    Love love this post. Thank you for sharing this truth today. :)

  7. lillibet says:

    Brilliant! Needed this so much, thank you Heidi :)

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