Creative Leadership

Why the “Relevance Versus Obedience” Argument Isn’t As Relevant As We Think

I have to admit that I’m growing weary of the “Is it better to be relevant or obedient” arguments. Frankly, it’s wasting a lot of time and energy, plus, it’s causing division and isn’t helping the cause. Here’s why:

1. We’re not even using the word correctly.  By definition, “relevance” isn’t about popularity, being cool, being liked, or by extension, compromise. Relevance is about the right thing at the right time. It’s about being connected to the matter at hand. It’s about the right tool, strategy, message, or idea that fills a need. What could be more important in sharing the gospel? By misinterpreting and condemning the word “relevance” we’re closing the door on important and critical ways it could be used to reach this culture with the gospel.

2. Relevance and obedience actually work together.  Using the word correctly, if you’re obedient, then you’re relevant. In our obedience, God uses us to be the right answer at the right time. Anything else is disobedience and irrelevance.

3. The relevance versus obedience argument is a slippery slope.  It can too easily imply our superiority and godliness, and minimize other’s efforts to share the gospel. Are we forgetting that we’re all in this together? We all make mistakes, go too far, don’t go far enough, miss the mark in many ways. Can we just extend a little grace? You say you’re called to “Preach the Holy Ghost with fire.” Great. Knock yourself out. I’m all for it. Just remember that not everyone has the same calling as you – and it’s not our job to decide which is the most important.

4. We use scriptures like 1 Corinthians 1: 18-25 as permission to drive away the very people we’re trying to reach.  That scripture doesn’t give us the right to be pushy, arrogant, weird, or jerks in order to share the gospel. Our weirdness shouldn’t be a badge of honor. “Speaking the truth” doesn’t mean you have to be rude or insensitive when you do it. If the message of the gospel drives people away, so be it. If our behavior, style, or attitude drives people away, it’s wrong.

Do people compromise in sharing the gospel? Of course. Do others become “theology cops” in their efforts to bring them back in line? You bet. Maybe we should spend more time in the middle. And for what it’s worth, I’m not diminishing doctrine and theology. Let’s just use the right definitions when we teach (or rant via social media.) The stakes are too high in today’s world to waste time just getting the choir amped up.

I’m probably dreaming to think our time would better be spent sharing the gospel with a lost culture than arguing over the wrong definition of a word. Maybe we all should just repent and start over.

But wait – you’re using a fog machine at your church, and that’s not godly – so I’ll need to correct you on Facebook…

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  1. I disagree. I actually think it is very constructive to criticise someone you have never met and have absolutely no spiritual authority over by attacking them on social media without properly understanding the context of what they are trying to do, if you disagree with them theologically.

    I recently took someone to task for adding a semi-colon to a particular verse in Zephaniah when they quoted it. The inclusion of said semi-colon distorted the entire Bible and could have led to a new and dangerous cult that would have destroyed the whole of Christianity, erasing it’s entire 2000 year history in the process and making it impossible for Jesus to return. Thankfully because I made this semi-colon heresy public knowledge on Twitbook, Christianity was saved and we can all sleep soundly in our beds.

    Theo pigs, theo pigs… Whatcha gonna do? Whatcha gonna do when they come for you…

  2. I thought relevant meant “all things to all people.” Paul related to everyone he was with-to the Jews, he was a Jew. To the Romans, he was a Roman citizen. to the Greeks, he was a Greek and we must do the same. I understand that as meaning we must become well rounded, well versed, able to relate to anyone. The only way we can do this is with empathy and love. Love everyone, no matter rich, poor, race, creed, color-be knowledgeable enough to converse with them in a way that makes them feel loved. If they are rich, don’t talk about class warfare but about investments, philanthropy etc…if they are poor, talk about helping the homeless about the hard times you’ve been through-RELATE to people; come to their level-this is what God did in Jesus-he RELATED to us and came to our level,

  3. “Rude” is a perception. If Jesus walked the earth today and called a religious leader (at that) a viper and snake, I’d love to hear what what your comments would be, Phil.

  4. Also, would Stephen been perceived as “pushy”. He definitely could have delivered a softer version of his message, that day and MAYBE lived to walk away.

  5. We can keep bending to the new rules of political and (even more importantly) social correctness, but that will include being very careful not to offend certain “groups” with your point of view on what the gospel says about certain hot topics.

    1. I think in many cases, if we’re just attentive to the situation, we can speak the truth without offending people. I think we automatically assume we’ll offend, and that’s tragic.

  6. Love this! It’s not either or… if I’m radically obedient to equip the church I serve into God’s call to engage our culture, and if I’m authentic in doing it, I have a feeling some folks may accuse me/us of “relevancy”.

    Also, thank you for the comment about “extending a little grace”. As a pastor, there’s a lot I don’t get right…heck, as a person there’s a lot I don’t get right. But our passion to disciple “the found” to seek and save the lost drives us to keep moving forward with as much integrity as we can, regardless of the mistakes that may mark us in the eyes of those who think we’re doing it wrong.

  7. Good stuff.

    Just as bad…
    Also wish evangelical and penticostal preachers (and political bodies) would stop pointing the finger at each other also about non-important topics (like money or not), and agree and support each other on the core message…

  8. Agreed, I learned recently that when we are called to give a “Defense for the hope that is in us, yet with gentleness and respect” in 1 Peter 3:15, the word for “respect” is the same word (Phobos) used for fear (some translations even translate it this way) —as in the fear of God.

    So there is this sense that we must speak through the filter of gentleness, while at the same time not being intimidatated imto sillence by tactics like “sensitivity shaming” or the “plead to relevancy” because the fear of God is also at our backs pushing us forward.

    But the sort of discretion required here is certainly a very delicate balance. It is like trying to discern the difference been boldness, confidence and arrogance.

    “All of God’s standards in this fallen world are hard standards, and in the tyranny of false sympathy we have discovered a trick that can nullify absolutely every one of them. For every hard standard we find a hard case, and then we taunt anyone who still wants to achieve the standard” – Douglas Wilson

  9. I guess I’m not in church often enough to hear this argument! I did once read a pastor’s post on “Relevance vs. Revolutionary” and thought it rather peculiar. I think your post is extremely relative, since so many people abuse the English language by misunderstanding the meaning of words. It seems like a lot of people missed the boat on their vocabulary lessons growing up. Grammar is not much better. Nothing irks me more than to see or hear a highly successful person misuse “then and than!”

    I think the property usage of our language affects the credibility of our message. Do you?

    God bless!

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