Relevance is a word à la mode for the church.
Merriam Webster defines relevance as: “relation to the matter at hand” or “practical and especially social applicability.” Is it the role of the church to be practical and socially applicable? What does it mean for a church to be relevant? Or perhaps the more important question is: What does it mean for the Gospel to be relevant?
As the church, we are seekers, disciples of Jesus and proclaimers of the Gospel, in word and in action. We hear and tell the story of a God of abundant grace and steadfast love; then we live that love in the world.
The question about relevance arises because of the profoundly countercultural nature of the Gospel. Modern secular culture exhorts us to achieve, to spend, to acquire and to seek physical perfection. Whereas the Gospel exhorts us to give ourselves away, to live in service to our neighbors, to work for justice and peace, and to let go of our dedication to material acquisition. How could such a countercultural message be relevant!
Perhaps it helps to come at the question from another angle: Why is it so much easier to hear the seditious whispers of “you are fat,” “you are a failure,” “you could be a better parent” than it is to hear the bold proclamation from the very mouth of God that you are good (tov in Hebrew) , you are beloved, you belong, you have a role to play in God’s dream?
The Gospel was never intended to make us more successful at living up to the world’s standards. Quite the opposite. The Gospel calls us into a life that can, at times, be completely at odds with the world around us.
And yet, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the good news of God’s goodness and grace is the most relevant word there is. The Gospel’s relevance is grounded in the fact that Jesus is life for all people. The Gospel is relevant because in Christ we discover that, whoever you are, you are part of God’s goodness. The Gospel is relevant because it gives us new eyes through which we can see Jesus in every neighbor: next door, across town, at work, in the pew behind you. The Gospel is relevant because it affirms that you have been gifted for partnership in God’s dream and that you can live out that partnership in your daily work or in special service.
The countercultural relevance of the Gospel is risky. But it is a risk we take with God at our side. A risk we take in the context of a beloved community of fellow travelers. A risk that promises new life, even after the most devastating failure. Thanks be to God!
– Pastor Chris