A Case for “Irrelevance”

“We can be enriched by reading a sixth-century document because it throws light on the blind spots we have from our own cultural attitudes.”1

Yes, sometimes I get inspiration from unlikely places.

If there has been a theme to much of what is discussed, taught, and practiced in the American church in my lifetime, it has been relevance. Being “seeker-friendly”, “accessible”, “nonthreatening”. I think the motives for such ideas are generally good. We have a desire to reach people with the Gospel. (For the purposes of the present discussion, I will ignore the ignoble motivations we sometimes have.)

So we see a host of churches whose services look like TED talks or rock concerts. Everything is kept informal. It’s not hard to find. I’ve been to two of the meccas of this movement, Saddleback and Willow Creek. It has become a well-worn “style” of worship in the last 30 years or so.

I think it misses the mark however. I’m not even considering the “worship wars” topics of organ vs. electric guitar really. Many of those arguments are just trying to justify personal stylistic preferences. What I want to consider is the motivation that drives us to such accommodations to culture.

The desire to be relevant. The corollary to this is, of course the desire to not be irrelevant.

Irrelevant adj.,  Not connected with something.

Frankly, all I have to do is stand in the check-out line at Wal-Mart and glance over the magazine covers to be overcome with a desire to be completely irrelevant to the culture.

But Michael Casey’s point, in the opening quote is more than my personal escapism. Because the church, when it is truly ministering “the faith once delivered” is largely irrelevant. It is not tied to our culture and that is a good thing. I’m not advocating services in Latin. People need to be able to understand what we are saying, but what we say should not sound like everything else we read and hear everywhere else.

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.  (Romans 12:2)

It’s not unlike the scene in Dead Poets Society when Mr. Keating stands on his desk.

We can only see differently when we look differently. If the church shines the same “light” that everyone else shines on our existence, it’s not going to look much different. If we shine the light, which is irrelevant, or, if you wish, transcendent, then we are able to see ourselves differently.

And maybe, just maybe, we will be able to see ourselves and this world as it really is.  Maybe we will be able to glimpse God, and by his light have our perspective changed.

This should be our goal in our worship and our ministry, to see and show Jesus. Even when it’s awkward. Even when it’s unpopular  Even when it is seemingly irrelevant. Because, if we are honest, in reality, it is our culture that is irrelevant to the Kingdom.

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. (Matthew 6:33)

1Casey, Michael, A Guide to Living in the Truth: Sain Benedict’s Teaching on Humility, 2001: Liguori Press, Liguori Missouri, p. 15


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