Over and over I hear and read that the church needs to reach this culture by shedding its traditions and becoming more relevant.For most this means updating the music, relaxing the dress code and replacing the Christianese with more up to date language to show the world that Christians are not that different from them. Top of the line sound systems and instruments, latest clothing and coolest lingo; now we are ready to change the world!
Does the world need more of itself?
In our attempts to make Christianity more accessible to those on the outside looking in, it is easy to make ourselves like the outside. The more we look like the outside, the less we have to offer. I am not suggesting that we go back to the old hymns played by a deaf 95 year old who may or may not make it through the service. I love wearing a suit but I reserve it for occasions that call for a suit, the rest of the time I try to dress the way most people do, although my clothing choices do not include inspiration from those who wear their pants so low that they look like my grandchildren do when their diapers are full– there is a line I will not cross. I wish I could say I choose not to use big theological words to avoid speaking Christianese but the truth is I don’t know many. Still I have to make sure that my presentation of faith uses words that are universally understood. It is important to bust traditions that are tied to a culture long past. It is also important not to start a new tradition of living out our faith by tying it to the culture of the day. The world does not need more of itself.
The speed at which a culture changes is the speed at which the church must adapt.
The world is changing faster than ever before. Cultural norms in the past evolved slowly, allowing for a time of adjustment. Change worked its way into the established practices creating a new way of doing things that was only marginally different from the old way of doing things. Eventually the culture started to change at a faster rate but the church still evolved slowly like the culture once did, creating a larger and larger relevance gap between the world outside and the actions of the institution within. Once the place that almost everyone went, the church became a tradition of generations past. When asked, those who did not attend church would often describe the church as not relevant to the culture, an old fashion institution that did not speak to them. It was clear that the church fell behind and that something needed to be done.
Tradition often needs a culturally appropriate makeover not a cultural takeover.
It is dangerous to act out of desperation, to respond in fear without forethought. To meet the perceived needs of the new culture and to fix the dwindling numbers, war was waged on tradition in an attempt to make church more relevant. It was time to get rid of the churchy stuff and replace it with a more accurate reflection of the current culture. Just as Jesus did when the culture around Him rejected His message, we changed the message to attract more people to our way of thinking. For those of you who can’t find the story of Jesus changing the message in the Bible give up, it is not there. Jesus gave the message a makeover by using culturally relevant metaphors (parables) but He never let the culture take over the message itself. Worship and fellowship at the beginning of the New Testament church were open to everyone but designed for the follower of the Way. It never became a place that limited or adjusted what it did to cater to the culture that did not follow Christ. Culture played a role in the way the gospel was communicated but it did not take over the way God was worshiped in the collective of Christ followers.
The church service is not outreach but rather the staging ground to reach out.
Easter has just passed with churches of all worship styles and doctrinal traditions celebrating the one thing we have in common, Jesus’ death and resurrection. The core of who we are as Christ followers meets with the tradition instituted by Jesus the Christ Himself – communion. But wait! There may be visitors in the church. Some may be offended or at the very least uncomfortable with this exclusive part of the Christ following tradition. The culture is not comfortable with all this talk of sin and death, blood and broken body. Easter is a prime time for outreach. It is an opportunity to present the truth of why we are followers of Christ and yet many churches, in the name of outreach, have removed one of the few things that Jesus told us we must do to remember Him – communion.
In our haste to fix our slow response to the fast changing culture and the declining attendance at church we decided that church was no longer a place of worship but instead a place for outreach. We threw out the traditions that have been a part of the church since the day of Pentecost and replaced them with a whole new, culturally aligned way of doing church. In the Acts church the people met to worship together with their minds on God and their hearts open to His leading. In the 21st century church we meet with our minds on not offending anyone with the truth of our faith and our hearts open to cultural norms.
When we invite people to church we are inviting them to take a look into the world of a Christ follower not to see a reflection of the culture they already know.