I got this cartoon from Out of Ur, one of the blogs hosted by Christianity Today.
Unfortunately, it is a very accurate representation of the way we often design our ministries. Even among the contemporary and emergent movements, there is a constant tension between creativity, diversity and effectiveness (I tried to find a word for effective that ended in -ity, but it was not forthcoming). What is cool or exciting may not necessarily be the most relevant or effective.
This is just as true with the more conservative among us who talk about knowing for nothing other than “preaching the Word”, no matter how they phrase it. They often (although not always) minister the eternal Word of God in a style as distant from their hearers as Pluto is from the Sun.
The cartoon speaks in hyperbole of our misguided realities.
About a year ago, I started reading the late Bob Webber’s book, Ancient Future Faith. This book was truly catalytic for me because until I read this book, I did not think you could be relevant and treasure your heritage at the same time. To me, being relevant meant being new and innovative. In the tradition I was raised in, you were either conservative or progressive. There was no middle road and no common language.
But Webber’s book opened my eyes to the value of liturgy, the truth of our shared heritage, the need for respect for the past that is often lacking in my generation of pastors. To be truly relational and relevant, we must embrace who we are as Christians. In order to do that, we have to embrace who we have been and who we will be.
Just as Christ was, is, and shall be, his body must be aware of our past and expectant of our future. Relevance is not just looking to the present and saying, “What do we do now?” It is also asking, “Where have we been?” We must receive, redeem and reject things from our past as well as our present.
I think that many churches of many different persuasions ask the wrong questions when designing ministries. Ministry is not timeless. We have to adapt to our cultural context. BUT – ministry cannot simply be relevant. It must also be applicable and connected. We need to find our primary anchor in Christ, our second anchor in our heritage, and then enter the context of our culture.