When it comes to relevance, the church in some ways has always faced an uphill battle. Most everything about it is a little off. Out of step. Its efforts seem invested in walking a line between preserving its language and its past while trying really hard to be consequential in the present. Often enough, though, it just ends up looking like the person who thinks he can dance but really can’t.
Personally speaking, I’ve never found such an approach at all palatable- the “trying to look cool” thing. Trying to fit in. It feels contrived, forced, desperate. In fact, it often enough ends up being embarrassing to me.
Relevance as packaged by Madison Avenue won’t really work for the church, partly because it’s too slick and polished, too focused on “getting the most bang for the buck.” And also because most advertising is designed to feed narcissism or prey on emotions and create the illusion of need.
Besides, how cool can we make dying on a cross? Sometimes it seems this is the elephant in the room that no one wants to acknowledge. How might we best fit this into a commercial touting how friendly and welcoming we are?
Yes, we are an Easter people, and faith tells us that resurrection life begins now. We are buoyed by and need that hope, since the essence of the church, the essence of a Christ-centered life this side of the Second Coming remains that of a voice crying in the wilderness. A prophet on the periphery. A disciple engaged in the hard, often selfless work of exorcising demons and relieving suffering.
How cool can a cruciform life ever really be?
Since coolness wasn’t a thing in Jesus’ day (or maybe it was just known by another name), one would have been more concerned with being real. Authenticity never goes out of style. Jesus was certainly authentic. His actions spoke louder than his words- and his words spoke quite loudly.
It seems the church will never know much success being “mainstream.” But this shouldn’t surprise- or disappoint- anyone. A square peg will never fit into a round hole.
The gospel message of love and mercy, forgiveness and grace, will always be at odds with a larger culture that, from all appearances, seems hell-bent on running away from the cross. Where swagger counts more than humility, style more than substance. Where self-indulgence and ignorance are fed at every turn. Where the completely human tendency toward self-preservation often enough wins the day.
The New Testament speaks of our journey of faith as more of a marathon than a sprint, the most important victory having already been won. By Jesus. On that cross.
Until he comes again, I say we embrace our nerdiness. Let’s celebrate the fact that our relevance lies in offering anyone with ears to hear and hearts that yearn an authenticity grounded in faith, in God’s love for all of creation. That kind of love never goes out of style, cool in its own enduring- and endearing- way.