As a pastor, there is one question I don’t really enjoy being asked. It’s “what do you do?” It’s not because I am ashamed of what I do, far from it, but because the moment I tell someone what I do, all too often they don’t know how to react or what to say. Unless the person is hooked into a church, they struggle to find a point of connection with what I “do”. Often there is the struggle to see the relevance of my life and faith to theirs.
To be relevant is to be “appropriate to the current time, period, or circumstances; of contemporary interest.” For many, the story of Jesus seems like an ancient story which framed up the belief of a bygone era. It is not a story that speaks to today.
Yet, inside every human being are yearnings for meaning, purpose, and significance. We have these spiritual impulses, however in a world without God what do we do with these feelings? For some they try to fill them through the accumulation of possession and experiences, for others it is doing good, and for others it is finding some sort of religious expression. For anyone trying to find themselves through such things, my response is not to shake my finger and look at them in a patronising way, but rather applaud the individual who is at least in some way trying to respond to these yearnings.
This brings us back to relevance. If the story of Jesus and the life He offers with Him addresses these innate desires within us (and I believe it does), then it is incumbent on the church to communicate the relevance of the gospel.
Making the gospel relevant is not about trying to change the story to make it more palatable to contemporary thought, but thinking through how we can better communicate the relevance of the gospel. In 1 Corinthians 9: 22b-23, the apostle Paul writes, “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.”
Paraphrase, he is willing to remove any barriers and make any adjustments (except being immoral obviously) to help others see what life with Jesus is like. In Acts 17, when he is in Athens, he adjusts his language, he pays attention to the altars, the poets and the philosophy of the surrounding culture. When he starts a conversation, he does so with reference to their insights and beliefs. That is what it is like to be relevant. It is not just saying what we believe in a way which is comfortable for us. It is not just living the way we want without any awareness or sensitivity to those we do life with. It is making the choice to put the interest of others before ourselves.
Long before I want someone to know what I do, I want them to know that I care. I want them to know that we have so much in common, before they focus on what we have which is different. In doing so, I hope in some small way to communicate the relevance of the gospel.