How do you do a worship service so that it connects with people who are far from God? Well, we use nine principles. Here’s number six: Use their culture.
At Forefront we have seven core values that we live and die by. One is that we are “Doctrinally Pure and Culturally Relevant.” The doctrinally pure part is a given and you probably think, “So are we. All churches should be. That’s a Bible thing, a God-mandated thing.” But with the culturally relevant part some would say, “”That’s just because you’re trying to reach young people” or “That’s because you’re a newer church,” or “That’s because you’re going for post-moderns.” It’s like, “Doctrinally pure is a have-to, but being culturally relevant is a choice some churches make.”
Being culturally relevant is just as much a Bible thing, just as much a God-mandated thing as being doctrinally pure. And being culturally irrelevant is just as much a sin as is being doctrinally impure. I’d say it’s just as bad to bore people with right doctrine as to teach them false doctrine.
Why do we have to be culturally relevant? First, because God is culturally relevant. Where do we see that in the Bible? Only on every page. Look at how our transcendent, eternal, and wholly other, wholly different God deals with every person, and every culture, throughout history. He does it on their terms. He meets them where they’re at. Then God came to earth as a person which is probably the greatest example of cultural relevancy the world has ever seen. And Jesus, in His ministry, was culturally relevant to the core. He spoke the language of the people, He told stories, He used illustrations they would be familiar with, He used examples from popular culture, He used humor. And the first Christians were culturally relevant.
One of my favorite examples is to compare the sermon Peter gave in Acts 2 in Jerusalem to the one Paul gave in Acts 17 in Athens. Sometime read each carefully. You’ll find that Paul never mentions the name of Jesus. He never quotes the Bible. He doesn’t give an invitation at the end. (That sermon would get him fired in most churches today!) In Acts 2, Peter talks about Jesus, quotes the Bible, ends by saying, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you …” Paul doesn’t. Instead he compliments the people on their interest in religious things. He doesn’t attack them because their religious beliefs are wrong. He’s like, “I respect what you’re doing, let’s start a dialogue.” Paul talks about their statues and quotes their poets. And at the end he basically says, “I think you all should seek God. Okay, I’m out!” Why the difference? Peter’s audience was ready for Jesus and Bible quotes and an invitation, so he met them where they were. Paul’s audience was not ready for any of that, so he met them where they were.
I love the passage in the Bible that is like the Christian manifesto for cultural relevancy: 1 Corinthians 9:19-23, “Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel …”
So being culturally relevant isn’t a Vince thing or a Forefront thing or a “seeker church” thing, it’s a Bible thing, a God thing, a Jesus thing. Next time I’ll share how we use that core value in our services.
Until then … put your left foot in, put your left foot out.
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