Walt Mueller is one of my heros…he has been a man who has rolled up his sleeves and taken on the work/love of student ministry with passion, intelligence, and theological/biblical consistency and faithfulness. If you are a youth worker, pastor, parent or someone who just "loves kids", his website and the resources of the Center for Parent and Youth Understanding (CPYU) are "must reads/visits".
Today Walt posted an article/reflections on the subject of cultural relevance…all I can say is "woa and wow". Read and pray…
There's nothing wrong with shaving your head. . . except maybe for
me with my knobby skull. There's nothing wrong with complementing your
bald head with a well-manicured goatee. But a few years ago, I noticed
that as I would look out over rooms full of youth workers, it appeared
that some kind of conspiracy was brewing and I had been left out. There
were bald heads and goatees everywhere – on the men in the room that
is. I was curious about this phenomena that was making it hard for me
to tell people apart. In discussions with observant peers, some of us
began to jokingly wonder if this wasn't some kind of attempt on the
part of some (certainly not all) to increase their cool factor and
somehow become more relevant. What was a initially a joke is in reality
– I believe – true for some, not all.
Over the years, I've
sometimes referenced these observations as a prelude to talking about
cultural relevance. Because I study youth culture for the sake of
effective cross-cultural work with kids, many people are surprised to
find out that I oftentimes try to squelch our (the church) growing love
affair and obsession with relevance. I think we need to stand back and
take a long, hard objective look at ourselves and our ministries to see
just what this pursuit of relevance might not only be doing to us, but
doing to actually hinder the advance of the Gospel message . . . the
noble desire and calling that has made us pursue relevance so
passionately in the first place. A misdirected passion for relevance
has fostered the increased use of the word "reinvent" when it comes to
ourselves and our ministries. We run the risk of unintentionally
allowing an obsession with style to eclipse what should be a passionate
obsession with substance. Sadly, when we fall into it, we don't even
know that this is what's happened. Eventually, our lives and ministries
become a series of extreme makeovers, with the short time in between
each filled not with more and more reflection on the substance of the
message, but with trying to keep up with the styles so that we're ready
to jump when the next change is need. . . something which is happening
with increased frequently as time marches on.
It's for this
reason that I've been speaking more and more about the seemingly subtle
yet significant differences between pursuing lives and ministries
marked by being culturally relevant, and lives and ministries marked by being culturally informed.
Being culturally informed – regardless of my age, shape, size, or
hairstyle – means that I have taken the time to listen to another and
their context. It means that I know them. It means that when I open my
mouth to speak – regardless of whether or not that mouth is framed by a
goatee – the person I am speaking to will know that I have listened to
and cared for them. Then, they will be more prone to listen to what I
have to say. We call this "relationship."
Yesterday this issue came alive in new ways for me as I opened my Summer 2010 edition of Comment Magazine –
a magazine every one of you should subscribe to by the way. I literally
got chills as I read the first twenty or so lines of one of the
absolute best and well-written articles I have read in many, many
Here's what Jedd Medefind writes in those first two paragraphs of his article, "What The World Needs Most Is Not Our Relevance":
more than any single attribute, today's Christians desire to be
relevant: listened to, respected, wanted in the room. In contrast to
those bunker-mentality Christians of yore, we yearn to swim in the
currents of our time, converse in its tones, and thus help to shape its
character. . . .
What the world needs most from us, however, is
not mere relevance. Nor has it any age. The most vibrant moments of
Christian history are those in which believers chose a prophetic role –
even to the loss of perceived relevance. There's no need to don camel
hair robes just yet, but it may be time to rethink our passion for
relevance, and whether we'd be willing to trade it or something higher
Later on, Medefind writes, "Love of
relevance can blind us to things we ought to critique and numb us to
things from which we ought to recoil. It can stand as our primary
measure of success, often subconsciously, replacing the cultivation of
deeper virtues. Its pursuit can consume vast time and resources that
God may have given us for other purposes. And once possessed, relevance
can prompt us to sacrifice almost anything rather than part with it.
Because relevance tends to mirror the trends and values of its culture,
it can rarely offer society anything that it doesn't already have –
including its prejudices, excesses, and mistaken assumptions."
makes a strong and convincing case for us to embrace the polar opposite
of relevance – the prophetic. It's the prophetic voice, he says, that
offers the things society most lacks. Our number one ally in
cultivating the prophetic? Medefind points to the right place –
Scripture. He adds to that solitude, mentors from other eras, global
accountability, and a few good friends.
I love the way Medefind ends his article: "In
the long view of history, mere relevance – attractive as it may have
looked in its own day – simply cannot compare. It is no more desirable
that the feathered hair of a 1980s pop star. Eventually, we always come
to see the remarkable truth: the prophetic voice is the only one that
was truly relevant after all."
This article is timely,
brilliant, and prophetic. You have to get it and read it. Now, think
about you, your ministry, your church, the church in America. What
needs to change?