its own website.
They even have an award, called the Lowsman Trophy (that’s the opposite of the Heisman Trophy). Instead of the famous running back with extended arm, this trophy features a shocked player dropping the ball.
Most of the time the player chosen has no real pro football career to speak of. But occasionally Mr. Irrelevant does something notable. Marty Moore, MI 94, played in a Super Bowl with the New England Patriots and has had a 10-year career. Conversely, some of the highest players chosen in the draft, such as quarterback Ryan Leaf, are famous more for their flameouts than their on-field productivity. In other words, the NFL draft is one large gamble, with little correlation between draft order and performance. Yet teams continue to covet high draft status, wanting Â “relevant” selections that will have an immediate and long-term impact.
The idea of relevancy can get a little confused, in both pro football and in ministry. In the church, some circles strongly emphasize it, while others are stridently opposed to the concept of being “relevant.” On one hand, there is an entire ministry magazine called Relevant. You might guess their opinion. It reflects the relevancy concerns of the seeker movement that has been popular since the 1980s. On the other hand, some might say the recent movement called Emergent could be appropriately named Irrelevant, with its emphasis on stepping away from pop culture awareness and its search for new, authentic expressions of faith.
A church that I work closely with experiences the tension of the “relevancy” debate on a regular basis. The pastor is highly interested in relevance. His desire is to break down barriers that prevent people from encountering Jesus. He likes to use language such as, “Our church is a place where you can use ‘fun’ and ‘church’ in the same sentence. He also says the people of the congregation are far from perfect, but they’re ‘real.’ The understated theology is that God is present in the places where we live, as sinful as we may be. This is the essence of the Incarnation. It could be said that the pastor’s focus is on the human Jesus – the one who hung out with sinners and tax collectors.
The worship leader, however, is highly interested in what he usually describes as “deeper” worship. He says that his goal is to create a worship environment that enables people to glorify God and know God’s presence. In worship, he uses language such as, “Let’s enter into a time of worship,” and, “Let’s give honor and respect to God today.” The understated theology is that we as sinful people must cleanse ourselves through faith in Jesus to experience the presence of a God who is without sin and wholly Other. This is the doctrine of sanctification, or to be made holy and set apart for God. It could be said that his focus is on the divine Jesus – the one who became transfigured on the mountaintop.
These may seem like fairly opposite goals and beliefs. In some ways, they are. But these two points of view are not mutually exclusive and can (and I believe should) coexist in the way the Gospel is communicated. For my church, it has on occasion created tension. But his church is better off for it. Because of the Pastor’s and worship leader’s unique personalities and passions, the Christian paradox of being cultural and yet counter-cultural at the same time remains present in this church community.
When a congregation experiences this paradox, it is in a very real way reflecting an ancient tension. At the Council of Chalcedon, in the year 451, the church confessed Jesus as truly man, truly God. Two natures that are in perfect unity. This belief is about as universal as it gets in the Christian Church.
The thing is, although we confess it with our mouths, we often don’t show it in our actions. Many churches can’t handle the tension, and end up focusing on the human side (being “in the world,” or relevant), or the divine side (being “not of this world,” or irrelevant). As RC Sproul states,
When we think about the Incarnation, we don’t want to get the two natures mixed up and think that Jesus had a deified human nature or a humanized divine nature. We can distinguish them, but we can’t tear them apart because they exist in perfect unity.
If the two natures – human and divine – are equally present in Jesus, this means the challenge for those in ministry is to always hold the two in tension. To not get so engrossed in connection that discipleship is lost, or not to get so engrossed in discipleship that the door closes to the world. As a user named Dave commented in our reading section the other day,
We use relevance to the culture to form relationships and do effective evangelism. Then, we build a counter-culture in which people become holy. There is a tension here. I notice that some churches only do cultural relevance. Others only do counter-culture. I so want to hold these in tension. I want to be cultural enough to attract and communicate effectively. I want to be counter-cultural enough to annoy people out of complacency and into submission to Christ – the sanctifying work in their lives.
In other words, to maintain cultural relevancy even as we strive to create a culture different than the culture at large.
At the church where we got our start in ministry, Ginghamsburg, we experienced a period in which the effort to be relevant surpassed the effort to create a thriving counter culture. We were doing a great job of using cultural language and images to attract people, but the back door was almost as big as the front door. Many people left, or stayed mired in their human condition, because in our rapid growth we didn’t yet have discipleship programs to match evangelistic programs. Ginghamsburg has since shifted the focus of their ministry to an attempt to do both at the same time – to speak with a relevant voice while simultaneously emphasizing discipleship and counter cultural living. The church body has grown both spiritually and numerically because of these efforts.
The focus on relevancy without the balance of creating a counter culture unfortunately has happened a lot in the church, especially during the “seeker” period of the 80s and 90s. Out of these movements a newer emphasis on what some call “believer” worship has emerged. Taken from the classic tension, the emphasis on the human Jesus is now shifting back toward the divine Jesus.
The use of visual media gets caught in the undertow when it is closely associated with relevant worship and is seen as primarily a tool for outreach. Images are not only for outreach purposes. It is true that biblical truth can be expressed in ways that are potentially more enlightening through images relevant to our culture, when compared to images that have long established meanings in the church.
But contrary to what some demonstrate, images may be used for devotion as well. Any single association is false, just as any would be for the printed word. Both are merely mediums for creating an experience of God in worship and are equally valid. This means images are good for worship that strives to be relevant and also good for worship that strives to make disciples. the languages of image, music and spoken word have resonance in both cultural connection and counter-cultural discipleship.
This marriage of the human and divine languages creates an awareness of the Spirit that believers and non-believers alike can find hope and meaning in. The nets are cast much wider when we balance the use of these two powerful communication forms for both outreach and discipleship. It is when we exclude one purpose or the other that the catch is greatly reduced.
If Jesus is both human and divine, and if our goal is to proclaim the Word and make disciples, then we need to be willing to stay near the human Jesus even as we are drawn to the divine Jesus. If we follow the lead of Jesus’ ministry on earth, we’ll find ourselves striving to communicate in a relevant way through stories and parables that relate to people living in this time. We need to learn how to remain relevant even as we create a counter-culture separate and apart from the world.