Shifting Toward Relevance


That’s the descriptor I would like to use for describing what’s happening in the larger world around us, including what’s staring God’s Church in the face. Post-modern, post-Christian, post-denominational, post-industrial, and so on and so on… The bottom line is that the world as we have known it is shifting so quickly that no one knows how to describe it; what label to use. So, we simply put the prefix “post” on most everything, acknowledging that things are not what they were, while they are not yet settled into identifiable models.

All of this raises significant questions for the Christian Church. When we begin listing the questions, notice how they are driven by Modern Era (pre-2000 AD) perspectives:
• What does regular and consistent church attendance look like now?
• How can we get people to volunteer more?
• How can we reach the younger people in our community?
• What worship style do we need in order to grow as a church?
• Why won’t people give more to our unified church budget?

There are many more questions we could list, hearing them frequently in our leadership coaching and church consulting from concerned leaders. These kinds of questions are those which churches still operating from the Modern worldview ask and pursue(90% of churches). These questions indicate a desire to restore, renew, and reinvigorate church-as-we-have-known-it. Questions are powerful influences, determining what we become. These questions are indicative of congregations who have not yet shifted to a new century.

For better or worse, the Modern Era with its cultural norms is over; or at least nearly over. Fewer churches are likely to return to being church in the manner they used to be. Yes, there are exceptions. There are cultural enclaves where enough is the same to sustain Modern Era churches. These are the temporary exception, rather than the rule.

This takes me back to evangelism class during my seminary training. Dr. Lewis Drummond, a great revival preacher, aptly described the changing world around us. “You have a different challenge before you as newer ministers than do I. I’m an old preacher who can still be invited to do revivals in small towns until the day I die. But you…you know revival services are aging-out. You will have to discover how to engage your culture with the gospel in ways that are different than for my generation.” This insightful professor described the challenge for every generation: how to be church and live the gospel faithfully, while also in culturally relevant ways.

If the questions we ask form us, what questions do churches ask who are letting go of their Modern Era roots and moving into the 21st century? These churches are the ones driven to the roots or foundations of their faith. They are diving deep into the waters of mission, purpose and calling. They find themselves in contexts similar to the early church (certainly not Christian culture), pushing them to grow clear on what it’s all about anyway.
• What does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus Christ now?
• How seriously are we willing to engage Jesus’ teachings?
• How much are we caught up in living in the Way of Jesus?
• When Jesus-followers band together in a group, what do they do?
• What’s the nature of this Christian community called the Church?
• If we wanted to form a group which helps its members to live out the teachings of Jesus, what would we do?
• What kind of sacred partnerships do we need in this faith community to support/challenge us to live as disciples?
• How would we form ourselves as a faith community if we intended to seriously answer the questions above?

These questions are far more formational, involving deep change. When eras shift, everything comes loose. This is a time for asking the primal questions. Only this kind of exploration will lead us to join with God’s unfolding story for this world.

This kind of conversation, engaging the second set of questions, nearly always elicits energy and enthusiasm in groups of Jesus-followers. We intuitively know the world is shifting, along with our faith journeys. Either consciously or unconsciously, we recognize that church-as-we-have-known-it model is aging out. So, most of us are so relieved and grateful when our faith communities invite us into relevant dialogue, seeking the way forward. May we engage the questions; those pertinent to our journey, as we live and breathe in this “post-everything” context.

Mark Tidsworth
Pinnacle President