At the National Gathering in March, several questions were submitted to a Pioneer Panel that did not get asked in person. So we are continuing to offer blog posts to respond to your questions and concerns.
“When does relevance become an idol?”
When does anything become an idol? When it replaces God’s rightful place in the center. Something becomes an idol when we begin to worship it, allowing it steer our lives and take our energy.
So…yes, relevance can be an idol.
In Fresh Expressions, we are inviting you to be attentive to how to make the gospel relatable.
How can we help the gospel come alive for a group of people? How can people get a glimpse of what the kingdom of God looks like? It’s not so much about becoming an “innovative” or “relevant” church. Rather, it’s about pointing people to Jesus in ways they can encounter, relate, and respond.
Make the Richness of God’s Love Come Alive
Sometimes, what makes the richness of God’s love for people come alive is through what we, church people, would consider very ancient, liturgical expressions of prayer and worship.
Consider how many people outside of a church context hold community prayer vigils as an expression of grief and pain.
Candlelight prayer is a very ancient way to tap into grief and longing for justice or comfort. This time together as community also creates a sense of connection with the divine and with others. It’s not about being relevant, but about giving expression to emotion and inviting an encounter with God as community comes together.
Other times, what makes the richness of God’s love for them come alive is through what we would consider very non-liturgical, non-traditional expressions of prayer and worship.
Consider the fresh expression of church that invites people to ride a ski lift to the top of a mountain with another participant in the group.
On their way to the top, they have a conversation about where they see God at work in their lives or the world. The fresh expression group gathers at the top of the mountain, cheers for all the great things God is up to in the world, hears a reading from God’s World, and asks the Spirit to empower them to see the world with new eyes and to impact the world with God’s love.
They then ski down the mountain, feeling the wind on their face as a sign of God’s Spirit at work in and through them.
In either case, it’s not about how “relevant” a fresh expression can be. It’s about what rhythms and practices can spiritually engage the people God is inviting you into community with.
If the style of ministry engagement isn’t an outflow of listening, loving, and serving, you are probably stepping into idolatry territory.
What to Look for to Avoid Idolatry Territory
Here are some warning signs that you may be tipping into the idolatry zone: If you find yourself focused on the relevant programs, events, or vibe you are trying to create and less focused on inviting people into a vibrant, meaningful encounter with God, you may be in idolatry territory.
When you recognize you’re more interested in inviting people to your “cool new thing” and less excited about inviting them to a taste of life with Jesus, your “thing” (however relevant it may appear) has likely become an idol.
Shannon serves as Director of Training, leading our team of mission strategists and trainers in the development and implementation of the Mission Shaped Ministry course through Pioneer Learning Communities. She is also a pastor on staff with Riverside Church in Sterling, VA, a Church that worships in two languages and engages in several Fresh Expressions of Church. In the last several years, Shannon has been involved with the Presbyterian Church’s New Worshiping Communities initiative, and has directed the coaching network that supports pioneer leaders. Shannon lives in Springfield, VA with her husband Patrick and teenage daughters Catherine and Suzanne.