We have enjoyed a couple head-turning Sundays with Welcome Back Sunday and last week’s Blessing of the Animals. Someone good-naturedly quipped, “We are becoming like Flip Wilson’s ‘Church of What’s Happening Now!’” Does anybody recall that spoof? This Sunday is back to the familiar rhythms of worship in the Meetinghouse, bringing our Food First offerings (put them by the door so you don’t forget!), singing the familiar hymns, and celebrating in word and sacrament at the Lord’s Table. Back to our routine.
We recently interviewed an associate minister candidate who observed that church no longer interests youth. So youth ministry must turn on making church relevant to them. This is a partial, but not a full truth. Yes, we meet people where they are to welcome them along life’s way. Yes, we open our hearts to relate and be truly interested in them.
But if we only make ourselves relevant to them, we say Jesus is no different than some CEO or cool celebrity who captures the public’s imagination. If our only option is making the church “relevant to them,” we say all the church does is covered elsewhere except we’re not so hip, but we want to be. Like an aging guy acting young with his comb-over.
That isn’t a strong or true posture for the church. I recall, for example, in the 1980s the “Hands Across America” pop phenomenon where we would join hands across the USA to accomplish….what was it again? Hunger-relief? It was very forgettable, meaning nothing and accomplishing less. I recall in the 1990’s church youth leaders asking me to endorse the rubber Lance Armstrong “Live Strong!” wrist bands, to cure cancer and solve the world’s problems. The church must promote this campaign, I was told, to be relevant to where the youth were. I refused, suspicious of packaging the gospel in pop culture. I was dismissed as irrelevant. I didn’t care about that then, and cared even less as Lance Armstrong was revealed as a liar, a sociopath and a variety of megalomaniac.
We are not Flip Wilson’s trendier-than-thou “Church of What’s Happenin’ Now.” We relate personally to all whom we meet, warmly welcoming them, yes. We listen closely and learn what is happening in their lives, yes. Most who visit a church for the first time have had some personal crisis in their lives over the previous six weeks, studies show.
But our primary agenda is less about making the Gospel relevant to their lives and more about making all our lives relevant to the Gospel. It’s not all about us, it’s all about God.
We have special Sundays to get the church out of the sanctuary, literally or figuratively, to meet people where they are. That piques interest and curiosity. But that is in service to the greater agenda of inviting humans to live on God’s terms rather than expecting God to exist upon ours. It is all about inviting others to join with us as we make our lives relevant to what God has done through the people of Israel and the life of Jesus Christ.
That is who the church has always been, who the church is, and who the church always will always be, just as we sing every Sunday, “…as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen. Amen.” It is good to be the church these days!