For years I have felt a slight bit of tension in ministry. I’m fairly young, work with teenagers, and feel like I’m fairly up on trends and technology. But I am also disheartened with most of the writing that’s done, even in Christian circles, and so many of my books and literary heroes have been dead for over 100 years. I find much of what’s out now to be shallow, mindless, and devoid of any real power besides just being “relevant.” So, I have a lecture series on my iPod on the Puritans I listen to while I mow. I have a Spurgeon bobblehead doll on my desk. I find more satisfaction in reading A Pastor’s Sketches or Lectures to my Students than I do “7 Purposes for having a hip cool missional youth ministry experience. Why is this? Deep down, I really think it’s because there are certain things that remain timeless. The attraction to Spurgeon and the Puritans is largely found in the fact that though society was very different, they were still involved in the messy areas of life. Sin was an ever-present reality, people lost jobs and struggled in their marriages and families, and they used Scripture as their guide.
So that brings us to the title of this post, where we must look at the tension between dealing with an ever-changing world around us and what the church must do to respond to that with the timeless message of Christ. Some churches have responded by adjusting, editing, or simply doing away with what has always been done in church. Others seek to modify and re-interpret truths. Still others avoid adjusting to culture and remain stuck in a rut (sorry SBC, that’s you for the most part). Finally, there are those who look to take timeless truths and bring them into a changing time for the sake of the Gospel being made known.
The issue is, what is timeless and what is timely? Methodology is flexible, we must recognize this. In the digital age, a record player and duplicator machine (complete with the purple ink) is never going to be efficient. Methodology is adaptable to the times, and for the sake of not losing relevance to the culture the church must be up to date. This means using media, being accessible online, developing an internet presence through website/podcast/email, using a modern English translation (I use the ESV, which I feel is a great balance between the rich theological language of the KJV with the user-friendly readability of the NIV; would also recommend the NLT and the NIV. Message I’m not so big on because it’s not peer-edited by a committee), and for the worship arts to reflect the contemporary culture. I’m not saying abandon all tradition, but we’re starting to see a shift in worship theology and practice. To say you are “contemporary” when you have a CD player or a song that contains some clapping is like saying an 88 Oldsmobile is a great new car. I believe all churches need to incorporate some contemporary worship into their worship practice. But all worship, regardless of music style, must be doctrinally sound, biblically accurate, and theologically educational. My biggest gripe with contemporary music is that in a lot of cases it doesn’t say anything. My biggest gripe with traditional music is in a lot of cases it doesn’t say anything. We have a wealth of hymns, choruses, and other styles of music, responsive reading, etc. Why settle for crap because it’s hip and cool or old-fashioned when we could do more with music?
Perhaps the most prevalent place of adaptation in ministry is in the realm of youth ministry. Sadly, there is no shortage of “Christian alternatives” to whatever the world has to offer. If you like MTV, we have a giant Christian music industry complete with metal, rap, and boy bands. I’m all for promoting a Christian worldview, but when the church does stuff just because the world does, I get mildly annoyed. Youth ministry for years has been based on this question “How big can the circus get?” We have developed a ministry model based on doing more, bigger, and the “wow” factor. Church down the road have a worship leader, you try to get a band. You have a lock-in, another church will have inflatables and a laser-tag night. We’ve bought into this ministry approach that students need to be entertained and kept occupied. I hate to say this, but they get that everywhere else. Could it be that they come to church with a desire for more? Could it be that they are leaving the church in droves when they graduate because the three-ring circus stops at 18? Here’s a little clip of what the circus ministry model looks like. What we need with students is reality. The reality of God, the reality of Christ, the reality of the Church. We fail in ministry when we do not faithfully teach and live Scripture, and our primary motivation for student ministry has to be for students to be changed not by XBox or Rock Climbing, but by the power of the Holy Spirit. Timeless truth in a shifting culture is seen by the fact that teenagers across the country are demanding more. They want more depth, more doctrine, more Bible, more for their life than frisbees and pizza. They want to serve the homeless, care for the sick, share their faith, and do great things for God.
Fads will come and go, and trends will change as soon as the next Christian celebrity writes the next bestselling book. But the one constant is the Word of God, that will stand even when the grass withers and the flowers fade. Basing a ministry on anything short of this will leave you empty, drained, and wanting more. Basing it on the Word leaves satisfaction, contentment, and accomplishes something.