what’s the point? – irrelevant church

In a post last week, I raised the question “what’s the point?” in response to the busyness in our lives and in particular, our churches. I’ll take the next few posts and explore some of my answers.

The church’s busyness, I believe, contributes to the cultural stereotype that the church is irrelevant in cultivating spirituality. And so we here phrases like the oft heard, “I’m spiritual, not religious.” For many, church affiliation is seen as a waste of time. As sociologist Reginald Bibby describes, “Canadians may be hungering for the gods but that is hardly to say they are hungering for the churches” (Restless Gods).

Unfortunately, churches can easily succumb to the stereotypes that culture has for them. The message can be dated, irrelevant, and boring. The programs, well, they’re much the same. The church accepts its fate to remain a private social club for individuals who choose it, but not really offering anything beyond that.

Interestingly, Bibby’s research shows a resurgent interest in organized religion in the early 21st century. And while people have seen the church as irrelevant, it’s not because they’re necessarily against church in general, but because the church itself has been irrelevant. The problem, Bibby’s suggests, is not necessarily an unreceptive culture – the problem is the church itself.

And the problem, I’m suggesting, is the church’s practices – our busyness – can easily wander away from a biblical understanding of the church’s role in the world. This disconnection from the Gospel, then, leads to disconnection with the surrounding culture. If we don’t continually discern and remind ourselves why we do what do, we run the risk of simply remaining an irrelevant – albeit busy – organization in society.

It’s to this situation that I ask the question, then, what’s the point? And in particular, who are we and what are doing?


Darren said...

Since we believe that the gospel is still relevant, and, I think, the Anabaptist doctrines on non-violence may be more relevant (and needed) now than ever ... we have to ask what is it about the way we do church that makes it seems so irrelevant to the rest of the world - again, now more than ever.

Probably the urge to set ourselves apart from the world - or to imagine ourselves set apart at least - doesn't help. The fact that Christians seem to be more interested in issues than in people, and that love and grace are rare commodities when those issues are discussed. I think that the answer is that now they know we are Christians by our stance on abortion and homosexuality.

An unloving church is an irrelevant church. If a church is all about love and grace for all people, it cannot help but be relevant to everyone around it.

David Warkentin said...

I think the key to your comments is this: "we believe the gospel is still relevant." THE GOSPEL!

Relevance is not the point. The gospel is. In fact, as Henri Nouwen points out: "the Christian leader of the future is called to be completely irrelevant and to stand in this world with nothing to offer but his or her vulnerable self. That is the way Jesus came to reveal God's love. The great message that we have to carry, as ministers of God's word and followers of Jesus, is that God loves us not because of what we do or accomplish, but because God has created and redeemed us in love and has chosen us to proclaim that love as the true source of all human life" (In the Name of Jesus, 17).

Fighting our irrelevance as a church isn't about being "cool" or more vocal about issues as you suggest - it's about following Jesus - e.g. the "love and grace" that you propose. Thanks!

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