So we have challenged ourselves as the church to do a better job of understanding our culture and bridging that gap from our churches to our culture today. It appears our churches themselves have been moved too far to the fringes of our communities, and so need to move the church back into the view of culture as something relevant to their life. But along with that it seems we may need to be careful that we don’t lose our distinct message of hope as we represent the one who has given the greatest gift ever!!
There seems to be a point within this striving to be culturally relevant, yet hang on to our radically distinct message to the world, where the line can get blurred all too easily. The battle seems to be a question of looking to our relationship with God as being towards a better life vs. the better hope ahead. This is a question of control or abandonment. In America we can find some examples of some very large churches where the message seems to be…. give the people what they want to hear and we can have the appearance of church growth. But we have to ask what the price is being paid for that kind of church growth. Certainly we want our churches to be filled with worshippers… those wonderful explorers on that journey of becoming fully devoted followers. But how is that really working? The bridge to folks has been corrected as people are finding a place that seems to be relevant… but at what price. How strong is that bridge? What is that bridge fortified with?
In Paul’s letter to the church in Thessalonica in I Thessalonians 1 we hear him lauding the church for how the gospel was being presented and spread in their area…
You paid careful attention to the way we lived among you, and determined to live that way yourselves. In imitating us, you imitated the Master. Although great trouble accompanied the Word, you were able to take great joy from the Holy Spirit!—taking the trouble with the joy, the joy with the trouble.
7-10 Do you know that all over the provinces of both Macedonia and Achaia believers look up to you? The word has gotten around. Your lives are echoing the Master’s Word, not only in the provinces but all over the place. The news of your faith in God is out. We don’t even have to say anything anymore—you’re the message! People come up and tell us how you received us with open arms, how you deserted the dead idols of your old life so you could embrace and serve God, the true God. They marvel at how expectantly you await the arrival of his Son, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescued us from certain doom. I Thessalonians 1: 5 – 10
Joy with trouble?? That’s right!! With imitating the master or submitting our lives to Christ only then will joy be realized. That doesn’t mean troubles won’t come but we won’t be focused on the better life that wants to avoid all troubles. Instead as we embrace and serve God (as the church!!) we become the message!! A message that will have others marveling at how expectantly we await the arrival of his son!! This will encompass being culturally relevant and radically distinct.
Then we will see not only a bridge that will again connect us together (one that bridges that water!!) but also a strong bridge that will bring hope to a world too focused on just the problems and worries of the day!!