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8/14/2006

HOW RELEVANT IS RELEVANT?: SEVEN YEARS AGO

Seven years ago I was a janitor. And a Power Point operator. And a set designer.

I moved risers and instruments around on a church stage until they matched the drawing scrawled by my boss. I arranged fake ferns and ficus trees to hide cables and monitors. I vacuumed what the cleaning crew missed. I set up the green room when recording artists came through. I helped drain, and scrub the baptistry where new Christians were dunked and left a ring of mystery residue. Mostly I dreamt from my seat on the bench about the day I'd actually be in on the big plays in the game.

I plodded along in my day job and volunteered after hours to sing hymns for a senior citizens prayer meeting on Wednesday nights. Nothing too fast or too loud. What a waste of my talent - I sometimes thought but of course would never say outloud. I was furniture. And frustrated. And bored. For over a year.

Then, miraculously it seemed, my big break came. I joined the worship planning team, which met to, well, plan the worship services of our church. I was in the game.

I was there for two reasons: First, any creative ideas these guys came up with, like putting a car on stage or building a replica of the Parthenon, would be my job to actually do. So it was only fair that I be there to decide what was and was not plausible given my limited talents, time and a budget of, oh, about nothing. Second, I was the token Gen Xer. Everyone in the room was at least forty (There may have been one young whipper snapper in his late thirties). I was 25. They had degrees in theology or divinity or management or finance. I had a degree in music composition and theory. They watched a movie a month. I was at the theatre every weekend. They turned to ESPN or CNN and I absorbed hours of MTV. They still had cassette players in their offices and listened mostly to "worship music." I had hundreds of CDs from every genre spanning the last twenty years of popular music.

Basically, I was told, they wanted to be "relevant" and they knew they weren't. They thought I was. They asked for my help.

So I got paid to sit at the big boy table and drink Dr.Pepper and listen to seven men twice my age describe the "theme" of next week's sermon...sorry, message. Then I'd tell them what movie clips and songs - "elements" - to incorporate into the church service. And they listened. Sweet gig if you can get it.

I felt important. I felt for the first time like all that useless pop culture trivia in my head was actually useful. I watched movies and listened to music voraciously and with a greater sense of purpose - you know, like Fight Club and Matchbox Twenty weren't mere entertainment but possible bait for or bridges to the non-Christians in our town.

My aim, our aim in those days, was to build church services that were relevant. Relevant. That word was passed around the church offices like Kool-Aid at a Jim Jones gathering back then. I drank it. A lot of it. I drank until I was drunk enough to embarrass myself.

When the oldest man in the worship planning meeting shot down a risky suggestion I'd made, I arrogantly ranted about the importance of being relevant to my generation. I thought I was reminding him of something he'd obviously forgotten or negligently stopped caring about. I spouted stats about the number of people my age who weren't attending church. I swore if we'd just go a little further down the road marked relevance we could change those numbers. I ended my mini-sermon by lecturing, "Relevance and power are inversely proportionate in the Church today. The older a person gets, the more power and position he has but the less relevant he is to the generation most in need of being reached. And the younger and less powerful a person is in the Church, the more relevant he's likely to be because he's more in touch with popular culture. The powerful need to listen to the weak if we're going to be relevant and turn things around."

My pastor let me finish, let me hang myself with my own diatribe. And then he said calmly and kindly, "You're passionate and I appreciate that. But what you lack is wisdom."

I tucked my tail between my legs and started praying for wisdom. I admit I confused it with knowledge so I sought it by reading more books - mostly about being relevant, written by big named worship pastors at mega churches and books those pastors recommended at their conferences. But I also spent time with older men and reluctantly asked them to teach me. I was afraid though. I wanted to be wiser without becoming irrelevant like them and the middle-aged guys around that planning table. Relevance was essential to being the Church in the modern world.

I thought.

Until one day...

21 Comments:

Blogger Sarah said...

AHHHHH! Continue! I wanna know how it ends!

Seriously, you've got me hooked. Now I want to know what happened that one day!

8/14/2006  
Blogger Kerry Woo said...

Ok lay it on us! BTW, thanks for the transparency. Being transparent is relevant in my book.

8/15/2006  
Blogger Kev said...

" I helped drain, and scrub the baptistry where new Christians were dunked and left a ring of mystery residue."

So their sins had a physical incarnation? Hope you didn't get any on ya... ;-)

" I was furniture. And frustrated. And bored. For over a year."

I think all musicians have been furniture at one time or another (I usually call it wallpaper). It's one of those things that's supposed to "build character" or something like that.

And, like Sarah, I'm eagerly awaiting part two of this story...

8/15/2006  
Blogger Vitamin Z said...

Relevance is a myth. With the rise of the internet, what is "relevant" changes from day to day. Don't try and be relevant, (within reason) be yourself and do what YOU do with a high degree of excellence. this is what will make your "relevant" in the end.

8/15/2006  
Anonymous euphrony said...

I, too, enjoy the honesty and openness of this incomplete post (guess I'll have to wait and see, like everyone else). Actually, relevance is something that I have never had a big problem with, as I have never been "relevant". I'm a Gen Xer by demographic, but the stereotypical definition has never fit me very well. For the people my age that I grew up around, I was always swimming in a little different direction; I'm not saying I was swimming in the right direction, just different from the other wrong directions.

8/15/2006  
Anonymous Ryan G. said...

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA


...we're waiting...

8/15/2006  
Blogger Kat said...

My friend Darrell Six wrote awhile back a about making the Gospel Relevant and I found it very thought provoking:

"I get nervous whenever I hear someone say, “We need to make the Gospel relevant.”
I get nervous because the Gospel addresses the deepest need of all mankind: forgiveness of sin and reconciliation with God. It is relevant to all people irrespective of country, culture or socio-economic status. We need to be reconciled to God. The deepest part of our souls testify to that truth. Religion is man’s effort to meet that need. Atheism is man’s effort to deny that need. (Agnosticism is man’s effort to procrastinate addressing that need.) Only the Good News that the Son of God was crucified and rose again meets that need.
If someone says, “The Gospel isn’t relevant,” in any given context, I question if they’re really talking about the Gospel or if they’re talking about the way the Gospel is presented. When the Gospel is presented as a way to find happiness and peace it becomes irrelevant to the person who is already happy or already feels peaceful. When the Gospel is presented as a way to find meaning and fulfillment, it is irrelevant to the person who already feels they’ve found meaning and fulfillment in life.

When I first got to China and started thinking about my duty/privilege to preach the Gospel, I realized I needed to go back to the Bible to discover what the Gospel really was! I was a bit surprised to see that the apostles’ sermons in Acts were missing the most important catch phrases of modern Gospel presentations. They said things like, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

It’s not that we shouldn’t testify about what God has done (fulfilled us, given us joy, peace and purpose) or that we shouldn’t tell people about all the benefits of being reconciled to God (Ps. 103:2). However, when our Gospel presentations begin and end with man, we may find ourselves asking, “How can we make the Gospel more relevant?”"

The Gospel is inherently relevant. The Gospel isn't superficial. Perhaps as Christians we too often operate on a superficial level - and try to communicate the Gospel through ways that keeps us just far enough away from other people that we don't have to really get involved in their lives and get our hands dirty.

When we start relating to people at a deeper level through serving and loving and giving - we'll never have a problem "making the Gospel relevant."

8/15/2006  
Blogger Matthew Smith said...

Shaun, have you read Os Guiness's Prophetic Untimeliness? It's the best thing I've read on what it means to be vital without pursuing relevance.

8/15/2006  
Blogger Loren said...

relevant = messy hair, beer drinking, little bit of cussing, too tight t-shirt, cool Christian.

the anti-thesis of = kjv only, 3/4 only, beer is devil juice, Christian cussing, ugly clothes(to the relevant), stodgy Christian.


I think throughout history there has always been a counter culture, look at the hippies, punk, grunge, prep, Lutherans, early Christians, evangelicals, youth groups throughout time.

It is almost like Einstein, you know equal and opposite reaction. So if this pendulum is gonna swing, ie relevant movement, I don't think we should stomp on it, but rather breathe into it, make it faithful, and in a few more years when it goes in another direction, lets embrace that as well.

8/15/2006  
Blogger Loren said...

Phrases I cringe at:

"we just need to get back to the bible"
"just preach the gospel"
etc.

not that those are bad, but the message behind the message is: what you are doing is bad, you need to preach/interpret like me.

8/15/2006  
Anonymous Gary said...

Hey Shaun,

I guess what I would want to know is this: what is this person's definition of wisdom? and...what have you learned?

I guess I just don't see how what you were saying to the guy was wrong, and did not have a kernal of wisdom. Maybe you said it in an arrogant, knowitall manner. But the crux of what you said is true. I would have said it like this, and have to my church: If I were a teenager, would I want to come back to this Church (not youth group, but the Church itself)? In other words, does the Church exist for those whose faith is emerging? If it doesn't then those who are growing in the faith will have no where to go once they leave "youth group", and those who are long in the faith will be hardened to those who are coming up.

Bottom line is this: who are the mature ones? It should be the older generation right? If they are the mature ones, then the responsibility is on them to reach down (read: give up their style biases) to the less mature and pace with them.

8/15/2006  
Blogger Shaun Groves said...

Good thoughts everyone. Tomorrow, more of the story.

8/15/2006  
Blogger Kat said...

Loren said:
"relevant = messy hair, beer drinking, little bit of cussing, too tight t-shirt, cool Christian."

I suppose I just don't understand how clothes, beverage choices, or shirt sizes makes anyone more or less relevant.

There is an external relevance that the world is constantly searching for. It's easy to get if you have the money and the time. It's entirely based on appearance and perception.

But there is a deeper relevance that is and should be the basis of the church.

It seems like the current relevant movement is a way to draw people into the church like some sort of marketing brand and I just don't think that is what a church is primarily supposed to do. I think that we're relevant when we get into peoples lives.

For example, our church wanted to reach out to the poor in our community so we built our church in one of the rougher parts of town.

All of our pastors moved into the neighborhood so that they could get to know the people. Yes, their homes have been broken into, yes their parents and extended families think they're not being wise for living in a dangerous area.

But their neighbors are now their friends. People are constantly in and out of their homes and people's lives are being changed. None of our pastors have traded their khakis and t-shirts for baggy pants and sports jerseys. They don't drink or cuss or listen to hard core rap.

Their "relevance" is deeper than common fashion tastes or vices.

Their relevance is based on relationship and service.

And that is relevant to any age group or any cultural group. That is lasting relevance.

8/15/2006  
Blogger Loren said...

Kat very true, I was hoping you would laugh at that...there I go again trying to be funny...

8/15/2006  
Blogger Kat said...

Loren,
I guess I couldn't quite tell if your were serious or not so I thought I'd write a nice long diatribe in response - just in case.

:-)

I'm sure everyone else saw your sarcasm...I'm just a bit slow. Thanks for the clarification.

8/15/2006  
Blogger The Cachinnator said...

Kat, trust me, the right hairdo is the secret to reaching our generation. It's an incontrovertible fact. But the tightness of the t-shirt only pertains to relevance in proportion to how in shape the wearer is. Tight t-shirts do not make me more relevant. They make me Simon Cowell. Not a pretty picture.

But really, as for relevance, I've never been able to value it over timelessness. The 'now' can't top the eternal which has nothing to do necessarily with the 'yesterday' either. 'Timeless' speaks anywhere and everywhere at any time. It can show up in many forms. Relevance is terminally both temporal and cultural. I'll take the transcendent, thank you.

8/15/2006  
Blogger texags said...

Mystery residue... That's funny!

8/15/2006  
Anonymous Rich said...

Great story so far! I am so glad there was a place that actually let a 25-year-old speak. When I was 25 things were a bit different in my settings, but the feelings I had were the same as you describe here. Thanks.

8/15/2006  
Anonymous euphrony said...

I read today's "Kudzu" comic strip, and thought it tied in here very well. Check it out here.

8/15/2006  
Blogger dockanz said...

I agree. I'm hooked. You, my friend, are relevant...at least in my humble view.

8/15/2006  
Blogger Kathryn said...

i like Loren's remark "relevance is based on relationship and service."

The "Generation Gap" is as wide as ever. I have a foot in both worlds as a 44 year-old . . maybe it's more accurate to say that I stand with one foot in postmodernity with a toe-hold in modernity. It should seem unbalanced, but it feels right to me. I know some older people who are wise and i know some who are fools. . i know some really young people who have wisdom, because they asked God and He gave it.

8/15/2006  

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