Thou Shalt Be Culturally Relevant

relevant

It was a casual dinner conversation in which my almost 40 year-old sister fessed up that she barely uses facebook and never uses twitter.

Seriously?

And she dreams of staying culturally relevant?

Without realizing it, she’d opened a can of worms to the million dollar question:

Can you make an impact in the world without being culturally relevant?

To watch most Christian leaders today makes me wonder whether I missed one of the essential 10 commandments squeezed right there between lust and stealing:

Thou shalt be culturally relevant.

The idea of cultural relevance has ballooned as if on steroids in a media focused generation.

If you’re not hip you ain’t nothin.

I think of the Old Testament focus on cultural relevance  - or away from it! Generation after generation of Israelites were told to separate from the culture. To be different. To refuse the worship of false gods. To eat certain foods and dress certain ways.

Then along came Jesus.

Was Jesus culturally relevant?

I suppose even I could become culturally relevant if I could cure cancer with a touch and bring the dead back to life.

I try picturing Peter rapping to Coolio with a tatt of a fish on his pecs. I draw a blank. I suppose that wouldn’t have been culturally relevant in the year 35 AD.

Now Paul, on the other hand, he was a man ahead of his time. If there ever was a biblical command to be culturally relevant, it would have been Paul who’d have penned it.

I try googling cultural relevance and the apostle Paul. I get nothing.

I almost tweet the question but before I do, I hit the mental sweet spot.

“For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.” 1 Corinthians 9:19-27.

Paul’s teaching is clear: thou shalt be culturally relevant.

In a decade where cultural relevance is the soup du jour, it’s important to draw a handful of conclusions from Paul’s words:

1. Cultural Relevance is not about the church. It’s about YOU!

We’re living in a day where we’re told that millenials are leaving the church because the church has become culturally irrelevant. Yet when Paul addresses relevance, he doesn’t even mention the church. He talks about himself.  Hey, Christian, cultural relevance is not what your church does. It’s about what you do day in and day out in your moment by moment interactions. This has nothing to do with facebook and every thing to do with loving your neighbor.

2. Cultural Relevance is not Biblical Compromise.

If you move to China and learn Chinese you will become the American in China who speaks Chinese. That’s the best analogy I can give you to being in the world but not of the world. If you’re a follower of Jesus Christ, you may learn a language and dress the part but that’s where it ought to stop. Hudson Taylor is a great example of cultural relevance. When he became a missionary to China, he dressed like the Chinese but lived like the Christ worshipper that He was. His impact was unparalleled in our generation. Don’t confuse being cool with being obedient to God’s word.

3. Cultural Relevance must always have a Purpose.

When Paul talks about being all things to all men, he strongly and passionately qualifies his motives and goals. In case you missed it, let me reiterate it for you: Paul says – I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. If your being culturally relevant is not resulting in people turning to the gospel of Jesus Christ, you’re missing it somewhere.

My sister is right: Whether you have facebook or twitter doesn’t determine your relevance in this culture.

Loving people in need, and living sacrificially for them for the sake of the gospel will do more to make you culturally relevant than any amount of external and peer motivated cool.

And remember – just because you’re culturally relevant in Manhattan won’t make you culturally relevant in Iraq. It may be time to figure out where God has placed you and who He has surrounded you with, and become culturally sensitive to your own mission field today.

There’s more at stake than you think and it’s all for the sake of the gospel.

What do you think? How important is it to be culturally relevant today and where does a Christian draw the line? Leave a comment. I’d love to hear from you. 

Comments

  1. Love it. I almost spilled my morning coffee reading this and laughing. You are right. We are responsible for ourselves, not the church we are in. Good Christians make good citizens, good churches, good homes.
    Cultural relevancy has created people who do all the follow me things except Christ. They know all the electronic stuff but no knowledge of the Word and what it says. Use electronics to spread the Word and make Jesus known. I totally agree.
    On the other hand some Christians flaunt their knowledge, spare us, let each one study to show ourselves approved.

  2. Love, love this. The post comes just on time. Two kiddos are going to public school next Wed. This post helps them to understand better before the peer pressure gets heavy on their young shoulders. :) being in China and even speaking Chinese doesn’t make you a Chinese. But, what inside pouring out is much more important. Are we looking people’s acceptance or being different?

  3. Well said my friend!

  4. “Paul’s teaching is clear: thou shalt be culturally relevant.”

    I just can’t do it. One day they’ll figure out that I’m just too old for this and they’ll become their parents just like everyone else does.

    “We’re living in a day where we’re told that millenials are leaving the church because the church has become culturally irrelevant.”

    If the reference isn’t lost on anyone: What would Archie Bunker say?

  5. Laura Benson says:

    I often find myself asking how culturally relevant do I need/ can I be? Teaching high school students with emotional and behavioral disorders is a challenge in itself, but relating to them and building that rapport is a whole other story. However, I have found cultural relevance does not stand against my Christ-like responses and behaviors around my students. To them, I stand apart and it has nothing to do with being culturally relevant.

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Lina AbuJamra

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