When Jesus walked the earth nearly 2000 years ago, He was immensely popular at the grassroots level. Multitudes followed Him wherever He went. At times, He had to withdraw Himself from the crowd for some space. Why did they throng Him as they did? It was because what He said and did among them effectively ministered to their lives.
When Jesus returned to heaven, He left eleven
disciples behind to carry on the work He had begun. They were His ambassadors. Through these eleven and Paul the apostle who later joined them, the gospel was spread throughout the entire known world. On the day of Pentecost, 3000 souls accepted Christ in one day!
Today, we are Christ’s ambassadors. We find ourselves in a socially complex world. Multitudes are desperately searching for the truth, for real meaning, and a way forward in life. We are the ones whom Christ has charged to lead the way. The question is, how can we significantly impact our world for Him? Of course, in order for us to achieve this end, we must be relevant to our culture. I believe that the very fate of our nation rests upon the church being able to rise to the occasion. As a minister of the gospel, that is my driving conviction.
Let me be clear that when I talk about the need for the church to be relevant for today, I am not talking about changing the message of the gospel to fit in with the times. Rather, I am talking about carrying out the charge of our Lord effectively in light of the culture in which we live. To illustrate the gist of the church’s challenge, let’s look briefly at three components of the Great Commission, and how the social fabric of our society challenges our ability to fulfill this heavenly mandate.
As part of the Great Commission, we must “teach all nations” (Matthew 28:19a), or should we say, disciple the nations. Discipleship requires a lifetime of commitment to following Christ, and long term commitments are not currently vogue in our society. We can see that in personal relationships, as the divorce rate among those 24 years old and younger is considerably higher than that of older couples. Moreover, our lack of devotion to a commitment is not frowned upon in today’s society, as it was in the days of our forefathers. This means that as the church tries to make disciples, it will be going against the grain of this current culture. But this we must do.
“Baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” (v. 19b): When a person is water baptized, it denotes that a “burial” has taken place. The person has become a new creation through faith in Christ. The old man is dead. But loving oneself is big these days. In many ways, our society is driven by the motto, whatever makes you feel good, do it. Christ, however, requires that we deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Him. Somehow, we must reach this generation with the message of dying to self.
Thirdly, the Great Commission requires that we teach believers to observe all of Christ’s teachings (verse 20). This is a lifelong learning process. It is the vehicle by which new converts and babes in Christ become mature Christians. This area is a real challenge for the church as people today redefine their concept of the church, and they are open to ways to get religion on the go, if you will. We must find ways to effect spiritual depth through progressive discipleship, in spite of the fabric of our culture.
The Great Commission is still our marching orders today. Though we are not of this world, we are in it. We cannot sit idly by and let it go to hell. We can’t be so heavenly minded, we are of no earthly good. What is obvious, however, is that we must more effectively relate to our world. We must overcome the hurdles and make a mark on this generation for Christ.
So let me share some of my thoughts on what needs to be done. First and foremost, our message in the pulpit and in Sunday school must provide answers to the real tough problems of today. We can’t do this unless we are attuned to the issues of our day. There is not one problem any of us face, for which we can’t find excellent counsel and victory through the Word of God. The church must become the place where the people of this generation can come and get answers and strategies for life that they can’t receive any other place. If we can accomplish this, people will want what the church has to offer simply because they must have it.
Also, to be relevant, the church must go outside the four walls of her edifice and learn about the community in which God has placed her. We must do more than place a “welcome” sign on our door. The last church I served as the pastor of was one that I founded. After we purchased a building in the inner city, one of the first things we did was to go knocking on doors and witnessing in the neighborhood. Through that activity, it became apparent to me that there was a large number of low income families in the vicinity. One of our most successful outreach ministries we started was our monthly clothes giveaway. Because we never sold any of the clothes, people throughout the city showered us with clothes to give away. So much so that we were even able to give lots of clothing to several local missions. It especially blessed us when someone came to service the following Sunday wearing something they had gotten from the clothes giveaway. This outreach afforded us the opportunity to witness to those who came for clothes. This ministry was a perfect match for that neighborhood. For other neighborhoods in our city, a clothing ministry might not have been as effective. Each church must learn to “read” its community. God has placed us to impact those around us.
Thirdly, the church must believe in and depend on the work of the Holy Spirit. He wants to work supernaturally through the people of God. We cannot impact this world through strategies and techniques alone. Only the Holy Spirit can break the spirit of this world and the spiritual shackles that hold men captive. Only He can draw men to the Father. Only He can change men from the inside out. It was through the power of the Holy Spirit working through the apostles that they were able to turn their world upside down. Here me friends, the Holy Spirit wants to do the same things and impart the same gifts He did during the days of the apostles—if we allow Him to.
Finally, I love preaching and teaching the Word of God, but Jesus makes it clear that the gospel is more than that. We serve Him by serving others. He said that when we feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, and take in strangers, we have in effect done the same to Him (see Matthew 25:34-40). Moreover, He said, when we neglect doing these things, we have in effect failed to do the same to Him! The bottom line is that we will not be counted relevant if we fail to exercise the ministry of compassion in this hurting world.
I believe that most Christians would agree at least in principle that the things I have touched on above are some of the practical strategies that we must implement to become more relevant to our world today. And, yes, I know that there are some local churches that are doing a superb job, and are effective anchors in their communities, but not nearly enough are doing that.
These things cannot be legislated. In other words, it requires more than just telling church folks what the Bible says they need to do. Knowing what needs to be done and actually doing it can be worlds apart. It all boils down to this: IN ORDER FOR US TO BE RELEVANT TO OUR SOCIALLY COMPLEX WORLD, WE MUST FALL IN LOVE WITH THE LORD. When we do, we will love the things He loves. His will for us will become our consuming passion, so that as Christ gave His life to save a lost world, we will give ours to reaching the lost of today.
O, yeah, and Jesus said He is with us ‘til the end.