Sometime ago, an Illinois pastor was gunned down while preaching his Sunday morning sermon. While I wasn’t a friend of the victim, I did attend seminary classes with him in the late 1980’s. As I tried to gain more information about the tragic situation, I came across an online news report that reported the pastor’s sermon title: “How to Find Happiness in the Workplace.” I don’t know what the content of the sermon was, but I wonder if he would have been confident in his topic had he known it would have been his final topic.
For the past few decades, ministers and ministries have been striving to become “relevant.” Somehow a shift has been made from preaching sermons on how to live better to preaching sermons on how to better your life. The recent best seller Your Best Life Now is an example of the trending toward bettering one’s life. Another recent example is the “30 Day Sex Challenge” from Relevant Church in Tampa, Florida. Pastors Paul and Susie Wirth challenged the married couples within their congregation to have sex for 30 consecutive days. The supposition was that it would make marriages better because the husband would have his need for sex met and the wife would have her need for intimacy met. They preached, they blogged, and now they’ve published a curriculum. Other churches in America have followed suit. All of this has been done in the name of being culturally relevant.
Years ago I came across a book by Os Guinness titled Prophetic Untimeliness. In it Guinness asserts, “Never have Christians pursued relevance more strenuously; never have Christians been more irrelevant.” The challenge for the church is to be timely, not trendy. This comes not by being in step with the times, but having the courage to be out of step with the conventional wisdom of our present culture. The popular need for cultural relevance comes because of our fixation with time. But in reality, only that which is eternal is truly relevant. Guinness writes, “It takes the eternal to guarantee the relevant; only the repeated touch of the timeless will keep us truly timely.”
Those words bring to mind the words of Calvin Miller, Professor of Preaching at Beeson Divinity. In his book Preaching, Miller writes that the greatest challenge that preachers face each week is the decision between saying important things or saying interesting things. Or put another way, “Shall I say something important this week? Or shall I settle for merely being interesting?” Well put.