Cultural Relevance

I am wondering what I think about cultural relevance as a goal for the church. I admit that it has been a catch phrase of church leadership for a long time, at least 10 years or more, and it probably isn't as "relevant" an idea as it used to be. But I wonder a little bit why that was ever a goal to begin with. It seems a rather low expectation.

The American Heritage Dictionary defines relevance as:

"1. Pertinence to the matter at hand."

If the matter at hand is culture, and our goal is to be merely pertinent, that doesn't seem very lofty.

Mark Driscoll, who I sometimes agree with, has made some really great points about where the church should try to be in the cultural stream. He says that "Culture is made upstream, and people consume it downstream". He describes Christians as "a downstream bunch" fishing all the garbage out of the river, when instead we should move upstream and play a larger role in creating what gets put in the river. (The Church Creating Culture, Desiring God 2006 National Conference Video Podcast)

I get that. What does it matter that we try to be relevant in a polluted river of culture? Millions of people are drinking from that river. We ought to be upstream creating the culture that people consume, rather than downstream complaining about it.

Bob Briner wrote a book six or seven years ago called "Roaring Lambs" that had a similar sort of call to action for Christians. He is an Emmy Award winner for his work in television and a leader in television sports marketing, and the book makes the same encouragement... that we ought to be joining in the culture instead of boycotting it. We are called to be salt and light, yet we have missed so many opportunities to exercise spiritual influence on our culture. Our churches and christian universities have almost no leadership in key cultural areas such as television, film, journalism, or music...

So again, is relevance really the point? Why settle for that? Let's be leaders in and creators of culture, rather than just pertinent participants in it.

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