Relevance, impact, influence, and the post-relevant church

Jason Ingalls, a friend and former colleague, shares some thoughts about the post-relevant church on his blog Contra Factum. I like the way Jason thinks and I believe that he’s onto something. Put another way, I think Jason has found words to express a tension that I’ve been living with for a while now. I have grown deeply tired of the endless need to be relevant. Jason righty points out that this neurosis, of sorts, is expressed both in the progressive and traditionalist parties of our church. It just looks different.

For example, I recently read something like the following: “Don’t be too hard on Marcus Borg for not adhering to a traditional view of the resurrection, he has made Christianity appealing to many for whom it previously would not have been.” That Marcus Borg has made Christianity appealing is one thing, that he has done so by vacating a central truth of the faith is quite another.

Similar examples from a more conservative perspective could be cited. Either way, as Jason notes, the point of reference is not the revelation of God in Christ but the shifting target of our culture. This is a certain recipe for perpetual irrelevancy. 

As expressed in the evangelical world, relevant ministries have huge impact. It’s an impact that can measured and analyzed and talked about, especially to potential donors. My experience has been that God works significant change through the slow pace of ordinary life and the ordinary graces of Word and Sacrament.

Not long ago I wrote a (poor) poem that sought to capture my internal struggle with the difference between the ways I have seen God work and the ways in which our evangelical movement tends to want to talk about impact, influence, change, etc.

[Note: I wrote the piece at the Glenn Eyrie Conference Center near Colorado Springs, CO].

Glenn Eyrie

March 9, 2011

How can I find words to render

the slow movement of hearts toward God?

The glacial pace of ordinary, yet real, change.

Punctuated rarely by thrilling fireworks moments.

Gospel bottlerockets.

These are the currency of our tribe.

Microwave dinners for our souls.

More often than not, God works

as does a gentle stream.

Sandstone souls give way to the

steady drip even as to the raging flood.

Behold. Porous towers standing sentry-like

about the dell.

Their’s the watch of ageless rock,

yet formed as much by the

incremental force of drops over time

as by the torrents of deluvian rage.

Is that not us? Our work?

Both the steady grace of ordinary change,

and the monumental alteration of the Spirit’s happy rage.