This alone will not solve the problem, however. Should that church survive another fifty years, they could find themselves in the very same position as the dying churches around them. Solely pursuing cultural relevance is not the answer. Relevance is a tool; gospel proclamation is the goal. When we pursue relevance as the goal, it leads to an unhelpful pendulum swing in church culture. At one end of the spectrum we have "pop psychology" preaching that is intended to be appealing to the culture at large, but is devoid of the Gospel. From this perspective, you get sermon titles like "three ways to a good marriage," "five steps to a stress-free life," or "four keys to obedient pets.
The next generation realizes that this preaching isn't working so well.
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They swing to the other end and reject cultural relevance entirely in order to get back to a "pure preaching" of the Gospel. In their quest, however, they can fail to engage the culture around them. I could name names and organizations, but that swing is evident in our culture today—both extremes are taking place before our eyes.
It's not helpful and the pendulum swings are not reaching others with the gospel.
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I would contend that there is a better course of action rather than going with the winds of evangelical church culture. Not surprisingly, it's found right in the Bible, with the example of Paul.
January 30–February 1, 2020 • Grand Rapids, Michigan
In Acts 17, he visits Athens and the narrative clearly exemplifies Paul's engagement and understanding of the culture. He quotes Epicurean and Stoic philosophers and poets, and then intentionally builds a bridge to the Gospel. Paul beautifully portrays a timeless strategy for evangelism that doesn't overreact, under-react or counteract. Instead, it's a prayerful choice to consistently have a discerning ethic of engaging culture.
In order to reach our contemporary counterparts, we need to follow Paul's example and build bridges so that we can preach the Gospel in our own age. The reality is that the "how" of ministry is shaped by the "who, when and where" of culture. Culture is the pond in which we swim and the lens through which we see the world. Therefore, culture is the ever-changing context in which we proclaim a biblically faithful, never-changing gospel. Consequently, a biblically faithful church in Singapore should look different than one in Saskatchewan that should look different from one in Senegal.
The bottom line is that where we are should influence the way we have conversations about Jesus, but the conversations should be about Jesus. This isn't always going to feel very comfortable. Here in North America, our culture is becoming more resistant and less overtly Judeo-Christian. Recent surveys show that a little more than seventy percent of Americans identify themselves as Christians.
However, if we define a Christian as someone who, by faith and grace, has trusted in Christ and has been redeemed and changed by the power of the Gospel, the number drops dramatically. The downside to this is there can be downright hostility to the Gospel. The upside is that, as "cultural Christianity" is no longer popular, it is encouraging a more robust desire within Christians to get serious about their faith.
But if we're going to proclaim the Gospel in an increasingly antagonistic culture, we're going to have to leave where we are comfortable. We can't engage evangelistically by going with the culture and we can't engage effectively without living in the culture. So how do we preach Christ in the culture without being captured by it?
I think a big part of this answer is seen in Acts , just before Jesus ascends to Heaven. Jesus' disciples were looking to Him for an overt coming of His Kingdom, one demonstrated through political and military power over the Romans. What they missed was that Jesus' Kingdom had already come. It's already broken into the world and it's breaking into the world, only it doesn't look like the world would expect. It's subversive and underground, yet very real and present.
Just like the disciples, we can look around and see certain cultural indicators that are going the wrong direction. We can subvert this broken world order, however, by serving those who are hurting and sharing Christ with those in need. In so doing, we live as agents of gospel transformation in a time when it's so desperately needed. Jesus compares us to yeast and small seeds that go in, mix, grow, and change everything. Thus, we need to know our culture and context, engage it well, live for Christ and subvert the brokenness around us, and do it in culturally relevant ways.
Paul was unashamed to say, "What you have worshiped in ignorance, this I proclaim to you" Acts I am struck both by his boldness and savvy. May we all be bold and wise as we engage an increasingly hostile and confused culture around us with the greatest news the world has ever known—Jesus Christ, the way, the truth, and the life. For more resources on the topic of contextualization, see these related blog posts:. Avoiding the Pitfall of Syncretism.
Beware of Obscurantism. Consumerism or Contextualization? In practice, this can be done by encouraging both youth and adults — parents, teachers, nonprofit workers, or community and religious leaders — to support the formation of youth groups that offer young people a chance to formulate their opinions. In concrete terms, this means giving them access to the teachers, facilitators, educational programs and networks that can hone their conflict resolution and leadership skills.
Some of the most successful interventions also find ways to leverage youth interests — arts, sports, media, informal learning and personal relationships — to teach peace-building skills. Youth mobilization in peace-building efforts is more likely to be successful if young people are given the capabilities and opportunities to work with local and national governments.
Enhance the peace-building knowledge and skills of young people
With few constructive avenues to influence local and national politics, young people tend to view governments as beset by corruption. Conversely, governments often fail to take into account the views of youths in policymaking, and may have different priorities for peace.
To close the gap, activities that promote the legitimization of youths and foster their representation in local and national policymaking processes are crucial, according to Piet Vroeg, child and education director at Cordaid. As such, joint workshops, community projects or platforms can all help bridge the divide between youths and government officials. As an example, dozens of local youth councils were established in the aftermath of the Arab Spring revolution in Tunisia — an initiative that has fostered newfound confidence between youths and local politicians.
Rather than working with youths in isolation, peace-building projects seeking the engagement of youths should also include parents and elders. Neither do older generations.
6 ways to successfully engage youths in peace building
By bringing together the vision of young people today, and the experience of older generations, new answers to challenges are created. Youths are deeply influenced by the attitudes of their entourage. Yet adults might perceive youth-led initiatives as a threat to their own power and position. This points to the need for youth peace-building projects to be accompanied by dialogue and cooperation between young people, their relatives and community elders. Through partnerships with community groups and elder councils, youths can demonstrate the benefits of their peace actions.
Such communication and collaboration channels also enable young people and adults to explore the common problems they face and to tackle them together, thus participating in the emergence of sustainable solutions. While efficiencies can always be found, monitoring and evaluation activities need to be undertaken, improved and made routine across all peace-building initiatives capitalizing on youth engagement.
Suffering from a chronic lack of financial support, youth peace-building activities often have very limited ability to evaluate the impact and effectiveness of their work — a situation that seriously impedes the visibility and sustainability of their initiatives.
But beyond increased financial support, innovative approaches to evaluate the impact of youth engagement in conflict resolution must be used — particularly those that build on qualitative evidence and participative approaches. The evaluation process recently started by the Nepal Partnership for Children and Youth in Peacebuilding — a coalition of local youth groups and international organizations — is particularly illustrative.
Current youth programming focuses much of its attention on young individuals who were troublemakers or soldiers.
This effectively rewards youths for joining armed groups — or is at least perceived as doing so by local communities. Simple rewarding systems such as certificates, prizes and scholarships can serve as great incentives for youth. They can also inspire their peers to take action and participate in peace programs.