Thinkers: Relevance

“As a preacher, I think a lot about relevance. That is, why should anyone listen to what I have to say? Why should anybody care? Relevance is an ambiguous word. It could mean more than one thing. It might mean that a sermon is relevant if it feels to the listeners that it will make a significant difference in their lives. Or it might mean that a sermon is relevant if it will make a significant difference in their lives whether they feel it or not. That second kind of relevance is what guides my sermons. In other words, I want to say things that are really significant for your life whether you know they are or not. My way of doing that is to stay as close as I can to what God says is important in his word, not what we think is important apart God’s word.”

There is so much wealth to mine in this quote, which comes from a sermon John Piper preached on February 10, 2008.

Relevance, or being relevant is another major buzz phrase – equally as big as “out of the box” – in the evangelical world these days. If you don’t think so, Google church relevant. I got a search result of 102,000,000 English pages.

So many preachers are concerned whether or not they are being relevant. But I wonder how many of them have given consideration to what Piper is suggesting: that there are at least two meanings of relevant. If you view yourself as a relevant preacher, what do you mean by that? Do you mean that you Facebook? That you Twitter? That you include video clips or drama to enhance your sermons? Or something else? What exactly do you mean?

For those who didn’t get the distinction in the Piper quote, here it is in a nutshell: Who determines what is relevant to the hearer? The man who invests His week in the study of God’s word and prayer, asking God to speak through him to the people who will be present on a Sunday? OR, the person in the pew that has been shaped by a culture to believe that only things that make him feel good about himself are relevant to his life?

All preachers who wrestle with the issue of “to be or not to be . . . relevant” would do well to consider the distinction between these two meanings of the word relevant, whether they feel it will be relevant for them to do so or not.

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