Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Relevant or Relational?

So here I am at age 62 finding myself asking questions that most folks, especially preachers, probably ask when they're 12 or 20. It's not a crisis of Faith at all, but it is an exploration of faith that's more intense and actually more fun than I seemed to have time for when serving as a pastor. I know that must sound strange to many. It is assumed that preachers hibernate in a musty office surrounded by dusty volumes of books exploring the penal substitution theory of atonement. That's not usually the case. Most often pastors are caught up on the "business" of church or the never ending task of trying to keep church members appeased or stopping the flow of gossip. Churches, under the surface, are not always the "heaven on earth" that they are meant to be. The reason is really quite simple. It's because they are not museums for saints but rather hospitals for sinners. They are filled with hurting people and the old adage is true that "hurting people, hurt people." The sin that most pastors fight against in their churches is not alcohol, drugs, adultery, etc. Though there is certainly enough of that. It's the fact that church folks find ways to nibble away at one another. Petty bickering, backbiting, criticism, finger pointing....well, enough of that.

I find myself these days asking questions about worship. Is our normal Sunday morning gathering really worship? Is that the best we can do? Is God really thrilled with we gather in His living room and sing a few songs ( if we sing at all) and then listen to a little religious lecture?

And preaching? Is it really necessary for someone to stand up front and try to talk people into some salvation experience? I think back on the sermons that I've preached over the past 39 years and I wonder how many of them were even worth listening to. And here's the big question for me. Was I really a spokesman for God or simply an entertainer?  And how much entertainment does it take to get folks to come to church? I was one who was eager to get on the band wagon for screens and video clips and props on the platform. I loved that stuff. Before leaving Denver First Church we had four screens up front with constant content meant to keep the attention of the folks looking on. I wonder, at what point did I leave the simple message of Jesus and reach for the gospel of Cecil B. DeMille. When did I stop believing that the Word was enough?

No, I don't have a bunch of answers but I'm having a kick just exploring the implications of the questions. Would I do anything different? Probably not. We can only make decisions based on the information we have at the time and at that time I was panting hard trying to keep up with the call to be "relevant."


  1. Great thoughts. Maybe the fact that you question your / our obsession with being relevant is the mark of a wonderful pastor who truly is concerned that our people “get it.”

  2. Great thoughts, Tim. However in the pursuit of "relevance" many times a congregation will abandon "TRUTH"...and "truth" is always relevant...regardless of the culture.

    I'm deeply disturbed when the "church" feels it must "dumb down" just so people "get it." Why not "raise the level" of those who are attending, and then trust the Holy Spirit to reach those whom God sends our way? No need to "be uppity" or "snooty" but certainly no need to "dumb it down" either.

  3. I've had the luxury of getting to know many pastors as friends, and ummm well, human, lol. When a pastor left our church, we had a guest speaker come in and speak about how we should treat our next pastor, he spoke from experience because he and his wife and children had been abused by their former church. I learned alot from him and I took what he said to heart. So, maybe I'm not like most people, but I know pastors are some of the busiest people out there.

    I totally can relate to your ponderings and I totally agree. I do remember one sermon I heard you preach when I was visiting. It was years ago, but I remember you talking about being intimate w/ God.

    I really appreciate this post and I wanted you to know. God bless!!

  4. Good thoughts, Tim. Your gift has always been transparency and the abllity to communicate on a personal level. It didn't stop all the criticism or conflict but there were scores of us that learned to set aside some of the expectations we had of the church and our pastor. My short time as a preacher's kid allowed me to see too much of how churchs often eat their own. Anyone that survived pastoring for as long as you did is bound to look back and ask questions. Just don't feel guilty for asking and always remember that there are so many of us that are better because of you and your family. Love you brother.

  5. This entire post really hits home. I of course understand the business of church. It is fun to ask the "why" of everything we do.

    Of course we can ask why, if we can't then we would assume that something isn't right.