Wednesday, September 15, 2010

'Hipster' Christianity vs. Authenticity

Is your church ‘cool’? Is it on the ‘cutting edge or perhaps falling over the ledge? It is up to date or practically outdated in every way? And does it create interest to a modern savvy generation – those who have grown up surrounded by the latest and greatest and fully submerged in the hi-tech trends of the new century?

The follow-up question would then be this. If your church is not cutting edge, trendy, and cool, does that make it seem irrelevant, unappealing, and in dire need of some form of 21st century makeover?

This, in many ways, has become the question of the hour in church circles across the nation. There are proponents on both sides of the fence, each with strong opinions on the subject. There are some still sitting on the fence to see which way the church style winds will blow. Others don’t know what to think, remain clueless, or simply paralyzed concerning the generation that is leaving the organized church in record numbers and avoiding it like a plague. Statistics reveal that scores leave the church, many for good, immediately after leaving home and getting out on their own. This is a most serious issue in a culture that has already become largely man-centered and in need of a major spiritual revival far more than a radical change in political leadership.

Brett McCracken, a student at Talbot School of Theology, who authored Hipster Christianity: When Church and Cool Collide, feels the church's attempt to be ‘cool’ is not the answer to drawing the next generation towards Christ. He stated, "I think it's the biggest problem because the nature of 'cool' is always changing, Anytime you are a church, and you are trying to be relevant, you will end up looking a little desperate.”

McCracken also suggested that the next generation is ready for authentic Christianity -- not a "superficial" religion. He feels the church should respond by focusing on the gospel rather than the pursuit of "cool." He stated, "As a twenty-something, I can say with confidence that when it comes to church, we don't want cool as much as we want real. If we are interested in Christianity in any sort of serious way, it is not because it's easy or trendy or popular -- it's because Jesus himself is appealing, and what he says rings true."

Nobody really knows where all of this is heading, how far it will go, or what the end result will be. Interestingly, these exact concerns and debates have been raging, in one form or another, for centuries - not just for a few recent decades. But it would seem that the current push for ‘upgrading’ how church is done comes from the notion that going to church is somehow irrelevant and flat out boring – at least for a growing number in the younger age brackets.

So who is right? Would it be those who push for an entire overhaul of the typical church experience? Or might it be those who cling to the older more traditional ways because they were successful in the past. Or maybe it is actually those who try to carefully blend the new and the old as to not offend those who are now there while trying to draw in and interest those who are not? The answer to this question is, to say the least, serious both to the survival of the local church and even to the nation in which it resides.

Solomon linked true biblical spiritually with cultural blessing and survival in Psalm 127:1. “Unless the LORD builds the house, they labor in vain who build it; unless the LORD guards the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.” And Psalm 33:12 adds. “Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD.” Simply stated, remove God and we remove any chance for the nation’s long-term success, security, and survival!

As a struggling nation treads deeper into the 21st century the church of Christ needs to step up to the plate more than ever and become the ‘salt and light’ of culture it was meant to be. But the methods of worship, whatever the style, will be irrelevant if the love of God and the vast potential of the word of God are not clearly brought to bare from the pulpits on the lives of people in the pews – young and old alike. (2 Timothy 3:16-17) The message and spiritual potential, purpose, and power in the gospel message can and should have the same impact to the twenty-year old as it does to the ninety-year old.

The resisting of all church change in a fast-changing and sophisticated culture should be carefully considered and prayed over by the leadership of every local ministry. There may be some ‘wiggle room’ for improvement and advancement without a total restructuring or removal of all things sacred.

If a local church has ‘seemingly’ become irrelevant, boring, or ‘uncool’, it is likely not because of how its ministry is structured and conducted. It is probably more because the excitement and deeper knowledge of God’s love, redemption, standards, and power have not been adequately conveyed with passion and excitement from the pulpit. (Hebrews 4:12, Psalm 119)

If the church of Jesus Christ is not exciting it is mainly because the people have not come to know the ultimate excitement found through the head of the local and universal church, Jesus Christ! His word and ways are ‘cutting edge’ in every century. And they, if properly presented, remain anything but irrelevant and boring – and that goes for any setting and to those of any age!

Bill Breckenridge

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