I have been called a hipster more times than I can count. Some people say it as a joke. Some people say it and mean it. Some people say it in a negative way. Some people say it in a positive way. And I am just drinking my Chemex-brewed coffee, wearing my canvas shoes, flannel, and weed hat, and listening to “Bon Iver” wondering what the heck they are talking about…
At least I don’t have a mustache…
What is relevance? Relevance is the idea of being “up with the times”… scratch that… AHEAD of the times! If you are only caught up and not moving forward with what is “cool” or “hip,” than that means that you are “un-hip,” “boring,” or even “lame.” I never realized this constant pursuit of cool until I read Brett McCracken’s book, “Hipster Christianity.” In it McCracken describes what hipster culture is and how the movement was originally birthed in the beatnik era of the 50’s. Throughout the book, Brett wrestles with what happens when culture/counter-culture starts interfering with values and the truth. Where does one draw the line?
Hasty generalizations are amazing.
There are two types of people we find today in the church (or two types or churches if you want to look at it that way). There are the people who preach the truth at people, and there are the people that tip-toe around fluff in the name of relevance. I know that there are people trying to find a balance: have a message that is interesting and worth being heard while still having a heaping amount of truth, but most people still fall more into one camp or another. There are obvious problems with each of these camps.
To be fully focused on the truth alone is abrasive. While some might think that they are preaching a message “to” people, what they are really doing usually is preaching “at” people. They are speaking truth, but it is not “seasoned with salt.” For this reason, many people don’t see Christianity as a worldview worth respecting, and many people behind the Church’s walls are like confused travelers. Many Christians are looking at the map of life and know the destinations, but they don’t know where they are at, what direction is what, or even which way to hold the stinking map!
The repercussion of being relevant is that one is chasing a never-ending goal. As soon as something is cool, the pursuit continues. There is no end to relevancy. If someone stays in one place, then they instantly become stale. Not to mention that cool is not something that everyone is trying to seek. Not everyone wants to be cool! It is kind of exhausting. And to be “counter-cultural” (if that really exists) might force someone to go against a tradition or practice that has been accepted or trusted for years. Sometimes being “counter-cultural” is counter-truth. Those within its ranks are also condescending, as if to be cool is a social badge of honor. So for churches or people to think of this as a healthy medium to convey a message must not realize that relevancy restricts the core audience one is trying to reach.
So what does one do?
One needs to learn how to convey truth without making it abrasive. This starts by not telling people the truth, but showing people how to find the truth. One thing that I have noticed over the past few years is how many people who were Christians in high school lose their faith while they’re in college. Though some might claim that these students were never Christian to begin with, or that they got caught up in the hedonistic pleasures of the liberal arts lifestyle, many of these students leave the faith, because they find the faith irrational.
Many people start developing “abstract thought” when they get around the age when one goes to college. Students get confused when their worldview is mixed with the different questions and options of worldviews that professors throw at them as soon as they get through the doors. For a freshman to only know the truth without knowing how they got to that truth would make them sitting prey for anyone who has taken an entry level philosophy class. Truth, if only presented “as is,” leaves the scales within one’s mind wanting. How does one know that truth should be accepted if there is not evidence presented? What happens when two different people disagree on what “truth” is in a given instance?
Truth also needs to be interesting. This is where relevance ties in. Recently I heard Bob Goff, author of “Love Does” and founder of “Restore International,” speak at my church. Bob not only brought an impactful message on forward-thinking and forgiveness, but he also made it interesting! He told stories from life with gregarious and expressive body language. He was even able to tie in a Taylor Swift reference! This is someone who not only knows how to present the truth, but he knows how to do it with vigor while keeping it relevant. That sounds like a triple threat.
One needs to learn how to make their speech “seasoned with salt.” Just like salt can easily overpower one’s food, relevance can be one’s best tool or ones’ greatest weakness. If one does not use enough relevancy or add in enough illustrations that the audience can relate too, they will lose most of the audience as the audience loses interest and zones out (what oftentimes happens to me at church). If one uses too much relevancy then the audience might be interested, but they will only hear a motivation speech at best. They won’t learn as much as they could have. In either case there is a great deal that people won’t learn.
We must learn how to season our speech with salt. We must learn how to not just preach the truth at people, but we need to teach people how to find the truth for themselves. That is what true discipleship is. And we need to not get so caught up in making ourselves sound interesting that the whole core of our message is lost.
Teach. Don’t tell.
Season. Don’t saturate.
And maybe we can show the truth to the world… and the world will listen.