As a body of Christ followers, it is critical that we constantly evaluate everything we do, improve the way we do it and remember why we do it. We need to know the questions the world is asking, be able to show them the love of Christ and share with them the genius of God's revelation in Scripture. And if we are a truly relevant people, church will become a dangerous place for sacred cows and those embracing the status quo or tradition for the sake of tradition.
A God-Sized Dream, a Servant's Heart and a Warrior's Passion: The Pursuit of a Heroic and Humble Life
The Grateful Heart: A Real Simple Way to Avoid Being Seduced
The Gift of Community: An Artery of Grace that Must Never Get Clogged
Serving all Men without Shorting any Truth: The Gift of Relevance
A Passion for Prayer: It's Not What You Think
The Gift of Authenticity: The Freedom to Show Our Scars
The Gift of Grace: Believe it, Receive it, Respond to it, and Pass it On
We Must Work it Out: Learning to Deal with Conflict
A Love for Those Who do not Love God: Commitment to the Uncommitted
God's Authoritative Word: A Product That Can't be Beat
Living a Life of Full Devotion to Christ: Out of the "Limbo Line" and into the Party
This morning we are diving into a little message that I will tell you, like all the rest we're doing in this series, these are absolute essentials to me that I don't ever want to break down, flex on, frankly, or move away from. In case you haven't noticed, what we're really doing in this little series we're calling Gifts I'd Give My Children is we're walking through the things we believe, no matter what we say we want to be about.
If we say we want to be about reaching people for Christ, which obviously is what God wants his church to be, if we're going to go about reaching people for Christ, and we're going to do that by compromising on any one of these gifts we're talking about, we'd rather shut down what we're doing and not say we're about reaching people for Christ if we have to compromise on these 10 little core values. That's the real secret to the series.
We're talking about core values. Things that, ultimately, we will never compromise on. We'd rather shut down our little gathering as a group than to go about what we say we're about by compromising on these issues. That's why I'm so passionate to impart these values to my kids. That's why they're gifts I want to give my kids.
That's why, as we start chapter two in our lives as a group of people, we're going back over these things and reminding ourselves, "This is what we absolutely have to be about." It shouldn't surprise you that if you can't support all of these things, from God's perspective and from the heart and passions of God, then they shouldn't be things you're saying you'd rather not do if you can't do it this way with this expression.
In fact, today's message really is at the center of how the church needs to make sure the things they're passionate about are the things God is passionate about. Way too often, we get really excited about stuff that is a big deal to us, and God says, "That's not such a big deal to me. I want you to be absolutely a freak about the things that are a big deal to me. Then I want you to serve me, even if it's hard for you and it's not something you're excited about, because this is not about you."
One of the gifts, as a dad, I'm trying to impart to my kids is that this world is not about them. If they want to be great in this world, they will become great in direct proportion, not to the amount of people who will become their servants. If they want to be great in the world, they will become great in direct proportion to the amount of people they serve.
Today, the gift I want to talk about that I want to see my children have, the gift I want to talk about that I want to see my body, my family of faith here have, is the gift of relevance: openness to innovation, and flexibility. You might go, "That is a really odd value and gift to want to give somebody." Let me tell you why.
As I sat last night and thought about how to maybe even start today, I went and decided, "You know what? Let me look up some synonyms for the word irrelevant, because when you use just one word one time… If you're not relevant, you are irrelevant. What are some synonyms for being irrelevant? Foreign, garbage, immaterial, impertinent, inapplicable, inappropriate, inept, inconsequential, insignificant, not germane, outside, pointless, remote, trivial, unconnected, unimportant, unrelated.
I'm thinking to myself, "Gosh, if I want to raise some kids, I don't want to raise them with those labels being attached to them." I want my kids to be relevant. If you are not relevant, you are useless. You can have a wonderful tool, but if it's not the tool needed for the job, it doesn't matter. Michelangelo was a wonderful artist, but if I need brain surgery, I don't want him painting inside my cranium. I love bulldozers, but if I have a splinter, I'm not looking for one.
One of the greatest gifts you can give people you're around is that you are relevant to their need, and not just somebody who says, "This is what I do. This is who I am. This is what I bring." What a servant brings, and what really defines somebody as a servant, is not somebody who says, "I have gifts. I'm going to give them to you whether you want them or not."
A servant is somebody who can look out there and go, "What are the needs of these folks?" I mean the real deep needs, not the wants and desires but, "What are their needs, and what can I do to maximize my usefulness to them to meet them in their area of deepest need?" Relevance and innovation.
Lest you think this is an idea only the church struggles with, let me start by saying, "No. No. No." We are all, in the business world, well aware of different corporations that have not become increasingly innovative in the way they go about business. That's why you go to Walmart today and have a hard time finding Kmarts or Woolworths.
That's why when you use photography today, as wonderful as (even in some parts of the world) it can be to give somebody a picture of themselves in an instant through some Polaroid vision and cameras, Polaroid as a company doesn't exist today as it once did, because they put all their chips on this instant-development film. In fact, Kodak really took a major hit in the late 80s when they lost a patent lawsuit to Polaroid. Then they were late adopters to digital film and digital processing, and so Polaroid no longer exists as it did.
That's why you see, years ago, a company named Howard Johnson's. If you're younger than 36, you don't know much about Howard Johnson's, but in the 50s, 60s, and 70s, when you would go on family road trips, you never went to a McDonald's. I don't really remember stopping at many McDonald's when I was a kid. We went to Howard Johnson's. HoJo's. We could always get fried clam strips in some of 28 great flavors. That dates a few of you all. The rest of you are going, "Howard who?" Exactly, because they were late adopters.
Eventually fast, frozen food… Basically, what Howard Johnson's was, was an orange-roofed building that was all over turnpikes and interstates in this country that served you stuff you probably don't even know exists anymore. Before the day of the microwave oven, there were these things called frozen dinners. Mom would slap them in the oven.
That's really what Howard Johnson's was. It was a place that, on the road, they would thaw out food that had been cooked in upstate New York. It was always the same thing. You knew it may not be good, but it was going to be the same thing all the time. Then fast food, when they made that food fresh fast, knocked them out, along with a few other things they didn't adapt to. Innovation and flexibility.
The Sioux Indians are the ones to whom they trace back the old statement, "When you're riding a dead horse, it is best to dismount." Which really is not a bad thing. One guy a long time ago said, "Look. In modern business in America, they have taken this idea the Sioux Indians adopted in the core of who they were as a group of people, and they came up with some different strategies."
Here's corporate America's idea of what to do with a dead horse: "You buy a stronger whip. You change riders. You threaten the horse with termination. You appoint a committee to study the horse. You arrange to visit other sites to see how they ride dead horses. You lower the standard so the dead horse can still be included. You reclassify the dead horse as living impaired. Change the form so it reads, 'This horse is not dead.' Hire outside contractors to ride the dead horse.
Harness several dead horses together for increased speed. Donate the dead horse to a recognized charity, thereby deducting its full original cost. Provide additional funding to increase the horse's performance. Do a time management study to see if lighter riders would improve productivity of the dead horse. Declare that the dead horse has lower overhead and, therefore, performs better. Promote the dead horse to a supervisory position. Or cast the dead horse in bronze to ensure it stays around forever."
I want to tell you what I think you should do with dead horses. Dismount. You know what you should do sometimes with horses? You go, "You know what? The horse isn't really the thing anymore. Now it's the iron horse. Now it's the automated horse. Now it's the airplane." There's nothing wrong with horses. One of the things that is so amazing to me about people who are afraid of change is that whenever you make a change, some people think you're insulting the past.
We've talked a lot about that here. I've told my staff again and again. I go, "Look. We cannot sacrifice the future to honor the past." In other words, if there are some people whose gifts have been mightily used of God to a certain point in our history as a body and, just now where we are today, those people are not the best people to continue to use those gifts in those areas, we have to make a change.
We're not committed to what happened yesterday. We want to love those people. We want to honor those people. We want to find another place for them to use their gifts with the maximum effectiveness. But we will not sacrifice the future to honor the past. It's irresponsible. You cannot do it, because you will lose your future.
If we think American industry has been stupid, foolish, and out of sorts for riding dead horses, there's probably nothing that has ridden dead horses longer than the church. The church is a classic late adopter. We do it because we think it honors God, but we have to remember our God is the exceedingly relevant one. His name is I AM. Not I was. Not I've been, but I AM. "Right now, I'm everything you need and always will be everything you need."
Jesus, when he was hanging around, came right at some folks who really loved certain systems more than they loved God. Jesus talked to them about this. In Matthew, chapter 9, verses 14-17, this is what it says. It says some people who had been following John, a great prophet of God who was being used to talk about ways God was going to bring about a great deliverer, came to him and said, "Look. Why, when we and the Pharisees fast, do we act a certain way, but your disciples don't act that way?" In fact, he said, "Sometimes I don't even see your disciples fasting."
"And Jesus said to them, 'The attendants of the bridegroom cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they? But the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast. But no one puts a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; for the patch pulls away from the garment, and a worse tear results. Nor do people put new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the wineskins burst, and the wine pours out and the wineskins are ruined; but they put new wine into fresh wineskins, and both are preserved.'"
Here's what Jesus is saying. "Look, man. Do you love wineskins, or do you love wine? This is not about the wineskins. This is about the wine. Old wineskins cannot handle the fermentation process of new wine. You have to put it in the right container so it can continue to be a source of life to you. Don't love your forms. Love the substance." The church has been traditionally way behind the curve on adaptation to this. Let me share with you a list of different truths I want us to wrestle with as we go through this thing together. I wanted to share with you that…
1 . Our world is watching us. They want to see if we're committed to what's comfortable to us, what's been familiar to us, or if we're really committed to reaching them and connecting with them. One of the problems with traditionalists is they require people to start where the church is, or where the church has always been, instead of asking themselves, "Where are the people? How can we go to where the people are and begin there to bring them to where God always wants his church to be, which is incredibly relevant, the body of the I AM, who speaks to their greatest need?"
Not their wants, not their desires, but their greatest need today. We have to continually ask that question and adapt along the way. There is a guy named Philip Larkin who is a poet I hadn't read very much, but I read a little comment he had. He said he stepped into a church and felt a "…tense, musty, unignorable silence, brewed God knows how long."
How many things, how many times, have people stepped into a church and, while there are certain aspects of it that maybe seem familiar because of an easier time in their lives, they're desperate to really meet God there? But they've walked into something that's been going on for a long time and there's this dead, musty smell.
I was talking to a friend this week who is from Europe. They were talking about all the churches that are there. She goes, "But you know what? There are really no churches that meet in the churches there. They're more like museums." A lot of them are funded by the state, and people don't tithe in a lot of European countries because the church is directly tied to the state and supported by the state.
God says, "No. That's not the way I wanted it. I want the church not to be a building, even if it's majestic and glorious. It's appropriate to build majestic and glorious buildings to the honor and glory of the God you want to seek and serve in there, but I really don't want a majestic, glorious building that is vacant of the heart." What's going to make somebody relevant is a heart.
There's a guy named A.B. Bruce who wrote a long time ago. He was talking about Jesus and his interaction with the disciples of John and even the Pharisees in that little section of Scripture in Matthew, chapter 9, verses 14-17. This is what he said. He said, "Nonconformity invariably gives offence to many, and exposes the offending party to interrogation at least, and often to something more serious. Custom is a god to the multitude, and no one can withhold homage from the idol with impunity."
Man, have I seen that! A lot of people, whenever you start to do something different, they go, "Why are you doing that? What are you saying? Are you saying I'm doing it wrong?" "No. I'm saying, 'How can we think about ways to do this better today?'" Whenever I hear somebody say, "We never did that before," I go, "Okay. That's valid." Or whenever I hear somebody say, "That's not the way we used to do it," I go, "Okay. Valid, but why did we used to do it that way? What's the right way to do it?"
The Futurist magazine said, "The lesson of the Y2K computer problem is obvious. Most of the problems we face in the present are the result of someone, or everyone, in the past failing to think about the future." It's really true. What's the future? How does God want us to interact with these folks?
Jesus and his disciples were always being charged with nonconformity, in the way they fasted, in the way they went through different ceremonial purifications, in the way they went through Sabbath observances, in the way they took on the traditions of men, men who said they loved God. They were willing to say, "Let's think about the traditions. Why are these traditions here? Why were they put in place? Are they still the best way to accomplish what these traditions were put in place for?"
The classic example is Sunday school. There are churches that have split over the issue of Sunday school. Well, do we know why Sunday school was even started? Do we know how long Sunday school has been around? Sunday school has not been around forever. Sunday school was started when there were churches in areas that were largely agrarian and rural, and kids were not taught to read or to write because they were always in the field working for their parents during the time when it was hard to provide provision for those families.
When ministers of the gospel went to those communities and established a church, one of the ways they served their community was to give their kids a gift. So that they could understand God's Word, they had to teach them to read. When they were done working, even if they weren't religious people, they would often take off a Sabbath day or a Sunday.
When they would go and seek God in some form, they would take those kids, and they would put them in school on Sunday so they could learn to read and write. That's the origin. Yet we sometimes still have, not just a place for children where they can learn about God that's appropriate to them, but some churches go, "Well, where's my Sunday school?"
Well, we're not learning to read and write here on Sunday mornings. We do need to learn to respond to God's Word, and we have to figure out ways to do that effectively. Is Sunday morning still the best time to do that given everything else God is calling us to do? We know we have to grow and be equipped, but when we do it is flexible. How we do it is flexible. Whether or not we do it is not flexible. Relevance, gang. The reason I want my kids to be relevant, like I said, and the reason I want this body to be relevant, is…
2 . Relevance is what makes something dangerous. Here's a great little quote about Jesus, one of my favorite quotes about Jesus, by a guy named Martin Bell. This is what he says. "THERE he is. In the temple again. Causing trouble. Speaking very differently from other preachers. Speaking with authority about sorrow, anxiety, sickness and death. Penetrating the darkest corners of human existence. Shattering illusion. Make no mistake about it; this is a dangerous man."
You see, Jesus was dangerous. Why? Because he was incredibly relevant to people in a way that some of the systems and structures that were burdens to people were no longer relevant to folks. They felt obliged to them. They felt obligated to them. But they were in no way transformed by them.
One of the greatest comments I've ever heard about this community of faith is there are some people who have said, "I don't want to come over there." I go, "Well, why? Why wouldn't you want to interact with us?" "Because I know if I go, I'll never again be satisfied with what I'm currently putting up with."
I have had people in ministry tell me, "Wagner, you're screwing up the deal." I go, "What are you talking about?" They go, "People have been fine with what we've been doing for a long time, and now people who are hanging around underneath you are coming back and asking, 'Why isn't there life change? Why isn't there creativity? Why isn't there relevance where we gather the way I see relevance over there?' My people are no longer satisfied with what we give them." I go, "I couldn't be more thrilled. I couldn't be more thrilled."
Do you know Luther, when he was reforming the church in the seventeenth century, had one of the bishops of Germany say, "If it were not for Luther, we could have made of all Germany eat hay"? Luther was offended that the Catholic ruling universal church of the day was not allowing people to interact with God's Word.
He took the Word to the people, and the people started to read the Word, because he said, "What the church is telling you about how you relate to God is not how you relate to God. It's by grace, through faith, that you're saved. Not through your relationship with the church, but through your relationship with Christ. Not through what you do, but what Christ has done. Not through the traditions of men, but through the Word of God."
Before that, there was this group of men who sat on high and kept the people from having the freedom to interact with God. They said, "We could have told them to eat hay, and they would have done it to go to heaven." I'm glad there are a lot of people who are starting to bump up against the likes of you, who are experiencing life change where you see the Spirit of God at work. They're starting not to be satisfied where they're at. I hope they get off their dead horse, or I hope they are used by God to resuscitate what God wants to do in that community of faith.
Relevance makes church a very dangerous place. I want the reputation of this body, of my kids, to be, "Be careful if you become their friend, because it will change your heart. Be careful if you interact with them, because you will see the power of Jesus Christ." I want to say this before I go any further, and then I want to really jump into the meat of some application of this.
3 . Relevance is not the same as relativism. I don't want anybody to think for a second that relevance means you are relative. Relevance does not equal, specifically, relativity in the absolutes. Here are some other great little quotes. We'll start with some secular minds. This guy is named Leonard Sweet, and this is what he said. I couldn't agree more.
"One of the church's great roles is as the great dissenter of every age, the bearer of unwelcome truths, the rebuffer of the wisdoms of the world. Sentries must not abandon their posts to clamber aboard bandwagons. At times the church must be determined to go its own way; at times the church will be criticized for being foolish, wrong, out-of-date, and out-of-it. The church is a counterflow to the undertow."
Another poet, a guy named Schiller, said, "Live with your century, but do not be its creature," and "Render to your contemporaries what they need, not what they praise." Why do I like those two quotes? Because they're just fresh shots at Jesus' words in John, chapter 17. Look what Jesus said:
"I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth…" Set them apart in truth. "…your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified."
What Jesus is saying in this is… In fact, earlier in John, chapter 15, verse 18, he says, "Look. Don't be surprised if the world hates you. It hated me and you're of me, so it's not going to love you." In your effort to be relevant, don't think for a second that's going to make them always love you, because sometimes you're going to be so relevant to where they're at, it's going to expose what they don't want to face.
Relevance does not equal relativity in the absolutes. Nobody, when they hear us talk about relevance, should confuse that commitment to innovation and flexibility with relativism, which is, "Hey. You have your truth. I have mine. We'll kind of each go our own way, and truth is always relative." No. Truth is always true, and truth sets you free. We'll always be committed to the truth. In fact, truth is always relevant, and so to be relevant, you have to be committed to truth.
It's what Paul says in 1 Corinthians, chapter 2, verses 1-5. I want to make it very clear that in our efforts to always be innovative and flexible, we're going to hold to this. He said, "And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom…" Or some flashy new building or some flashy new lights or some flashy new creativity. What I really came to you with, more than anything else, is "…the testimony of God."
I might have used lights. I might have used drama. I might have used media, but I want to bring the wisdom of God to you through that . "For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified." That's really it. We don't want to back off on that, but relevance means you're able to engage with people where they're really frustrated in the issues of what it means to have a relationship with God.
In fact, let me show you. There's a classic illustration that is really good for some things. I'll tell you two things I don't like about this little illustration. It's called the bridge illustration. It's an effective way, in many ways, to explain to somebody about who Jesus Christ is, but first of all, what I don't like about this illustration is it shows that God is only on one side of the bridge. The truth is God is everywhere.
The second thing I don't ultimately like about the bridge illustration (I still use it) is it makes Jesus out to be somebody who is really only useful for getting you someplace later. In other words, he's really only good to help you attain this idea of life after death and then to get you over to where God is.
The reality is what Jesus is about is bringing truth into your life now and bringing you back into a relationship with God who is pursuing you even when you're on the other side of the bridge to bring you into relationship with him, so you would know truth, the truth would set you free, and you would begin to experience life now, not just when life shoots out of your lungs. The traditional bridge illustration shows a cross laying down, and it has man going across. Really, what we have today…
This illustration originated when the world, by and large, understood the idea of God, the idea of man, the concept of sin. By and large what has happened over the course of time is there are now, in our very post-Christian world, a lot of barriers people have to get through that drive them away from even the idea of having a conversation about who Christ is. They keep them away from this conversation because of their understanding of what the church is, who Jesus is, whether or not there really is any truth, what you really want from them.
One of the things we're charged with is being individuals who break down those barriers that allow people to get back to a place where we can explain to them, through the context of trust and relationship, what it means to have a relationship with God. You have to understand the worldviews of the day. You have to understand words like syncretism, modernism, postmodernism. Like I said, you have to know what a worldview is and how to engage people on it.
One of the things I often do is, when people ask me questions, I ask them what they mean by those specific questions. I've had people ask me before, "Are you a Christian?" when I get in a conversation with them. I'll say something like, "Well, what's a Christian?" If they say something like, "You know, one of those people who always thinks they're right, who hates homosexuals, who pickets outside abortion clinics, who tells everybody they're going to hell, and all they are is legalistic folks with no joy in their lives," I go, "No. No. I'm not that."
If somebody says, "Are you a pastor?" I go, "Well, tell me what you think of as a pastor." They go, "That's an odd question." I go, "Well, seriously. When you think of a pastor, what do you think about?" Depending on how they answer, I go, "No. I hope I'm not that." I had a conversation just this week. My daughter and I were at Jamba Juice. While we were there, there was a gal in front of us who was struggling to pay.
She'd given them, I guess, a debit card. The debit card scanned, and it didn't work. She said, "Oh, my goodness. What name is on that?" She said it. Then she goes, "Oh! That's why they wanted to trade debit cards with me this morning. I have to go back to my car because my spouse obviously took my debit card, and she wanted that one." I said, "I'll tell you what…" Then she goes, "Oh, no. It's not there. She has mine." Then she said, "Can I just tell you where I work?"
I said, "Hey, do you mind? Can I just buy your Jamba juice?" She turned around, and she looked at me. She said, "Well…" I said, "Let me buy your Jamba juice. It's no big deal." She said, "That's so nice." The other lady goes, "That is so nice." I go, "I'm happy to do it." She goes, "Listen. I work at…" and she named the bank she worked at. "If you ever need anything, you come there. I tell you, I will take care of you. I promise you. That's so awesome." I go, Well, that was a heck of a four bucks, if I ever have a problem with that bank.
I said, "No, listen. Really. Do you want to know how you can encourage me? Why don't you come sometime…" I reached in my pocket, and I handed her one of these little trifolds we have out there for you to encourage people with. It's not a business card, but it explains a little bit of our heart. I handed it to her and said, "Why don't you come and hang out with us sometime and either get a cup of coffee during the week or meet my friends as we interact about life and God?"
She goes, "Oh. Wow! That's great." She started reading it, and she goes, "Thank you very much. I will do that. I'll do that." I walked out to my car, and I got in my car. As I was pulling out, she came shooting out of Jamba Juice. My daughter, who was with me on the way to school… She kind of knocked on my daughter's window. I put the window down, and she goes, "Hey, let me ask you a question. How does your church feel about same-sex couples? Are you okay with same-sex couples?"
I looked at her. I had heard her say, "Oh, my spouse. That's why they took my card this morning. She is in so much trouble." I had heard her say that. When she asked me that question, I said, "Well, it depends on what you mean by okay. If you mean, do we love them? Are we happy to meet them where they're at and encourage them to face the struggles and the issues in their hearts that take them away from God and that hurt them in the same way people helped me?"
I said, "Let me just tell you. I'm a heterosexual pervert. I have my friends at church who struggle with homosexual issues as well, but I'm so glad folks love me. I'm so glad folks meet me where I'm at, spur me on, and help me restore relationship with God. They're okay with me in all my imperfection, and we're okay with other people even though their imperfections are different than ours."
I said, "Look. We want folks to know that in the midst of all our struggles, there's a God who wants to bless you and help you." She took the card. She grabbed it. She said, "It isn't a struggle. It's a blessing," fired it back at me, and turned around. I said, "I understand that you believe that. God bless you and know that God loves you. You have a great day."
My daughter looked at me and said, "That was awkward." I go, "You mean the part about me saying your dad is a heterosexual pervert? That part?" "Yeah, that was awkward, too, Dad, now that you mention it." So, we had this little conversation on the way to high school about having a spouse that's the same sex and talking about that.
She said, "She was so mean." I go, "Well, she's not really mad at me. She's not mad at me." I said, "Ally, do you know there are lots of folks at Watermark who their struggles are not the same as yours and mine? God loves them just like he loves us." She needed to know that, instead of me going, "Oh, my gosh. There's a lesbian woman talking right by my daughter!" Are you kidding me?
This is one of the issues. If you ask folks what some of the barriers are to them wanting to come into relationship with those who say they know Jesus, one is they are absolutely sure how you're going to respond to that issue. They're sure how you're going to respond to their sin struggles and the things they've messed around with and had a hard time with in the past. It's our job to make sure we know how to engage with them, love them, look them right in the eye, and say, "God loves you. I'm not afraid of you."
4 . To be relevant, we have to be a group of friends who learn how to take the never-changing message of Christ to an ever-changing people. Do you guys know people change? They change, don't they? They're no longer satisfied with flash-frozen food. We don't care that they eat our flash-frozen food. We care that they eat. If we have to make some adaptation, let's adapt and give them food. Let's give them better food than we've ever given them before. We have to know, first of all, what is the never-changing message, and then we have to be students of an ever-changing people.
Yesterday, I was sitting with a friend and, between baseball games at a little tournament, we went to a Sonic. We were sitting outside. One of the things I like to do… I talked to them about their business, and we were engaging in some different things. They happen to be a very thoughtful person who is very aware of business.
I said, "Well, look. If I owned a Sonic, and I knew folks were going other places or I knew folks weren't ever wanting to eat at Sonic, I would want to understand that. I would ask you, do a little market survey, and say, 'Tell me about what your perceptions are of Sonic.'" Sonic has done an incredible job of repositioning itself in these last five to ten years.
I said, "Let me ask you a question. You know I hang around a place called Watermark. What are your perceptions of Watermark?" She goes, "Well, I've never been." I go, "I know. What are your perceptions?" It was great to hear what she thought, on what she's read somewhat in the media, of what she's observed about people she's interacted with in the community who have been affected by Christ here.
I don't really care about Watermark. What I really care about is the chance to engage with her heart about who Jesus is. I do that a lot here. I know you guys are people who are experiencing the relevance of Jesus Christ in your lives like very few places are, and so I am anxious to share that opportunity with my friends. I engage with them about what their view is on church. I engage with them about what their view is on Jesus by asking, "What's your view of him?"
I have to understand the changing mores and understandings, and the barriers that are in our culture today toward who Jesus is that weren't there 10 or 15 years ago. It's always changing. This is what Paul meant. This is why Paul said he is committed to taking the never-changing message of the gospel to an ever-changing people. In 1 Corinthians, chapter 9, verses 19-23, this is what he said:
"For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more. To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law; to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law."
You kind of go, "Man, what in the world was that? He read that awful fast, and it sounded very circular." What Paul was saying is, "This is not about me. It's about Christ." "To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some. I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it." In other words, "That I would suffer for the sake of Christ so other people could know who Jesus is."
What Paul did not say is, "To a sinner, I become a sinner." You have to ask yourself, when you are in the presence of and are companions and friends with sinners, does your life condone their life, or does it confront it? One of the things you'll see with Jesus, whenever he was with people who were far from God, is he was always loving them, always speaking truth into their lives, and they were never confused that he was like them.
When Paul said, "…I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some," what he's saying right there is, "Look. There are certain people who, to them, how they dress is a very big deal, so I'll dress that way. There are other people who, if I dressed this way when I was around them they would think I was odd, so I don't dress that way."
It's not about Amish clothing. It's not about a suit and tie. It's not about jeans and a casual shirt to me. I ask myself all the time, "What's the best uniform I could put on that doesn't contradict the character and nature of God that will allow me to serve people?" That's the only question I ask. People on staff ask when they come here, "What's the dress code at Watermark?" Here's the dress code at Watermark: Don't do anything that is going to cause the ministry to be discredited.
If we see you doing something we think might cause the ministry to be discredited, we'll talk to you about it, just as we expect you to talk to us about it. Ask yourself, "What is the best thing to put on today to serve folks?" There are days I will even put on a coat and tie to go someplace. There are days I will put on dressy business casual to go someplace and not impose what I like on other people. Why do we dress this way on Sunday morning? Because it's the easiest way to get to the point.
There's an old story about a cowboy who went to church one time. The pastor looked at him, and he said, "Let me ask you a question. Did you think about what you wore before coming to church today?" The cowboy said, "I just kind of came with what I had on." He said, "Well, you need to talk to God about what you're supposed to wear when you go to church. You ask him what he thinks."
About a month later, that same cowboy showed up wearing the exact same thing. The pastor looked at him and said, "Hey. Come here. Didn't I ask you to talk to God about what he would wear to church, to this church specifically?" The cowboy said, "Well, I did that. He told me he'd never been there before, so he didn't much know." I think about how we've dressed, sometimes for a long time. I love kids. They're so stinkin' honest. That little deal, The Emperor's New Clothes? Kids are going "He's naked." They're going, "Shhh. Don't talk about that."
I had a buddy who took his friend to a church. This particular pastor was wearing a robe, a pastoral ornamental robe. Originally, the reason they wore robes… Do you know why that was instituted? It was because the pastor was trying to get out of the way and not have him be the issue. There was some sense of, "I'm just a humble servant." It's moving from that humble servant to this glorious garb.
It was during the time Aladdin was released. The kid was kind of in there, and this guy got up there and started talking. He had this flowing robe on and this little thing that hung down. The kid finally elbowed his dad and said, "Hey, Dad. What's up with Jafar? What's he doing up there?" He didn't understand, because it had become irrelevant to him to see a guy dressed that way. It pushed him away. It didn't bring him near.
We have to ask ourselves the question. We realize with a large group of people, it's not going to always be the same for everybody. Let me say this. You have to ask yourself, "What's the best way to give us the opportunity to reach the most folks?" To be relevant, we must be flexible, and we have to constantly evaluate everything we do so we can improve the way we do it. And…
5 . To be relevant, we have to remember why we do it. Let me read you, for a second, stuff that is in our core values. I want to give you some good illustrations of some people who are really humble servants. Here we go.
"The Bible does not tell us to only use certain styles of music or to present our message only through words. The Bible does make it clear, however, that we are to find ways to effectively bring the message 'into all the world' in order to make disciples. We believe this will require careful scrutiny of everything we do—new practices and old—and a willingness to change when necessary within biblical parameters, in order that we, 'by all possible means might save some.' (1 Corinthians 9:22)"
"It is the mature in Christ who ought to be expected to make the biggest sacrifice for the sake of the kingdom. We cannot focus on building a church that is comfortable to us, that meets all of our needs and fulfills all our desires. We must focus on being a people who constantly decorate our lives, corporate gatherings, and acts of service with that which is welcoming, useful, and challenging to the hurting, hopeless, and curious. We have to welcome what it unfamiliar to us so that we can allow other to become familiar with God."
Do you hear that? We say a lot here that the most important people in our church are the next 100 people who come. The next 100 people who come are probably not going to be drawn to the fact that I'm wearing a robe. That's why I don't do it. Those next 100 people are so important. That's why you are so deeply important to us.
That's why we invest deeply in folks who are here, because you're the means through which the next 100 folks are going to be reached, not just in terms of your ability to break down barriers, although that's absolutely important, but also your ability to grow to have the mind of Christ so you won't go, "This is about me. This is my Watermark. I like meeting this long at this time, dressed in this way, with this kind of music." It's not about us.
We're eight years old now. We already, believe it or not, have a lot of traditions here that we're pretty used to, but those traditions have to be held very loosely by us. Here's our view on tradition: "We value openness to change and flexibility, believing that such a climate is conducive to personal, relational, and spiritual growth. We're going to be structured to allow for change, freshness, and innovation. We strive to keep tradition in perspective."
Please listen to this. "We ask ourselves whether every tradition or practice is optimally serving the biblical purpose for which it was originally designed." If it is, we keep it. If it's not, end. "If the Scriptures give us leeway on how to accomplish that purpose, then we will aggressively work to find a better way." And it doesn't mean we used to do it wrong. That's what people have to understand. It doesn't mean it used to be wrong to sing hymns if you sing praise choruses. It doesn't, but it's not necessarily the music of today.
I want to read you this. This is one of my favorite little things. I cannot believe the way we have fallen more in love, sometimes, as a church in America through the 80s and 90s… And it's still going on in a lot of places. There were these things called worship wars. Can you imagine how God was up there in heaven going, "I cannot believe my people. They are fighting over how to tell me they love me." That's what they're fighting over.
This is great. I don't know who wrote this. I wish I did. "An old farmer went to the city one weekend and attended a big city church. He came home, and his wife asked him how it was, 'Well,' said the farmer, 'it was good. They did something different, however. They sang praise choruses instead of hymns.' 'Praise choruses,' said his wife. 'What are those?' 'Well, they're okay. They're sort of like hymns, only different,' said the farmer. 'Well, what's the difference?' asked the wife.
The farmer said, 'Well, it's like this. If I were to say to you, "Martha, the cows are in the corn," well, that would be a hymn. If, on the other hand, I were to say to you, "Martha, Martha, Martha. Oh, Martha, Martha, Martha, the cows…the big cows, the brown cows, the black cows, the white cows, the black-and-white cows, the cows, cows, cows…are in the corn, are in the corn, are in the corn, are in the corn, the corn, corn, corn," then if I were to repeat the whole thing through three times, well, that would be a praise chorus.'
As luck would have it, the exact same Sunday, a young new believer from the city church attended the small-town church. He came home, and his wife asked him how it was. 'Well,' said the young man, 'it was good. They did something different, however. They sang hymns instead of regular songs.' 'Hymns,' said the wife. 'What are those?' 'Well, they're okay. Sort of like regular songs only different,' said the young man. 'Well, what's the difference?' said his wife.
The young man said, 'Well, it's like this. If I were to say to you, "Martha, the cows are in the corn," that would be a regular song. If, on the other hand, I was going to say to you, "Oh, Martha, dear Martha, hear thou my cry. Inclinest thine ear to the words of my mouth. Turn thou thy whole wondrous ear by and by to the righteousness, inimitable, glorious truth. For the way of the animals, who can explain. There in their heads is no shadow of sense. Hearkenest they in God's sun or His rain unless from the mild, tempting corn they are fenced?
Yea, those cows in glad bovine rebellious delight have broke free their shackles, their warm pens eschewed. Then goaded by minions of darkness and night, they all my mild Chilliwack sweet corn have chewed. So look to the bright shining day by and by where all foul corruptions of earth are reborn, where no vicious animals make my soul cry, and I no longer see those foul cows in the corn." Then, if I were to sing only verses one, three, and four and do a key change in the last verse, well, that would be a hymn.'"
I love that. I love that, because it's so crazy. The fact is most of the folks we're going to interact with today, when they're flipping through iTunes, they're not going, "You know what? Where is there some good pipe organ music for me to rock to on the way to work?" They're just not doing it, so we don't have a pipe organ. But you know what? Who gives a rip? It takes all kinds of churches to reach all kinds of people, and I'm so glad there are still churches with pipe organs. I like to sit in them sometimes. I really do, because there's a strength that comes from that.
Thomas Jefferson said this: "In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock." That's what we should be. That's what I want my kids to be. I want to say, "Listen, man. Do not make this about you. This is not about you." In matters of principle, it's about Jesus. You stand firm where he is firm, but in matters of style, "…become all things to all men, that I may by all means save some." That will make us an effective church.
Folks, I have always had heroes in this church. Early on when we started, there was a group of people who, frankly, really did not like a lot of what we did in terms of music and the ways we were trying to creatively communicate. It was just something they had never really been familiar with. They sat in here because they saw God at work.
Even though they didn't like the music, even though they didn't like the dress and it was hard for them to not wear certain clothes to church, they go, "You know what? Jesus is there. God's changing people. The people I'm trying to reach, God's reaching there. I want some of that." They're my heroes. I looked at them and marveled.
There was a culture that didn't know Christ, and they said, "This is not going to be about me imposing my culture on them. It's going to be about me knowing who they are, inviting them into a place where the language they speak is spoken, where the music they use declares the glories and the greatness and the intimacy of God, and I can interact with them so they can know my Jesus." Those are mature disciples of Christ.
Philippians 2:1-5 says that. It talks about how we ought to be all of a like mind. All of us ought to be individuals who have one purpose and there's fellowship. We ought to make the joy of God complete in that we are all about that purpose together. Then, because of that, because we become like Christ, we don't do anything from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind we consider others as more important than us.
We don't have this sense that we have to look out for our own personal interests, styles of dress, length of service, type of music in service but, "I consider the interests of others as more important. I have, in myself, the same attitude which was in Jesus, who became like me, so I could know God."
Let me let you meet a couple of friends here as we close, because a commitment to relevance means a commitment to being flexible and selfless. It means, sometimes, when you're flexible and selfless, it's going to mess things up. There's a great little proverb. Proverbs 14:4 says, "Where no oxen are, the manger is clean, but much increase comes by the strength of the ox."
Meaning, when you get out there and you have a really clean life that's not ordered by interruptions, you can have a very controlled life. When you decide, "I'm going to engage with an ox," it will increase the productivity of the farm, but it's also going to bring some manure. It's also going to take some work to get that stable clean. It's also going to take reprioritization of your life to feed and care for that ox. Much increase comes from being flexible in the way you engage with others.
Jesus held up a hero. It was a man who let God interrupt him on his way to work, so he could care for somebody who was in a ditch beside him. These friends represent hundreds of you, of individuals who just said, "This is not about what I'm doing and bringing people to where I'm at. I want to go to where people are." Rick, real quickly, why don't you tell them a little bit about how you tried to be a little innovative in the way you reached out to your neighbors, so you could have an opportunity to speak relevant truth into their lives.
Rick Wisner: As a pastor here at Watermark, I have the privilege of interacting mostly with believers, which is a good thing, but that challenges me to always think through how I can go to those who don't know Jesus. Not being able to expect them to come to the church, what does that look like?
For me and for us, we're always praying about how we can reach our neighborhood and, specifically, Canyon Creek Elementary School, which is in our neighborhood. In our group, others have done things like Bunco nights to reach out to their neighbors, play groups on Friday. We got the Chuckwagon out to the school carnival last year. Sports teams, and doing other things like that.
A few weeks ago, John Hall, who is in my Community Group, and myself said, "We need to do something with the dads. We need to quit talking about it and do it." We sat down one lunch and said, "How can we reach the dads?" We thought, "Well, the easiest way is to reach their sons, because fathers and sons are always wanting to spend time together."
We said, "All right. How would we do that? What could we do to get them together?" We thought, "Hot dogs, watermelon seed-spitting contest, and water balloons. That's the way to get them there." We got together a couple of weeks ago, and we got the dads together. We got 13 other dads and their sons and spent an hour at the park. We cooked hot dogs, played baseball, and things like that. We did our water balloon toss.
Finally, when we got ready to go, we got the watermelon out. As we got ready to slice it, it was seedless. We said to the other dads, "We have a reason to get together again." It was really a good time, just to talk to the dads about how we can connect together with our sons. Again, our goal is we want to love and serve our neighbors with the purpose of being able to share Jesus Christ and how he has transformed our lives. We're continuing to pray as a group about how we can be intentional and continue to interact with those who…"
Todd Wagner: So, instead of waiting for them to come where you're at, you say, "How can I…? Every dad has a need to bond with his son. Every man has a need to connect with other guys in this community who are trying to bond with their sons. Rather than having them come to an event at your place of worship or something they may not go to, you said, "We're going to take an event to them and invite our whole school, whoever wants to come." You had 13 dads and their sons. Scotty, how about you?
Scotty Kedersha: Our story is pretty similar. I work in the marriage ministry and specifically with engaged couples and seriously dating couples. We do this really good class a couple of times a year where couples come to us to help get them equipped for marriage and tell them about Christ and what you need to know before you get married.
Most of the people who come are believers, and so we wanted to know how we could reach out to people who need their marriages strengthened or need some help. Or they need help evaluating whether or not to get married. One of the guys who leads our team, John McGee, had a great idea that we'd go to the Dallas Bridal Show, which we thought was a little crazy. We didn't know what that entailed or what that looked like, but we got a booth at the Dallas Bridal Show.
You walk down the little halls, and there are people selling the chocolate fountains, the ice sculptures, and photographers, carriages and limousines. Then right next to that, in the middle of all of them, is Watermark Community Church. Everyone else wants you to have a great wedding day. They want you to have the best pictures, the best-tasting chocolate, the best way to get to the wedding and to the hotel afterwards. Everyone wants you to have a good wedding day.
Our motto was, "We want to help you have the best marriage possible." We put a booth there and told people about Watermark and about the pre-married class we have. The fruit was really neat. A couple of months ago, we had our first class after the bridal show, and there were a handful of couples who probably never would have found Watermark, maybe even never heard the gospel so clearly, had they not come to the bridal show and then come by our booth. They ended up coming to our class. It was really neat.
Todd: You said over those two days you had a chance to interact with about a thousand people who came up, and 900-plus of them or more will never, ever make their way here. But in that moment, you had a chance to interact with them about, as you said, "I don't just want you to have a great wedding day, but a great marriage. Here's the means through which you can begin to do that." By the grace of God, there are some who have interacted with us through that. Awesome. All right guys. This is a pretty fun one. Cole and Will, tell us about what you guys did.
Cole: We started a club at our high school, which is Highland Park High School, that is a club where guys can come and be honest, be real and open with each other, while at the same time have accountability and good times. A place where they can have fun at the same time as having community and fellowship like what Todd has been talking about and what we've learned at this church, through this church and through our Bible study leaders, and stuff like that. We wanted to share that with other guys, because we've seen it work in our lives and how much it has changed us and made us better people.
Todd: I know at your high school you guys have once a month where they actually let whatever club you're in meet during school hours. You said, "Hey! How about a club?" Will, the name of your club is…?
Will: Iron Sharpens Iron.
Todd: This is hilarious because we were teasing Will a little bit. Tell them the purpose and mission of Iron Sharpens Iron.
Will: All right. I'm going to try to quote the mission statement here. Basically, it's, "We exist to be used by God to change the lives of the men at Highland Park High School. We seek to create opportunities to serve people in God's name. We try to incorporate discipleship, fellowship, good times, but above all we exist to show the people at this high school what abundant life looks like." Like Cole was saying…
Todd: By the way, I have the bumper sticker that has your mission statement on it.
Will: We have one coming out.
Todd: You have to be very close to it to read the whole thing, don't you?
Will: I know.
Todd: But I love that. I loved Will's zeal when he told me, "This is our mission statement." He put his head down and went for like 30 seconds quoting it. I go, "That is so great the way you put that thought into that." I was teasing him a little bit about how long it was, but the heart of it is that you said, "We want to impact our school right where we're at." Right?
Tell them what you do when you get them together. Once a month you all meet, and during that time you use creative means to communicate to your friends about the things you guys… Your club is Iron Sharpens Iron, right? What else do you do besides that monthly meeting?
Will: There are a lot of things we do. We went on a retreat to Possum Kingdom Lake. We took about 50 guys out there. We just had a great time hanging out with each other. We had a really solid worship service where a lot of people came up afterwards and told us that was the closest to Christ they've ever felt in their lives.
What we're doing now is we're starting something we call Core Groups, which are going to be small groups of about five to eight guys, and they're organized by what grade they're in. I'm leading a freshman group tonight, actually. Cole has a sophomore group. That's really where we're at right now, is trying to encourage that community aspect of it and sharpen each other as the verse says.
Todd: What I love is that here you have relevant people who are being innovative and flexible. Has it made your life more complicated because you're leading this organization at school? You have friends who are looking to you now to be mentors for them at your school. Not where you just appear at your youth group, but you're seen as a leader in this club who is mentoring and shepherding other guys. Scott, you had all the responsibilities you normally have around here, and then here you go to a bridal show for two days and interact with a thousand folks you otherwise wouldn't.
Rick, you're on point in a way you've been declared now at your school, and your life is a little messier in the sense that there are people who now are going to look to you as a leader. It changes things when you become innovative and flexible, to be relevant and serve others, but look at the fruit when you say, "It's not about me. Where are people? How can I take where I'm at and love them with what God has brought to me?" Let me pray for you.
Father, thank you for my friends in this room who… We're learning, Lord. We still love us an awful lot. For many of us, we like this music. We like the fact that we don't have to worry too much and spend a lot of money just for Sunday going-to-meeting clothes, but, Lord, we don't ever want to have a casual heart toward you even if we have casual dress.
We want to be people who are impacted by the relevance of the great I AM, who loves us, cares for us, who uses every available means to communicate to our hearts that we, by means of your grace, might come to know where life is. We want to be like Jesus, Lord. We want to leave the comfort of our glory and move into where other people are, so we can speak to them about the most relevant thing in the world, that there is a God who loves them and who wants to bring blessing in their life where there is death and pain.
I thank you that we have a community of grace here. I thank you that we have a community that's relevant because it's authentic here. I thank you that we have a community that's relevant because it's committed to truth here. I thank you, Father, for this family, for this team of Christ-followers, who say, "Here we are. Use us for your glory," so that, Father, you might bring some into the most innovative relationship possible, the relationship between God and man, won through Jesus Christ alone. We thank you for that privilege. We want to worship you this week as we serve you. Amen.
You guys have a great week of worship. We'll see you.
What's the best gift you've ever received? What present is so special that you'll never forget the moment or the person who shared it with you?In this series, Todd Wagner overviews 11 gifts that the Lord desires for us to have. This collection of gifts forms the foundation that any pastor would want for a church and any parent would want for their child. In short, these gifts represent 11 non-negotiables in a life that is committed to full devotion to Christ.