Thoughts about Relevance


thoughts-about-relevanceBy Travis Hill

In Henri Nouwen’s book In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership, Nouwen spends time going through the three aspects of Jesus’ temptation in the desert. Reflecting on the first temptation–to turn stones into bread—Nouwen suggests something that caught me off guard and challenges me, that Jesus’ first temptation was to be relevant.

How absolutely true this is. We, as youth workers, live in this interesting dichotomy where we need and want to teach about Jesus, but also want to be relevant. It is easy to get stuck in the assumption that “this message needs to be relevant to the lives of my students” is more important than “this message is about a life-changing incarnational outlook of God’s Kingdom here on earth.” While I’m not saying that relevancy is bad, I’m saying that too often I can focus on laughter or cultural hipness instead of Christ. We do it all with good intentions, ultimately desiring to reach that kid in our ministries with something, anything, that will trigger their desire to seek after God. Really, it’s a question of priorities: cultural relevancy is great; but it’s of lower importance.

In Matthew 4:3-4, we witness the first temptation of Christ, “The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” The beautiful thing about this situation is that Jesus easily could have taken the hurt and pain around him, the lack of food for the poor and broken, and crafted meals out of rocks, which were not in short supply there. But he didn’t. Instead, Jesus responded with Deuteronomy 8:3, that “Man shall not live on bread alone.” Jesus knew and understood that simply doing something relevant, even if it was beneficial for the larger whole, pales in comparison to the true nourishment of God.

Before we decide to track too far down the “but there is real hunger in the world” path, let us be reminded that Jesus did, in fact, go out and feed others. He did not merely speak to sound sophisticated and not follow up with actions that supported what he said. So while we are simply trying to find that fun, cultural explanation of something, may we look further and deeper than something that will merely reference pop culture, sound cool, or make students laugh. Let’s look for a deeper meaning, one that isn’t based on the necessity of finding a reason to put a messy game in our service, but rather to find a more intentional way to bring students into a deeper understanding of God.