Pastor Terry McNabb pastors Calvary Chapel Portland. For more info, go to calvarychapelportland.com.
With all the discussion of relevance in ministry I began to think about my own struggles with staying fresh in the ministry over twenty years. Like it or not, if you are in the ministry long enough, you risk becoming irrelevant. People that loved you suddenly feel the need to change churches. Culture changes and you didn’t notice. Losing the ability to effectively influence the culture around us is gradual and by the time we notice it can feel too late. When I came to Portland, Oregon I had only known ministry in Southern California. Evangelism was generally street witnessing or a concert where the gospel was preached. In the Northwest people didn’t come to Christian concerts and sharing Jesus on the street is difficult when people are inside most of the time. It rains a lot.
I was so fixed on methods I knew that it took me a while to figure out that I needed to change. My discouragement was a waste of time as the fix was simple. It seems obvious but I needed to adapt to Oregon and go to the people. I suddenly realized that I was in the land of a thousand coffee shops. Starbucks started here. People responded to small groups and one on one situations much better than church events. All I needed to do was go to Starbucks, put my Bible on the table and wait for a nibble. Now it’s common to see Bible studies in coffee shops.
Here are two common signs of irrelevance…
Pastor Chuck wrote about becoming an old wine skin. The main thing about an old wine skin is that it is inflexible. It shows itself in irritation. Becoming inflexible and irritated at suggested changes in method is a sign of becoming an old wine skin. Attaching morality to technology is losing sight of the main point. Methods are simply a means of communication. It’s like our parents saying that hymns were more spiritual than choruses. If methods are used to wow people instead of communicate then we have a problem. I have heard Greg Laurie say that we should use all available methods to preach the gospel. I think he has some fruit to show for his methods.
Another sign of irrelevance is isolation. Irritation leads to isolation. You don’t seek out fellowship with other pastors because it challenges you too much. Can you rejoice when God blesses another church? Can you learn from other pastors? One blessing of getting older is that our kids get old enough to tell us we’re wrong. Richard Cimino mentioned that his kids told him it was time to lose the Hawaiian shirts. My kids have recently done the same for me. At first I was challenged to hear their suggestions but I knew they were right. They wanted to see God do a fresh work and He is.
In the 60s and 70s Calvary Chapel was relevant because Pastor Chuck allowed the kids he was reaching to influence the style of ministry but Chuck used it to deliver the Word of God by the Spirit of God. Relating to our culture is Calvary Chapel. Let’s not forget that is our method. Aside from any discussion of methods you disagree with, for me the bottom line is fruit. People’s lives are changed or they aren’t. Staying fresh in ministry and life is what God does for those who wait on Him. A Spirit-filled life enables us to not be threatened by change. Jesus said, “Behold I make all things new.”