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We will never be the cool church

November 30, 2021 by Eric Stillman 0 comments

Posted in: Culture

Today’s blog post is adapted from the August 25th, 2020 blog.

“Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.” (Jude 1:3)

I recently enjoyed an article on the Gospel Coalition website called “Cool Christianity is (still) a bad idea” by Brett McCracken ( Fifteen long years ago, I began serving as the pastor of NewLife, and yes, I wanted to be a cool pastor. In those days, “relevant” was a buzzword among churches (and even the name of a new Christian magazine), as we all tried to find ways to reach people by speaking the cultural language. The emergent church was in its heyday, a movement that saw itself as a postmodern answer to the church of our parents and grandparents, complete with candles, liturgy, skinny jeans, and tattoos. I tried hard to be a cool pastor: I read books by Rob Bell and Donald Miller, wrote long and clever blog posts, and yes, even went to an emergent conference. In a moment of complete arrogance, I remember talking to other younger pastors about trying to put on a “Church: Next” conference where we would share our collective 30 year-old wisdom about the future of the church.

I don’t remember the exact date that I stopped trying to be cool and relevant. I do recall that one major influence was listening to sermons by Paul Washer (a decidedly uncool but passionate, Spirit-filled missionary). I decided to start wearing a tie when I preached, and to put down the trendy Christian books and start reading more Christian books that had stood the test of time. But most importantly, I resolved to focus more on preaching the gospel, “the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints” (Jude 1:3). And I have never looked back to the days of trying to be cool and relevant.

In his article, McCracken writes that “a relevance-focused Christianity sows the seeds of its own obsolescence… Today’s hip, cover-boy pastor is tomorrow’s has-been. This year’s fast-growing, bustling-with-20-somethings cool church is next year’s ‘I used to go there’ old news.” He goes on to show how many of the influential names from the Christianity of the early 2000’s are no longer even serving in the church or have long since left the spotlight. How quickly yesterday’s “must-read” becomes today’s forgotten book gathering dust on the shelf! And how quickly “relevant” turns into “obsolete.”

I still struggle with the temptation to be cool, the pull towards focusing less on preaching the gospel and loving people and focusing more on cultivating an image, promoting a brand, and marketing an experience. Every time I see a church with a more impressive website, or a hip worship team, or a pastor dressed like Justin Bieber, I question whether I need to give more attention to those things in my own life and church. But I know that if we attract people by our image, brand, or experience, then those same people will eventually move on once they find someone else who can do those things even better than we can. In the end, I truly believe that it is far better to focus on those things that are not trendy but eternally relevant: sacrificial love, caring community, repentance and faith in Jesus, and a relationship with the God who created you and in whom is found life to the full. 

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