3 of the most overrated words in church world

There is no shortage of podcasts, blogs, sermons, books and conferences offering what seems like unending insight, best practices and advice for local church ministry. Whether you’re a lead pastor, youth pastor, missionary, deacon or work in the nursery – there are resources to help you grow as a leader.

However, the unending flow of information creates also an even greater need for discernment. I’ve got hundreds of books on the shelves in my office and on my Kindle.  I subscribe to several leadership or theology podcasts.  I read numerous periodicals, blogs and news websites. Every week for more than a decade I have consumed an estimated 20,000+ words from these resources.  Much of it has been good and helpful. Over the years there have been a few ideas and concepts that I have discovered to be a bit overrated.  These three words come to mind:

1) Relevant

This has been a buzz word for years now and it’s understandable.  In many ways the church hasn’t been relevant to the culture it has been commissioned to impact. The advice goes like this: Your sermons need to be more relevant.  Your music needs to be relevant.  Your ministry programs need to be relevant.  Your pastor needs to be relevant. One of the most popular Christian magazines is actually called, you guessed it: Relevant magazine.

I think it’s a bit overrated and here’s why: The word is usually mentioned in reference to style and not substance. For example when we say we need relevant sermons that usually means sermons with pop culture references and pastors wearing blue jeans. That isn’t a bad thing.  I wear jeans and frequently make pop culture references, but none of those things matter if the teacher and the content isn’t relatable.  Is your content relatable? That’s a better question.  Working a Lady Gaga reference into your sermon isn’t going to win they day. However, telling people how you struggle with doubt, parenting, relationships and worry – that’s relatable. People aren’t nearly as impressed with your social media savvy as they are with your empathy.

2) Excellence

We shouldn’t ever do shoddy work.  We should give our best.  Yet, polish and perfection isn’t a great goal either.  It’s particularly unimpressive to millennials. Scholar David Wells in his book The Courage to be Protestant echoes this sentiment:

“Younger generations who are less impressed by whiz-bang technology, who often see through what is slick and glitzy, and who have been on the receiving end of enough marketing to nauseate them, are as likely to walk away from these oh-so-relevant churches as to walk into them.”

There is something more important than excellence, and that thing is authenticity.  As a WSJ article by Brett McCracken on “Wannabe Cool” Christianity points out, twentysomethings want authenticity more than they want cool.

This is one of the reasons programming just doesn’t make your church go anymore.  The goal of good programming is to make sure the event runs well.  The more excellence the better. Newsflash: the most programmed generation in history is tired of programs and are thirsty for real, authentic relationships.

3) Leadership

This sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? My office is littered with leadership quotes, file folders full of leadership content and leadership books. I believe leadership is incredibly important.  I believe leadership development and empowerment is crucial.

I also think we spend too much time talking about leading and not enough time talking about following.  We read too much about how to go to the next level, and not enough about how to serve those behind us.  Remember that verse in Mark 10:45?  “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to lead in dynamic ways, so that he and his organization might rise to the top!”

Oh wait.  That’s not how it goes.  “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

We need to read more books, listen to more podcasts and go to more conferences asking a different question: How do we become better servants? Especially if we’re pastors.  If we’re not careful, the people God has called us to shepherd and care for, will become prospects to recruit for our ministry agendas. Servant-leadership never manipulates people for a selfish gain.

If the goal is to get bigger, faster and famous – service will hold you back. If the goal is to be like Jesus, service will move you forward.

So there are my 3 overrated words.  I’m sure you have some.  Feel free to leave you thoughts in the comment section.

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