Preaching Relevance v. Relevant Preaching

Much of contemporary Christianity, specifically those in preaching ministry, seeks to be relevant. And there is nothing inherently wrong with doing so (attempting to be relevant or being relevant). But there is a fine line and some definitive boundaries that must be set. Namely, there is a huge difference between preaching relevance (noun) and relevant preaching (adjective; or “preaching relevantly”—adverb). In the former case, relevance defines the content of the message, the content of what is preached. In the latter, relevance describes how the content of the message (scriptural truth) is presented.

The former method involves muting the voice of God in His Word, manipulating the text, twisting the arm of scripture, and overriding God’s truth in order to form a message that is what the preacher thinks the “audience wants.” It is an audience-driven message rather than a text-driven message. But all the while trying to give the audience something “appealing,” the preacher commits a terribly unfortunate irony—the very thing which is most relevant (the Word of God) is avoided. In fact, such preaching implies to one’s audience something very appalling—that scripture is not relevant to their lives.

On the other hand, relevant preaching is preaching the honest truth of God’s Word in such as way so as to apply it to the lives of one’s listeners. This requires not only accurately exegeting the text, but accurately and purposefully exegeting one’s audience so as to apply the unchanging, already relevant truth of scripture to their specific circumstances and problems. In other words, the content of the message remains the same, the truth of Scripture stays intact, and the text is still the central focus, but a bridge is built between the ancient text and the contemporary listener so that the Bible is not simply “thus said the Lord” but “thus saith the Lord.”