As I write my first words as editor of Ministry, I find my self under an unrelated yet familiar deadline. I have not yet left my church in Kettering, Ohio, to join the Ministry staff. I must still have a sermon ready for the church family by Friday afternoon at five--my self-imposed deadline for completed sermon preparation.
This will be the next-to-last sermon I will preach after more than five years with people who have become true friends. As their pastor I know that they are busy professionals, many working in the fluctuating, unpredictable world of U.S. health care. As I think of what I want to say to them, I am again humbled into a kind of inner creative preoccupation that swells into a familiar spiritual travail that reaches its height as Friday approaches. Much of that travail arises from my sense of deep-seated joys and sorrows of this congregation and the parallel need for me to share the great themes of Scripture in a way distinctly relevant to the particular setting of their lives.
The words "creative" and "spiritual travail" are not chosen lightly. We preachers are constrained to be relevant as we open the Bible to God's people. Sometimes we may think of being "relevant" as easy were it not for this wonderful thing in us: We find ourselves captive to that fabulous revelation of Jesus Christ, the one found in Scripture. Deep in that revelation is found life authentically lived and presented, the only point of relevance to a humanity increasingly in crisis.
Yet as the world twists and turns into all kinds of new and heretofore unknown shapes, and as people operate from an increasing array of disparate perspectives, being relevant as a Christian minister becomes immensely challenging. Significant sectors of our communities seem to think and feel from reference points that are foreign to any religious perspective, let alone a Christian one. And then, of course, there are those "Christian" populations that have never really known much of Jesus.
Against this context, we struggle to communicate better all the truth that clusters in Christ. In the process we feel the tug of watering down, the pull of trying to please. After all, an inordinate quest for relevancy may too easily cause us to dilute the essence of that which, authentically proclaimed, every soul longs to hear and know.
However, we are sometimes so conservative and so scared of the corruption that may come in the proclamation of something new, or of proclaiming it in a new way, that we practice our preaching constrained by cramping do's and don'ts. We all know deep in our souls how easy it is to be crippled by the withering criticisms of the "truth mongers" around us (or even in us), especially those with powerful connections. But thank God we also know that if there is any thing that kills a living, relevant proclamation of Christ and His truth, it is succumbing to these pressures.
As Christian ministers, and more particularly as Seventh-day Adventist ministers, we need to ask ourselves how we are to talk to our congregations. Even more challenging is the question: How will we speak to surrounding cultures, nations, tribes, and people so that they will actually listen, and so that what is proclaimed will be genuinely helpful and life-transforming?
To accomplish this, we usually turn to the guiding principles of the New Testament preachers. There some fundamental principles emerge, and I want to refer to one great principle of New Testament proclamation, usually not cited in reference to relevance in preaching: "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard" (1 John 1:1-3, NIV).
This passage urges me, every time I stand to preach, to go to the absolute Original. Above all else, I must see Jesus. I must hear Him with my own ears, look at Him with my own eyes, touch Him with my own hands. Then I want to covenant with myself that I will proclaim only what I have personally seen and heard. With this I will be closer to genuineness and authenticity, and so to the essence of being truly relevant.
Here's to a new era in Adventist ministry of digging down to know for ourselves personally and experientially what we presently tend to know only theologically. Here's to a new era in Adventist ministry in which we come back with heart and soul to the basics of being relevant proclaimers of what really matters.