Have you looked at a photo from the 60’s and the 70’s lately? A couple of months ago, I stopped by Starbucks with my wife, Niza. Starbucks had recently begun an emphasis of getting back to their roots. In conjunction with that theme they had a photo from the early 70’s of their original Starbucks store.
We stopped to look at the photo and Niza made an interesting observation. Of the customers that stopped by to get coffee on that day in the early 70’s, some were wearing typical business suits or mainstream clothing. That’s when she opened my eye to something interesting.
Notice, she said, how the most dated fashion in the photo now were the trendier fashions then. One of the men standing in the photo was sporting a “hippy” type of look. If the photo did not indicate a date, you could more or less tell the time period, and the hippy would be the best clue.
It dawned on me then that “trendy” is the present tense of “dated”. To be “trendy” is to be “now.” But the very virtue of being “now” is what will eventually date the trend.
As leaders, we know all too well that the institutions and organizations we lead can get stuck in the past. We know the challenge of trying to be “a part of” and “to speak to” the present moment, to the scene right now. At the same time we want to avoid just being faddish.
How can we speak to the moment without fading en toto into the past?
The answer is to focus on being relevant rather than trendy. [This is not a statement against being trendy. Go ahead and be as much a “fashionista” as you want. I’m just saying that your hairdo and clothing just won’t matter over time. Eventually you’ll change these].
What does matter over time is being relevant. But what does it mean to be relevant? Relevance for the Christ following leader means very specific things, in my mind.
Christ following leaders are relevant when they are relevant to Jesus Christ, the future and outsiders.
Usually one would think of being relevant to the world of people around us. But this is a distant second to being relevant to Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is from the future that God is creating and seeking to be relevant to him will mean having a consistent message to the present moment. Our relevance for the present moment comes not from adhering to the present moment but by calling the present moment to Jesus Christ, the man from tomorrow.
Usually one would think of being relevant to the present. This is a distant second to being relevant to God’s future. Being relevant to the present may lead to being lost in “the present.” Being relevant to God’s future may lead to prophetically engaging “the present.” In the future, the “dead” will dance in the streets, there will be no more injustice, oppression, domination and exploitation, and “the world,” in the famous words of John Lennon, “will be as one.” Relevance to the future informs our engagement of the present and allows us to lead the present into the future.
Many missional leaders wrestle between focusing on the outsiders or focusing on church insiders. Do we focus on calling the world to the way of Jesus? Or do we focus on “getting the church right”? Many seek to find a balance between these two. I suggest that relevance to Jesus Christ and to the future necessitates that we balance this tension in favor of focusing on the world of outsiders. It’s not that we choose against the insiders. It’s that we recognize that it is impossible to shape the kinds of human beings Jesus needs unless we call on them to touch the world. We cannot get the church right until it begins to focus on outsiders. As it does so, a crisis of faith will inevitably emerge for the church and the missional leader can use that energy to help anchor the community on Jesus and the future that God is making for all of us.
Be trendy. Be fashionable. Be “now.” That speaks to the moment that quickly passes and creates an affinity with those who live in it. But trends anchor you to the past. Be ready to change.
Be relevant too. That points the moment that passes so quickly to God’s dawning future. Relevance anchors you to the future. Be ready to endure.