1960sHave 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.


9 responses to “Relevant vs Trendy”

  1. Derek Webster Avatar

    exceptional post, alex. I’m grateful to hear someone voice the position of relevance and that it is a distinctly tipped position. It’s interesting that in being relevant to the future, we actually have to be relevant to the unknown, which is where Jesus was constantly leading his disciples. Interesting that Jesus didn’t spend all of his time rooted in one spot, but chose to disciple others as they were positioned towards the unknown. Is it possible that in teaching us to be relevant to the future, we actually become more receptive to God’s sculpting of us in the present? While it is still called Today we choose to tip the balance towards generosity and an outside world hungry for hope.

  2. Steve Avatar

    Reading your post brought this scripture in mind:

    1 Corinthians 2:3I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. 4My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, 5so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power.

    It seems to me that what you are advocating is just the opposite of what Paul is saying. I think you focus too much on man’s wisdom. Is it really that important to find just the right way to reach people in a given moment? What does that mean anyway? Is it not better to learn to hear God’s voice and let Him guide you into situations where you can give away the grace and mercy that He has given you? That is when the power comes. The power of the Holy Spirit is always relevant.
    I feel like you are treating Christianity like a philosophy rather than a faith. I heard you speak 3 times in California. I came away all 3 times thinking “this guy is trying to empress us with how cool he is”. I really got little out of your messages, but you were cool. What you are advocating may bring some bodies into the church, but will anyone come to know Christ with a watered down gospel. Can anyone find a living faith when he never hears the message that he is a sinner in need of salvation? In my experience the answer in most cases is no.

  3. Doug Avatar

    I hear Paul saying, “I become all things to all people.” Is that not relevance?

  4. Steve Avatar

    I think that Paul demonstrated being all things to all people in Acts 17:16-34. He spoke to the philosophers in a way that they would understand, but he did not alter or water down the Gospel message like I hear so many of the missional/emerging folks do.

    Acts 17:29″Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by man’s design and skill. 30In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. 31For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.”

    His message was not meant to please everyone in attendance. The gospel will always have a polarizing affect.

    32When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, “We want to hear you again on this subject.”

  5. patrick voo Avatar

    as i was spending personal reflection time in the scriptures, i read romans 15.20-21 for truly the ‘first’ time … “My ambition has always been to preach the Good News where the name of Christ has never been heard, rather than where a church has already been started by someone else. I have been following the plan spoken of in the Scriptures, where it says, ‘Those who have never been told about him will see, and those who have never heard of him will understand.’”
    alex, thanks for the reminder that urgency is what drives us to attempt the heroic.

  6. Derek Webster Avatar

    I was surprised at your comment, particularly since the content of your response wasn’t really reflected in Alex’s post. You seem to express some issues with Alex, and not what he is reflecting here.

    The way I read it, Alex is doing the opposite of trying to push man’s wisdom. It is his assertion here that to be relevant to today is to be trendy to today, and that is a knee-jerk reaction to what is seen at this present reality. Man’s wisdom would react to today’s climate rather than utilize God’s movement and trajectory as our compass.

    I see Alex advocating the position of the North Star (forgive the metaphor). He is saying that to be true to history, one must be true to follow God based not on the charts we see at this moment, but based on the stars God has already positioned before time began. By being relevant to the future, we are speaking to the present.

    One would really have to twist Scripture to assert that Jesus didn’t care about reaching people at any given moment. His teachings were always tailored to the crowds, but His truths were universal. The only time He had a “take it or leave it” attitude was with the Pharisees who were bent on pushing their own interpretations of Scripture to comply with their own comfort levels.

    How does one discern the voice of the Holy Spirit in any given moment? I think that is, in part, what Alex is addressing here. It isn’t based on trendy-ness – ie. being cool at any given point in time – but on relevance to the future God has in store. This future both gives us our sense of urgency and expectation. Put another way: if you knew the future for swimmers in the ocean was a pool of sharks ready to chomp away, how close to the water would you get when you’re yelling out words of warning… especially if you knew you were “shark-proof”? Would you focus on the pattern of your board shorts, or on hopping on a surf board to get there as quickly as possible?

  7. Alex Avatar

    Steve, often I ignore comments like yours. But I just had to say that… if you thought I was “cool” you are in desperate need of getting out more. No, Really. Get out more. Also, I think the verse you quote from Acts 17 contradicts the point you are making. I can’t be sure, though, because I’m not quite sure what your point is…at least, with regard to my post. Best to you and thanks for your comment.

  8. Timothy Wright Avatar
    Timothy Wright


    The more that I want to be with Jesus and the more that I spend time with Jesus , the more he gives me this desire to be with people who don’t know Him. The body of Christ is “now” in the future. Jesus desire is for us to bring the future “Him” to those who are stuck in the past.

    I need fresh manna today from him if I am to be the presence of Jesus -fresh manna- to those who are perishing.

    Thanks for what you said Alex and the community who want Him more that they want to live in the past.

    Bless everyone !

  9. foluke Avatar

    How does one become “trendy”, “fashionable” and “now?” Who are those stuck in the past? And how does one bring the them to Christ?

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