Whether it is a person, business or ministry none of us want to be out of touch and go the way Kodak did at the beginning of this year. When it comes to church and ministry, I wonder if sometimes we have lost sight of what being truly relevant means. Don’t get me wrong I am not an advocate for suits on Sunday and the KJV forever. I think it is our job to know what is going on in society and not have our heads in the sand. However, I sometimes get the sneaky feeling that for some leaders being relevant means being like the “cool kids”. If that is the case then that is a mistake.
While I was dating my wife, Sarah, when I came for the weekend I would stay with Mr. and Mrs. Ruthven who lived across the hall from Sarah’s mom. They were a great couple in their late 70’s. He was the evangelist of the two and she was the theologian. They had planted churches in Canada and the U.S. and had the most amazing ministry stories.
One of my favourites was their ministry to the Doukhobors who were Russian immigrants who had suffered religious persecution which promoted their coming to Canada. These folks were difficult to deal with to say the least. They would run off most people who tried to minister to them. Pastor Ruthven told me he was having a service in their community and all of a sudden everyone in the audience left. He had been warned about what would happen next. One by one they filed back into the hall with not a stitch of clothing on both the men and the women. They all walked up to the front and shook his hand, then sat down. “How in the world did you handle that?” I asked. His reply, “I kept my eyes on the Lord.” This had run off every other preacher but not the Ruthven’s.
The Doukhobors said there were three groups of people they did not like 1) Politicians 2) Priests/Pastors 3) Bums. The reason? None of them worked for a living:) However, they called Pastor Ruthven “The Priest That worked” because he had made a machine that made it easier for them to chop wood. This opened up many doors for them to minister to this group of people who always felt like outsiders. When they left British Columbia for other ministry opportunities they actually received a commendation from the B.C. Government because they succeeded where so many others had failed.
I think we should take advantage of every creative spark that we have to reach people for Jesus. But we must always remember that what made Jesus relevant was that he solved problems and met people’s needs, (Matthew 9:36, 14:14, 20:34). When you come to “seek and save” (Luke 19:10) you will be relevant. It’s not a battle of style verses substance but if it was I would take substance any day.
“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” (James 1:27)
I remember this birthday party very well, Mrs. Ruthven passed away two weeks ago at the age of 102.