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In ministry, some things must never change but others must change constantly.

Clearly, God's five purposes for His church are non-negotiable. If a church fails to balance the five purposes of worship, fellowship, discipleship, ministry, and evangelism, then it's no longer a healthy church, and it's in danger of becoming simply a social club.

On the other hand, the way or style in which we fulfill these eternal purposes must continually be adjusted and modified because human culture is always changing.

For instance, when I began working in the ministry, personal computers were in their infancy, slow and cumbersome and capable of very limited functions. The Internet was just a crude academic network and nobody had even heard of email.

Now I often sit in my pajamas and have email conversations with people across the globe. Today you can be an evangelist, just using the Internet to reach people for Christ.

In addition, you can get on a plane and within a few hours fly to almost anywhere in the world, and that means there's even less of an excuse for not being involved in foreign missions, even if just for the short-term. "The times, they are a-changing," and they'll keep right on "a-changing" whether we want them to or not.

The thing is: we've moved past the MTV generation into the Internet generation, and yet many of us are just now responding to the TV generation! Our message must never change, but the way we deliver that message must be constantly updated to reach each new generation.

In other words, our message of transformation must never change while the transformation of our presentation should be continual, adapting to the new languages of our culture.

Consider this: the word "contemporary" literally means with temporariness. By nature, nothing contemporary is meant to last forever! It is only effective for a while and only relevant in that particular moment—which's what makes it contemporary.

What is considered contemporary and relevant in the next ten years will inevitably appear dated and tired in 20 years. As a pastor, I've watched churches adopt many contemporary styles in worship, programming, architecture, music, and evangelism. That's okay, as long as the biblical message is unchanged.

But whatever is in style now will inevitably be out of style soon, and the cycles of change are getting shorter and shorter, aided by technology and the media. New styles and preferences, like fashions, are always emerging.

Let me give you a word of advice. Never attach your ministry to a single style— it will soon be passed over and outdated.The only way to stay relevant is to anchor your ministry to unchanging truths and eternal purposes but be willing to continually adapt how you communicate those truths and purposes.

As an example, let's look at the purpose of evangelism (I believe every church should be balanced between five New Testament purposes: worship, fellowship, discipleship, ministry and missions).

In many traditional churches, evangelism remains confrontational rather than relational. There is planned visitation of this sort: "We'll all come Thursday night and go knock on doors."

Now this strategy worked years ago because you could knock on someone's door and be invited in. But now people don't want a stranger knocking on their door; they get home from work and all they want to do is eat dinner and "veg" out. When you knock on their door, it disturbs them, and so they're already defensive before you even say a word about Jesus Christ.

Why would we continue to employ a strategy of evangelism that is no longer effective? I think it's because we continue to confuse the things that must never change with the things that must constantly change.

Lost people have a need for meaning, a need for purpose, a need for forgiveness, a need for love. They want to know how to make right decisions, how to protect their family, how to handle suffering, and how to have hope in our world.

These are all issues we have answers for, yet millions are ignoring the message of Christ because we insist on communicating in ways that make little sense any more.

In a sense, we've made the Gospel too difficult for a changing culture to understand. Let me give you this analogy: Imagine a missionary going overseas and saying, "I'm here to share the Good News, but first you have to learn to speak my language, learn my customs, and sing my style of music." You can immediately see why this strategy would fail!

Yet, we do that all the time in a culture that is in radical flux. If we want to reach people in the 21st Century, we must start thinking differently. Paul said, "I become all things to all men that I may, in some way, save some."

And I think that means if you're in California, you should have a California culture church. If you're in Ohio, you should have an Ohio culture church. If you're in Mississippi, you should have a Mississippi culture church.

But I also think that means if you're in the 21st Century, you should have a 21st Century church. I believe the most overlooked requirement in the church is to have spiritually mature members —members who unselfishly limit their own preferences of what they think a church should look like in order to reach lost people for Christ.

As Jesus said in Luke 5:38, "New wine must be poured into new wineskins!"

We need to present the church as a place where you belong, as a family where, like they sang on "Cheers," everybody knows your name. Now you and I may know that the church is a community, but emerging generations have never seen it that way.

They've seen a list of rules, not a loving community. This is a prime example of an opportunity to re-state the eternal truths of the Bible in a fresh, contemporary way,

Emerging generations are also focused on the experiential, and that means we have to adjust the way we teach and preach because most traditional churches focus almost exclusively on the intellect.

In the 21st Century church, we not only want people to know about God, we also want them to actually encounter God.

Of course, this means rather than preaching simply for information, we should also preach for action. Our message is not meant to just inform, but to transform the lives of those in our congregation. In almost every single sermon I preach every point has a verb in it—something to do. What are you going to do now that you know this godly truth?

Why do I do it this way? Because God says, "Be doers of the word, not hearers only," and our entire purpose-driven process is designed to move people, not only into intimacy with God, but also into service for him, where they'll experience a deep and broader faith in the midst of community and ministry.

Today seekers are hungry for symbols and metaphors and experiences and stories that reveal the greatness of God. Because seekers are constantly changing, we must be sensitive to them like Jesus was, be willing to meet them on their own turf, and speak to them in ways they understand.

Remember: the world changes but the Word doesn't. To be effective in ministry we must learn to live with the tension between those two.

My prayer is that God will use you the way he used David, as described in Acts 13:36, to serve God's purpose in your generation. We need churches that are both purpose-driven and post-modern; timeless and timely at the same time!

May God use you greatly and may you fulfill his purpose for your life.

This article is used by permission from Rick Warren's Ministry ToolBox
by Rick Warren.

Author Biography

Rick Warren
Web site:
Rick Warren is the founding pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California. Beginning with just his wife, Kay, in 1980, the congregation now averages 22,000 attendees at its 5 weekend services.

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