After five decades spent obsessing over a warped notion of “relevance,” American evangelicalism is overrun with “change agents” who are so steeped in worldly values that they can't distinguish true relevance from mere trendiness. Their philosophies of ministry are complex, wrong-headed, counterproductive, and hostile to the notion that some things—namely God Himself and the truth He has revealed in His Word—are by definition not susceptible to change. By contrast, what Paul bequeathed to Timothy in two brief epistles was a remarkably simple, straightforward, but comprehensive ministry philosophy. Not only did Paul not urge Timothy to be innovative; what he did urge Timothy to do flatly contradicts practically every ministry philosophy currently in vogue.
Consider the undue stress today's leading church-growth gurus invariably put on innovation. We are relentlessly told that pastors and church leaders must be novel, “contemporary,” cutting-edge—architects of change within the church.
Evangelicals have been obsessing for at least four decades about “relevance.” But that word as used in evangelical circles has become practically synonymous with novelty and fashionableness. It has little to do with actual relevance.
Of course, the church's only true relevance lies in her role as a community where God's Word is proclaimed, where the whole counsel of God is taught, and from which the gospel is taken into the world. But when a church nowadays advertises itself as “relevant,” we know exactly what is meant—and let's be honest: it isn't about anything Paul told Timothy to do; it's about being “innovative.”
“Innovation” in evangelical contexts almost never has anything to do with real originality. The best-known fruits of recent “innovative” thinking in the evangelical realm have been Emergent religion and hipster Christianity. But both Emergents and hipsters slavishly ape worldly fads and conform to postmodern and politically-correct values. “Innovation” has conditioned evangelical churches to follow every new wind of faddishness. “Innovation” itself turns out to be a worn-out cliche. There's nothing truly fresh or original about it. How it continues to get so much publicity is a mystery to me. The more evangelicals imitate worldly fads and values, the more irrelevant they become.
Here's a gentle word of admonition for those who have made an idol out of “innovation”: There is hardly any more wrong-headed approach for anyone who aspires to be a true spiritual and biblical leader in the church. It's an emphasis that is entirely missing from Paul's instructions to Timothy. Actually, the truth is even more alarming than that: The church's current infatuation with novelty and contemporary fashion is antithetical to Paul's message to Timothy. It is irreconcilable with a Pauline approach to ministry. It represents precisely the path Paul warned Timothy not to follow:
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. (2 Timothy 4:1-5).