As much as I admire Bob Dylan’s music I also admire Bob Dylan the man. He constantly threw off attempts to fit him into a mold, much to the frustration of his fans and critics. As a young musician his music was adopted by the protest movement of the time and he became their hero. They constantly tried to squeeze him into their own image, a common experience for heroes. However, at the height of his fame he changed musical directions, to the outrage of his fans. Other protest singers accused him of giving in to the system. At the time it looked like a stupid career move for anyone wanting to make a name for him or herself. Ironically, whenever I listen to Peter, Paul, and Mary or Joan Baez now I smile at a picture of a time gone by. Whenever I listen to Bob Dylan I think. You see Bob Dylan is the one still writing and performing while the protest singers are the ones stuck in time. His music is relevant and challenging, theirs is nostalgic.
What I think set Bob Dylan apart was that he had a singular vision or aim. He was focused on making good music, the music he wanted to make, not on being relevant or popular. Of course he paid a heavy price for it with booing fans, who oddly still went to his concerts. The same occurred with his so called Christian period. When he was rejected and made fun off. However, it is Bob Dylan and his music that have endured, not his critics.
Why I think this is significant is that I see a lot of churches acting like those infamous protest singers. The church is always doing a delicate dance between being different from the culture and being relevant, sometimes both. The Fundamentalists defined themselves by being different from the surrounding culture. (If you don’t know who they are think of churches which still use the KJV). Ironically they have become entirely embedded in the culture of the 1950’s, just like poodle skirts.
The Contemporary Christian Music movement tried the opposite approach, using the music of the time to sing about Christianity. The paradox of this is that when you try to be relevant to the shifting culture of your era you become irrelevant as soon as the next trend comes. Case in point, I seldom listen to the Christian music of my adolescence, except for fun now. To stay relevant you must continually pay catch-up. Pursuing relevance becomes self-defeating.
As I said above, I think Bob Dylan achieves relevance and avoids being trapped in time because he had a higher aim than both. So with the church, their aim is not primarily protesting the culture or relevance, it is the pursuit of Christ. By not pursuing to be relevant of counter-cultural you often become both. By pursuing both, you become neither. This shouldn’t be to us surprising since to save your life is to lose it and to lose your life for Christ is to save it. Besides I think when you try to “make” Christ relevant you already have a problem. He is timelessly relevant just the way he is.
What you are probably thinking now is, “Can you be a little more concrete?” I will try to be but there is a part of this where it is a matter of Christians living Christ, through the Holy Spirit, in a way that is as unique and individual as they are. Take, for instance, planning a sermon series. Think not what is relevant at the time, but what the Scripture present as most relevant to life. Odds are that it will be relevant in a deeper way than what is currently popular in the culture. The truth of Christianity is that the world is broken and we are unable to fix it because we too are broken. In my opinion this plan of action is that it is not likely to grow your church instantly or make it go viral. Like Bob Dylan it may look like career suicide. However, you must ask yourself what you want to be doing fifty years from now. Do I want to be preforming reunion concerts for my aging fans or still be rocking?