The TV show, Friends, reminds me of how quickly what’s “cool” can change.
In season 2, Chandler and Joey get into a petty fight that ends with Joey moving out. Since he is now a working actor with a regular gig on a soap opera, Joey moves into a “fab” apartment. The friends, minus a moping Chandler, come over to see his new “digs.” After a tour of a living room filled with statues of animals and leopard-skin rugs, Joey insists on showing them the bathroom. Apprehensive, the friends follow him. On the wall beside the toilet is a telephone.
Someone declares, “Joey, there’ a phone in your bathroom.”
Joey replies, “I know! Isn’t that so cool?”
Monica says, “Promise me you will never call me from that phone.”
Nearly 20 years have passed since Joey moved into an apartment with a landline in the bathroom. If that same apartment were “cool” today, it would need a Bluetooth speaker for a cell phone and a charging station. Joey would have the option of talking on the phone or listening to music or hearing the weather report. There may even be speakers built into the walls and a waterproof case for the phone to go in the shower. Joey’s boxy phone on the wall would no longer be “cool” by most standards.
The day that I graduated from college, the father of one of my friends asked about my plans for the future. When I told him about graduate school and a ministerial career, he nodded and said, “That’s rad.” As in a shortened version of “radical.” As in another way of saying, “Cool.” I remember thinking to myself, “That is so 1990, but at least he’s trying to speak my language.”
There’s a season for everything
And a time for every matter
Under the heavens…*
Ecclesiastes is wise in its simplicity: everything changes. Nothing stays the same. Cultures shift. Phones become computers. Computers talk. Language evolves. What’s “cool” changes and how we describe something’s “coolness” changes, too.
Like any other organization, churches find themselves with a difficult dilemma amid cultural shifts. Where are the boxy landlines in the bathrooms that need to be uninstalled? What sacred pieces of our history do we need to maintain?
The gospel of Jesus Christ is timeless. The message of salvation does not change. Much of worship services do need to hold on to some of the traditions that connect us to our past. What does need to change is how we communicate that story so that we can be relevant to different generations. Where many of our churches have stumbled is in speaking only the language of Leave It to Beaver when we’re trying to reach folks who prefer translations of The Big Bang Theory. We can also err on the side of ignoring listeners of The Andy Griffith Show and only talking to How I Met Your Mother linguists.
Followers of Christ have to be multilingual and adaptive to seasons. We can get very comfortable in certain times and seasons to the point of complacency. Complacency causes us to get stuck in a rut. If we’re not careful, churches will find themselves on a landline in a bathroom, oblivious to new ways of communicating the good news.
Let us be willing to grow with the changes of life. May the wind of God’s Holy Spirit keep us in the “cool” as disciples, as churches, and as children of God.
All good things to each of you,
* Ecclesiastes 3:1 (Common English Translation)