One of the pitfalls of serving as a college pastor in a large college town is the temptation to constantly stay hip and relevant (even as I typed those words, I wondered, “Do people still say ‘hip and relevant'”?). My community happens to be blessed with some of the largest and coolest college ministries in the country. It’s easy to believe that the effectiveness of my ministry hinges on whether I wear the right clothes when I speak, whether we have multi-colored flashing lights on stage, or whether our worship leader bleaches the tips of his hair.

To let you in on a little secret, I was never really that hip in high school, college, or my 20s. The situation hasn’t improved with time. During my first year as a college pastor, I innocently wore jean shorts to an event, and learned the meaning of the word “jorts” and why I should never wear those again. One day I spilled water all over the front of my pants right before speaking to a group of incoming freshmen at a very large camp meeting. Since becoming a dad, I’ve literally preached sermons with baby throw-up on my shoulder. Some people are cool without trying to be, but I’m not one of them.

So I was relieved and encouraged to read this article last week (in a magazine called “Relevant,” of all places) about how some young people aren’t looking for the latest and coolest fad in their church. Here are a few thoughts I had as I read Evans’s article:

Most people are looking for authentic community. Some of Evans’s language is over the top and probably hyperbolic. I wouldn’t encourage churches to try to do things that are “bad” or “amateur” in order to look authentic. What Evans is trying to articulate, though, is a desire for leaders and churches to be real and honest in their walk with Christ. If you were born with a pair of Ray-Bans on, don’t pretend to be nerdy just so you can seem “real”. On the other hand, don’t try so hard to be cool that you forget what church is really about — a place to worship God and encourage the people around you toward discipleship. If I’m too focused on how I look or whether the hippest people in the room like me, I can forget that the whole thing is supposed to be about Jesus.

Relevance and excellence aren’t necessarily at odds with authenticity. This is critical to understand. Jesus was relevant in the way He presented His message. He used words and concepts that were familiar to His audience. His sermons were interesting and challenging and even shocking at times. They were excellent and well-done. However, Jesus always remembered that His primary purpose was to minister to people, not to impress them. And that’s the key distinction that Evans is trying to articulate. I do want the message and music in our ministry to be done well, because in doing so, we honor the significance of the Gospel. However, content and effectiveness are always more important than presentation and packaging — that’s where some groups get lost in the weeds.

The discipleship process is messy and sometimes involves uncomfortable situations. When I really get involved in the lives of others, as a pastor or leader should, it’s sometimes awkward and painful. Every seasoned pastor knows that major distractions on Sunday morning are part of the job. They also know that strange, difficult, and sinful people tend to flock to the Church. Why? Because they are seeking love and acceptance and forgiveness, and churches ought to be the one place in the world where it’s offered. And in the context of Spirit-filled community, it’s amazing how the Lord can really transform people (even people like me). The history of Christianity is all about weak, sinful, awkward, and difficult people who were miraculously changed into effective servants of Jesus Christ. If you really want to stay in an environment of sterility and freedom from awkwardness, church probably isn’t for you. On the other hand, if you want to be in a place where a powerful God dramatically changes people into the likeness of Christ, well, that’s what church is about.

So the bottom line: Your church needs you, not the version you think everybody will be impressed with, but the version that God made. When weak, sinful, hip, weird, cool, nerdy people get together to worship God in Spirit and in truth — that’s something worth being a part of.