Ben Tertin: “We Value Relevance”

by Glenn on April 22, 2015

my sermon notes from
Central Bible Church Portland
Pastor Ben Tertin

On 8 February, we visited Central Bible Church. At the time of this message, Ben Tertin was in the interview process for becoming the new senior pastor. As I recall, this was a bit of an audition for him. In a series of messages titled, “We Value …”, Ben took the week on “Relevance,” hence this message was, “We Value Relevance,” based on 1 Corinthians 9:19:

“Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible.” [NIV]

Among the things I appreciated about this message was the fact that there was an intelligible underlying organization, which was beautiful in its subtlety. Tertin avoided the extreme of, on one hand, a rambling style with undetectable order where the main evidence of any sense of forward progress after we start comes when we end. (“What was the sermon about?” “Oh, about 40 minutes?”)

On the other hand, Tertin didn’t sound like he just finished a preaching class in seminary. I liked this balance. Enough order so that we know what the message is about but in the laid-back conversational style that seems to be pretty important these days, at least here in Portland.

This verse that the message was based on often gets taken to mean, “I’ll do whatever it takes to win people to the gospel.”

Tertin began by putting the verse in context. He explained this verse is part of a larger conversation where Paul is saying, “I have a right to get paid, but I don’t take anything for it.” Paul is worried about the obstacle of people thinking he is in it for the money.

Tertin then jumped into what he called “a popular interpretation” of this text, which has Paul saying something like he pretends to be someone he thinks people will like so that he can develop camaraderie before he hits them with the gospel. In other words, “Once I get in good, then I show my real purpose.”

Tertin asked, “Is that what Paul is doing?” The question was rhetorical. (I don’t think he was asking for help from the floor: “Thoughts? Anyone?”) And then he made it personal, “Is that what Paul wants us to do?”

Rather than offer traditional sermon “points” Tertin answered his own questions with two bad questions by way of typical responses:

Question #1: Does this mean “a little sinfulness” is okay for “the greater good” to meet people where they’re at? The answer is no. There are all kinds of applications to this. But the principle is that while it’s tempting to dabble in something we know that’s wrong to build relationship with people, compromise is not what Paul is suggesting we should do.

Question #2: Does this mean faking it, pretending to like things you don’t? I liked the personal illustration he included here. He mentioned as a youth pastor this was one of his challenges—his students were interested in things he wasn’t. So then, would it be better for his ministry to pretend to like things he doesn’t like? (He used the example of Katie Perry, who had just sung in the Superbowl, and of whom he knew next to nothing.) He has decided “No.”

And then came a twist. The key, Tertin said, was thinking about what it means to be a slave. Paul is free but he makes himself a slave. He asked us to think of a time when someone freely chose us. This is voluntary slavery. Paul is talking about being someone who voluntarily enters into relationship with another person.

And so how do we answer this question of being relevant and being a slave? Quick review (Smart. Reminded us of where we had been.): 1. We don’t enter into sin. 2. We don’t fake it with people. The answer, Tertin says, is not letting anything get in the way of relationship with people. We are to have wide-open hearts for people. The gospel is totally relevant because it deals with real life.

And here was the climax of the sermon, the moment he put his finger on the pulse of this congregation that used to be a big congregation (and, therefore, at one time perhaps felt very relevant) but which is now rather small (perhaps feeling irrelevant or wondering even if survival is possible).

He asked, “Is Central Bible in danger of being irrelevant?” The answer: “Yes … but so is every church in Portland.” I loved this line because it immediately brought an intensity to the moment. That “Yes” followed by a slight pause touched the fear that had to be in the heart of most attenders that morning, but the “so is every church” put this one congregation into a bigger context of the at large church of Portland. It’s the question everyone wants to ask to ask the potential pastor—“Is our congregation going to survive?” And the answer was fearless. He moved things from, “Will this church survive?” to “Will the Church in Portland be the Church?”

By way of application, he concluded with three questions:

1. “Are we open to people?” We want to be relevant not on the world’s terms, but with genuine life.

2. “Are you alive in Christ?”

3. “Are people miracles or obstacles?”

***

Will this congregation grow? Who knows? There are so many factors. But what I loved about the message was that Tertin clearly desires to get below the superficial. There are all kinds of things that a church can do with branding and music styles and preaching that may grow a crowd, but it’s relationships with people that bring life change.

This was a very encouraging message.