Published On: November 15th, 20215791 words29 min read

On this episode of Indoubt, Daniel speaks with Darryl Dash. Darryl is author of How to Grow: Applying the Gospel to All of Life. He is also a pastor. Darryl speaks about “Relevance” in relation to church and culture. How do we remain relevant within our culture? The goal is to bring the gospel to people without conformity while remaining relevant.

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Daniel Markin:

Hey, this is Daniel Markin. And on this week of Indoubt, I have a conversation with Darryl Dash. He’s a Church Planner, Pastor in the Toronto area, in Liberty Village. And we’re talking about the church, and how it engages with culture, this idea of relevance. And how do you be relevant to a culture that is increasingly hostile to Christians? So I hope you find this episode helpful. It’s filled lots of different practical nuggets, as well as an encouraging message.

Daniel Markin:

Hey, welcome to Indoubt. My name’s Daniel Markin, and I’m joined today by Darryl Dash. Darryl, how you doing today?

Darryl Dash:

Good. It’s good to be with you. Thanks for having me today.

Daniel Markin:

Yeah, it’s good to be with you, too. You are in Toronto area, is that correct?

Darryl Dash:

I am in Liberty Village, which is downtown Toronto. Technically, it’s not downtown Toronto, but it’s downtown Toronto. So, we are maybe a 20 minute walk to the CN Tower. Yeah. It’s a great community here.

Daniel Markin:

That’s awesome. And is that where you live, or is that where you’re working with your church?

Darryl Dash:

It is both.

Daniel Markin:

Okay.

Darryl Dash:

So we planted a church here. We just had our eighth anniversary; and part of planting the church is we moved into the community. It’s kind of a weird community. Even though it’s downtown Toronto, it really is aptly named. It is a little village within Toronto. So, we learned when we were planting the church, the first year we were still outside of the community; and the minute people found that out, you could see their eyes glaze over. Right? The conversation was over. And so, we quickly realized we have to move in, to be part of the community here.

Daniel Markin:

Well, thank you for being on the program, and thank you for joining us today. We’re going to be talking about relevance, and how the church is to be relevant, and the relationship with church and culture. You recently wrote an article on Gospel Coalition Canada, called The Relevance Trap. And I kind of just want to follow sort of that, that sort of theme; because the way Christians orient themselves to culture is something that we’ve been trying to figure out for a long time. And you go backwards and forwards, between knowing that as Christians we’re to be different from our culture. At the same time, there’s a sense of assimilating, being a part of, cultivating, in the city to which the Lord brought you into exile. Right? Just to use the language from Jeremiah; you want to interact with culture, be part of the culture.

Daniel Markin:

So, as you interact and be part of the culture, for example, down in Toronto where you are, and some of the work that I do here in Vancouver. We’ll use the language of relevance. How do you stay relevant? And so, I’d just love to hear… Briefly, when you wrote that article, and you understand the idea of relevance. How did you come to the conclusions, and how do you continue to come to the conclusions that you come to, about being in the church, being relevant, but then also as you say, being strange?

Darryl Dash:

There was a time when you could really assume that if we kind of speak the language of culture, and make things appealing, so that when people come in, they really appreciate the music, they appreciate the coffee, they appreciate the quality of speaking. I think there was the assumption that, “And then we can just help them understand the Christian worldview. And there’ll be enough overlap that people can say, ‘I kind of get this. It makes sense.'” And maybe they won’t believe, but at least they’ll feel like it was relevant to them.

Darryl Dash:

What I’m discovering is, and maybe it’s being in a very post-Christian area like I am. What we believe is very, very strange; and there’s really no way to make it… You can make it comprehensible, but there’s no way to make it make sense to people. So, when you talk about the fact that some of the stuff we believe that there is a God. Okay. I think people generally are okay believing that; but then you go on and say…

Darryl Dash:

By the way, I’ve been surprised by that. I’ve been surprised by how few atheists I meet in a very post-Christian area; which is kind of interesting, right? There’s still this belief that there is a God or the supernatural, but then when you get down to the details of, “And He became a man. God, the Son, became a man, and He died and rose from the grave, and ascended to heaven, and He reigns over everything.” People just look at you like, “What are you talking about?” They kind of accept it, because I think on one hand, there’s this idea that you can believe whatever works for you, but it’s strange.

Darryl Dash:

And then all the other things we do are really strange. Right? I’m Baptist. So, like a lot of people, like a lot of dominations, we baptize people by immersion. There’s no way to not make that strange.

Daniel Markin:

Yeah.

Darryl Dash:

And just really, everything that we do; we get together and sing. If you’re at a soccer game, it’s kind of normal that you sing. But if you get a bunch of people together who hardly know each other, and say, “Okay, let’s sing together.” That’s kind of weird, especially if you’re sober. That’s kind of weird, right?

Daniel Markin:

Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

Darryl Dash:

There’s so much of what we do that’s weird. And I think we need to own that weirdness, and say, “Yeah. This is going to be weird.” The more secular our society gets in post-Christian, the more we just have to accept that all that stuff’s going to be really weird.

Daniel Markin:

Yeah, definitely. And it’s funny, because it kind of speaks to something that I think about, which is in the end, everybody wants to be cool. I had a professor who’s hilarious in college; he was an education professor. So I was, at one point, studying to become a teacher. And he totally dressed like a teacher: khakis, dress shirt tucked in. He had this big, long moustache. And he was very aware of the fact that he was very uncool, and that every student in that class wanted to be cool. And then ultimately, be relevant to their students.

Daniel Markin:

And I just remember offhandedly one day, he said, “The goal in life just to be cool; for we are nothing, if not cool.” And just as he said it, he kind of locked eyes with me. I don’t know if he was trying to make a… aiming the comment at me, but I thought it was one of the mast hilarious things. But part of me also… Deep down, everyone wants to be cool, but each one of us really isn’t that cool.

Daniel Markin:

Every one of us is weird. Every one of us has different quirks and different things that make people feel uncomfortable, or things that are strange, whether it be things like types of food you like, types of media that you enjoy watching; just completely different. And it is funny though, how everyone wants to be cool, wants to be relevant. Why do you think that is? Is it just out of a place of wanting to be accepted by others? Because then how do you reconcile that with another half of the culture who thinks it’s not cool to be religious, right? Because right now, oh, it’s kind of popular to be spiritual. Then you might be cool with that crowd, but then you’re not relevant with the other crowd. So then, where do you define relevance?

Darryl Dash:

So Daniel, it’s interesting what you say about coolness. There’s nothing more pathetic than somebody who’s not cool who’s trying to be cool. And we know those people; if that high school teacher you had was trying to be really cool, that would’ve been really sad. In a way, what made him cool is that he stopped playing that game. And he was just like, “Man, I don’t even care anymore. This is who I am, and I’m just going to be myself.”

Darryl Dash:

So I think that’s where we have to land as Christians. I was reading a book called Analog Church; and the book begins with a guy who was a seeker, who was checking out churches. And he went to a couple churches, and they had the whole show going on. Right? They had the very cool music. They had the light show. They had the amazing speaker.

Darryl Dash:

And his guy, who produced professional events said, “I don’t need more of that. I’m actually looking for something different. I’m looking for something I can’t get on a Saturday night that I produce. I’m looking for something completely other than that.” And it was really interesting, because we think the world is looking for more cool. And I think what they’re looking for… There is so much cool available in this world.

Daniel Markin:

Yeah. Yeah.

Darryl Dash:

I’m in Toronto, and I’m often hit, same with probably most of wherever you’re listening to this. Right? All of our cities, Vancouver, it doesn’t matter where you live; there is so much stuff that you can do. And we don’t need more entertainment. We don’t need more slickly produced stuff. I think we’re looking for something transcendent. And that’s what you can’t find anywhere else.

Darryl Dash:

And by the way, I just have to… I was on the cool train for a while, trying to be cool, trying to… My whole model of ministry was, “How can we make this attractive to unbelievers?” And I switched that. I think now it’s like, “How can we make this inviting and comprehensible, but own the strangeness of that?” And just realizing what people need is, they need genuine relationships. They need to be welcomed. They need to be treated with respect. What they don’t need though, is our desperate efforts to out-compete with what the world is doing, and providing an entertaining experience.

Darryl Dash:

And a few years ago, somebody told me, “You can’t make the Bible relevant. The Bible is relevant.” By very definition, the Bible is more relevant than anything we could ever make up. We never have to make the Bible relevant. It is relevant. We just have to show its relevance. We have to show how it applies to every part of life. And the cool thing about scripture is, you get into it and you say, “There’s no way. How could you make anything more relevant than this?” It speaks to life more profoundly than anything else the world could offer. So, we don’t have to make it relevant, we just have to actually show how relevant it is. So yeah, I’ve switched my goal from trying to be relevant to, “Let’s us be inviting and welcoming, and show how scripture is relevant.”

Daniel Markin:

It sounds like what you’re suggesting is, “Let’s make the message the most important thing. Let’s make people the most important the thing. And if cool people show up, great. If uncool people show up, great. That’s not what we’re doing.” And in many ways, I think when we try and do that, we’re trying to play by the culture’s rules, which are always changing, and it’s impossible to keep up.

Darryl Dash:

So Paul, we’re studying 1 Corinthians right now. And chapter two has always puzzled me, because Paul says, “I didn’t come to you with lofty words of wisdom. I came to you with fear and trembling,, basically.” And it’s always bugged me, because it’s like, “Man, if anybody could show up and give a compelling talk, it probably was Paul.” He had been trained. He knew rhetoric. He knew all that stuff. Right?

Darryl Dash:

And it always bugged me, because I used to teach preaching. It would always be like, “Are we supposed to not care about how we present ourselves?” Well, I finally figured out, I think what Paul was talking about. In Corinth, the cool people were the people who were trained in rhetoric, right?

Daniel Markin:

Mm-hmm.

Darryl Dash:

In that culture, that was the celebrity of the day. And so, Paul was saying, “Look. You guys have a culture that’s built around cool celebrities. I can play that game, but I’m choosing not to. Because what you win them by is what you win them to. If you win people by being cool, you’re winning them not to Christ, but to your coolness.” Paul showed up there and says, “Look guys. I’m not even going to play that game of trying to be cool, and to measure up to what your standards of celebrity are. I’m going to show up with the foolish message of the gospel, which makes no sense to anybody. And I’m going to own, that because that’s going to change the world.”

Darryl Dash:

So yeah, I was really struck by that. I had never been able to put that together. I think what Paul was saying there is, “There’s something much better than being cool or relevant. And that’s the foolish message of the cross that nobody thinks is cool. But it really is the hope of the world.”

Daniel Markin:

I totally see where Paul’s coming from, because that culture was a culture of sophists. Right? And they were like what you mentioned, the ancient rock stars. You would go from town to town, almost like Ted Talks. Right? And you’d give a Ted Talk. And that was what people did instead of going to the movie theater. They’d go see the newest person giving Ted Talk. And how do you balance doing things really well, and also doing things really honestly? Because you want to prepare for things, but you don’t want to be so polished that it’s now inauthentic. But you don’t want to be so under-prepared, that it’s awful. How do you balance that?

Darryl Dash:

It’s a tough balance. To be honest, we err on the side… We try to do things well; but whenever we have a conflict between what would be real and what would be slick, we always go the real route. And we tell our people it’s actually not because we’re sloppy, it’s because… I’ll give you an example. We have a guy who reads scripture, and he’s just somebody that is so important to our church, but he is really not a marketable presence. He’s not somebody that people would be drawn to. He’s not… He’s uncool to be frank. And we purposely put him up there to read scripture fairly regularly, because we want to make the statement that, “You are welcome here. You don’t have to be cool to be part of our church.”

Darryl Dash:

Our community is so brutal. One time there was somebody who committed a crime, and he was caught on camera; and he really didn’t look that cool. And it was posted on our community Facebook group. And somebody said, “How did that guy even get in Liberty Village? We don’t let those people into Liberty Village.”

Darryl Dash:

And as a church, we want to say, we want… Again, 1 Corinthians, right? The end of chapter one, not many of you were the A-list people of society; and God chooses the nobodys to confound the whys. And so, we want to be a church that if we have to choose between being slick and being real, we go real every time. And not that we’re sloppy; we try to do things well. But if you want to play relevant, I think actually what the world needs, that’s actually more relevant than coolness, is just people being real. So exactly what we were talking about earlier, just like, “This is me. This is you. Let’s drop the mask. Let’s create an environment of safety, where you can admit that you’re not perfect, where you don’t have to be Instagramable, and you’ll be welcome here.” I think that has a lot of power to it.

Daniel Markin:

It does. It reminds me of in 1 John, where John talks about walking in the light. And this idea that walking in the light isn’t sinlessness, but it’s actually honesty; being honest with yourself, and being honest with one another about your broken self. And that sounds super trendy. Funny enough, because you mentioned this idea of being real, and we’ve been talking about this. People love to say that. They love to say, “Oh, let’s be real.” Or, “That person was fake. That person was real.” They already want that. And by virtue of how Christianity operates by walking in the light, we’re actually forced to do that.

Daniel Markin:

You could have really tight, tight theology, but if you aren’t walking in the light, right, if that’s not actually transforming the way you live in an honest way, you have bad theology. Because your theology actually should cause you to live in that real and honest way. And so, what does it look like for a church to proclaim that real message? And we’ve just been kind of building towards this, communicating a real message that it seems like every day, it’s more out of step with the culture. It’s more irrelevant, right? It’s almost like our message day by day by day, is aggressive to our culture. And maybe you feel that in Toronto; I definitely feel that in Vancouver. How do we continue to proclaim a faithful gospel message?

Darryl Dash:

That’s such a good question. So here’s how I think of it. I don’t know that I have the best answer, but I talked to some couples who met online, and did the dating thing. And they’d done it a couple times, and they kind of got tired of playing the game. And so what they did was… A good friend of mine, he’s married to this woman now, but the first date, they met online, they had a meeting. First date, he’s like, “Let me give you all the reasons in the first date that you might not want a second date. I’m not going to play the games of putting on my best front, and having 10 dates with you, and then dropping, “Oh, by the way, I believe… Or, this is what’s going on in my life. Right up front, I want to be honest with you enough to not pull a bait and switch.”

Darryl Dash:

And so, one of the things we’ve tried to practice is, without turning people off… You obviously don’t want to overwhelm people, but right up front, just saying, “Look. I don’t want to do a bait and switch. I don’t want to present to you that we’re one thing, and then later on you guys find out we’re not. Let me be honest right front about where we’re coming from.” So I find that really helps. And it scares people off. It doesn’t work with everybody. But I think having that honesty…

Darryl Dash:

I was listening to a podcast series. I don’t know if you listen to it, Startup. They did a whole series on church plants. And one of the criticisms they did, it was a secular podcast. It was really interesting that they did one of their whole seasons on a startup being a church. And one of the criticisms that they levelled during the season was, all these people that came into a church. And it was only about six months in, that they found out, “Oh. We had no idea you believe this stuff. If we had known up front, that would’ve changed everything.” So I think a very valid complaint is, “Let’s not be dishonest about that. Let’s be really upfront.”

Darryl Dash:

On the other hand, and this is going to counterbalance it a little bit; I love what Tim Keller does in his preaching. He will say right up front, “Okay, this is going to be awkward.” Or, “What you’re going to hear right now is going to seem really weird. And let me tell you why it’s not as weird as you think.” And then he begins to use, I think the overlap between culture and Christianity, and show how Christianity is actually the better story.

Darryl Dash:

And I think I’ve learned a lot from him, on how he approaches things. He’s written about this too, but just be upfront about the weirdness. And then, as you approach the weirdness, just to say, “Hey guys. Today’s passage is going to be super uncomfortable. It’s going to sound really strange. Hang in there. It’s actually much better than you think. In fact, it’s going to give you a better story than this world does. So let’s dig in, and let’s begin to look at it.” So I think the combination of that honesty and then just owning the awkwardness really seems to resonate with people.

Daniel Markin:

Yeah. And unashamed, gospel proclamation through that; because you’ve already asked for their permission, because it’s going to be awkward in a sense. And so, now there’s nothing holding back from you giving them the fullness of that message.

Daniel Markin:

And so you mentioned Tim Keller’s church in doing that; and he’s obviously retired now. I’ve always appreciated how he’s kind of coined the “third way” phrase, as I’ve seen it, where he’ll often… He’s like, “Here’s what our world believes. Here’s what our world thinks the church believes. Right? The super religious. But actually, what the church ought to believe is somewhere in the middle.” And I find that tends to speak to both sides, and both critical sides of people saying, “Well, you didn’t go too far enough.” Or, “You went too far.” There is a middle way that I think is a way of balance, and I think ultimately, a way of unity in the church as well.

Daniel Markin:

What are some other churches that you’ve seen doing this well? But also, what are some practical ways that Christians can begin to, maybe if there’s someone who’s in a ministry listening to this, or thinking about just how they live their lives, their personal lives; what are some practical ways to begin to live lives that are honest and yet relevant? Kind of what we’re talking about; just looking for real practical nuggets of being a Christian in today’s secular world.

Darryl Dash:

The other guy… I know a few churches doing this well. The other guy that I know who writes about this well is Trevin Wax. A couple of his recent books have been about telling a better story than the world tells; so he’d be worth checking out. And then, I find that any city center church or downtown church: Vancouver, Toronto, whatever, Montreal, doesn’t matter, that is reaching young people, generally, I find that they’re learning how to do this. So probably look up some of those churches, and see how they’re doing it.

Darryl Dash:

In terms of the… And this is going to be… I wish I could give you just a really easy answer, Daniel. I think that I’ll just give you a couple that I find really help. One is, I think we need to become missiologists, amateur missiologists of our culture, and actually begin to look at what our culture believes, and why that story doesn’t work.

Darryl Dash:

And by that, I don’t mean we have to get all intellectual; but I belong to a book club. I used to belong to a book club in my community. One day I showed up there. I was the only guy that was there, and a couple of women show up, and they start beating up on me. They’re like, “You guys treat us like trash.” And they went on for about 20 minutes about how basically sex isn’t working for them, in the secular mind, and how it works out in the relationship, how hurt they are. And I walked away from that thinking, “Okay. I just got a window into how the world’s story about sexuality isn’t working for people. It’s supposed to be freeing and fulfilling, and it’s actually enslaving and damaging.”

Darryl Dash:

And so, how do we study culture, and figure out why the Christian story about sex is actually a better story? So that’s a lot of work. So I think one, just be a missiologist; and there’s all kinds of books that help you deal with that. And some of them are pretty accessible.

Darryl Dash:

The other thing I would say is, I like reading history. And part of the reason that I like reading history is it gets you out of our current era. We are weird. We live in a very unusual society, and we think it’s normal. And getting outside of our current era helps us to realize how kind of strange this current thing is, and helps us get it. You know the whole saying about, “Don’t ask a fish what water’s like?” You almost have to step outside of the fishbowl to see it. Right? I think that’s what history helps us do. It helps us step out, and see our culture for what it is, a little bit differently.

Darryl Dash:

But I feel frustrated, because both of those things are actually hard work. Right? I wanted to give you a bite size. I think it’s actually a lot of work. It takes a lot of thinking.

Daniel Markin:

And time.

Darryl Dash:

And time. Yeah. I think we need Christians who take this on, and within Canada, maybe they’ll even be a listener here who’s like, “What I need to do is to help the church begin to understand culture better, and how to speak to it in a way that makes sense of culture and tells a better story.” So, I think there’s a lot of work to be done there.

Daniel Markin:

Absolutely. You’re speaking my language, because I did a history degree. And it’s odd in the moment, because you’re studying old dead people, and their writing. But what’s really unique, is having done a history degree, now looking at our world, I just find I have an advantage that other people who don’t read history have, in the sense that you can see the patterns quicker. There’s alarming things that will pop up in a culture that you’re like, “Wait a minute. That happened, and that was bad. Wait a minute. When they did that, that was bad.” And it’s difficult not to become an alarmist, but you can almost sound prophetic, speaking to the culture, because it’s nothing new. You’re just like, “I’m just telling you what happened five times before, and how it hasn’t worked, and just humans repeat history.”

Daniel Markin:

And that’s the lesson that you learn in history, is humans are destined to repeat the mistakes. Even if they learn from them, it takes only like 70 years for them to redo the same mistakes. It’s a few generations who have forgotten. And so it is with Christians as well, that we forget.

Daniel Markin:

So I guess, just moving forward, and we’re kind of coming to the end of our time here. What is giving you hope these days for the church, as we think about the church trying to interact and be relevant with our secular world? Because it feels like there’s two kingdoms, right? It feels like there’s the kingdom of God that we are in the realm of. And then there’s the realm of the secular that we don’t have any authority in.

Daniel Markin:

I just share one thing that’s been encouraging to me is something that we touched on earlier, is that Christ sits in control of every ounce of culture. In fact, my understanding of… To Christ, there’s not two kingdoms; there’s one kingdom, it’s His kingdom, and there’s those who follow Him, believe in Him, and those who rebel against him. And just practically, that’s been encouraging to me to think through, that our role is to just follow Him, know Him, abide in Him and His kingdom, and He’s going to rule it as He will. But, how do you find that balance, and what has been given you hope in that?

Darryl Dash:

Oh, there’s a couple things that give me hope. So, I have to think about how old I am now. I’m 54 years old, so I’m getting old now. And I work with a lot of young church planters; and I am excited about the next generation. I’m really excited about… I just see some really… These guys that are planting churches now, they’re miles ahead of where I was at that age. And I’m just encouraged; and I see a lot of within the church, a lot of the younger generation actually leaning into the hard things that the Bible says, and that gives me a lot of hope.

Darryl Dash:

The other thing that gives me hope is, I think the darker our society gets… I don’t know if you listen to Mark Sayers from Australia.

Daniel Markin:

Yeah. Yeah.

Darryl Dash:

But he’s saying what we’re seeing right now is really the implosion of the secular worldview. Right? The post-Christian worldview is collapsing in on itself. And what an opportunity for the gospel; as everything is falling apart… A few years ago, I think it would’ve been easy to talk about how society’s progressing, and we’re eliminating all the problems, and things are getting better, not worse. Well, nobody can say that recently. What an opportunity for the gospel. I think when the gospel shone most brightly, it’s been in times of tumult and upheaval; and I think we’re going through one of these periods right now. So I remember…

Darryl Dash:

So, a guy from Vancouver challenged me one time. I was complaining about how hard ministry is these days. And he didn’t know I was complaining, but I think he had heard enough of people like me complaining. And he said, “I am so sick and tired of hearing people complain about the hardness of the soil. I wish I heard more people talk about the power of the gospel, and the Romans 1:16 thing. Right? This is the gospel. It outlasted the Roman Empire. It has overturned entire societies. It has spread throughout the whole world. And it can handle Canadian society right now. It is more than equal to change lives.”

Darryl Dash:

And from that day on, I can no longer complain about how hard it is, because I always think, “Man, I wish that I believed in the power of the gospel as much as I believed about the challenges of our time.” So I try to remember that, and remind myself of that when I begin to complain.

Daniel Markin:

Yeah. Definitely. And that takes faith. In the end, the Lord is all we have. And so, that’s a great note to end it on, is just believing in the power of the gospel. So, hey Darryl, thank you for your time. Sorry we’re kind of… We could keep going on this. I love talking about culture and the church; but thanks again for being on here, and we’ll talk soon.

Darryl Dash:

I loved talking to you. Thank you.

Daniel Markin:

Well, thank you again, Darryl, for being on the program; great conversation. Looking forward to hearing and seeing how your ministry flourishes in the days ahead, as we pray and think about of Canada, and being again relevant, but real to our culture. And I think we kind of got onto something there; that actually being relevant is being real, in the most real way. So, thank you for listening. I hope you find this helpful, and I look forward to seeing you next time. All the best.

Darryl Dash
Darryl DashPastor of Liberty Grace Church
Darryl Dash is author of How to Grow: Applying the Gospel to ALL of Life. He serves as pastor of Liberty Grace Church in Toronto. He is also cofounder of Gospel for Life, and director of Advance Church Planting Institute. He has a Doctor of Ministry degree from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and has over 25 years of ministry experience. Darryl is married to Charlene, and has two adult children, Christy and Josiah. You can find Darryl online at DashHouse.com.

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