Contextualization is not Optional
There’s more to church planting and pastoring than meets the eye. Those seeking to fulfill the Great Commission are in a constant state of study and exegesis, not only of Scripture of but of the culture in which one lives. The church planter is constantly asking questions such as “Who lives here?”, “What do they value?”, “What are the obstacles to the gospel here?”, and “How can I speak and live in such a way as to really connect with this community?”
On one occasion the Apostle Paul gave real insight into exactly what he was doing and how he was so successful in his ministry. He said, “I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some” (1 Cor. 9.22). Today, this is commonly referred to as the contextualization of the gospel.
Contextualization is not optional! A church that does not seek to contextualize itself, its ministries, the gospel message, and every other avenue of communication inevitably creates more barriers than bridges for the advancement of the gospel in our communities. One size does not fit all. One way will not work. One model is not enough. What works to advance the Kingdom in one place may not actually work in another.
“I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some” (1 Cor. 9.22)
Our desire is to continue to see thousands of churches planted all over the globe and millions of people come to faith in Jesus Christ, deepen their relationship with the One who gave his life for them, and serve on his mission.
We don’t want to see churches planted that just share our theological convictions. Certainly theological clarity and unity is essential, but so much more is required of us in order to be effective at reaching the specific places that God has uniquely placed us. Cross-cultural missionaries have been doing this for thousands of years. They venture into a new country and learn the language as well as the theological, philosophical, political, and overall worldviews and ideas that shape that culture. Then, the gospel is proclaimed in ways that don’t give it new meaning, but rather in ways that take more ground because the missionaries are speaking directly to that culture in that place at that time. Church planters and pastors are to do the same. Successful church planters are successful because they are doing everything with the utmost intentionality — namely, they consider the enormous task of contextualization and then by the power of the Holy Spirit, engage that community with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
What works in Manhattan will probably not work in Hueytown, Alabama. This is because of how vastly different the cultures really are. There are different kinds of people groups, rhythms of life, belief systems, values, political affiliations, and so forth represented within each ecosystem.