The Context of Church Planting
On the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised (for he who worked through Peter for his apostolic ministry to the circumcised worked also through me for mine to the Gentiles), and when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.
(Galatians 2:7-10 ESV)
See the one, glorious, true, historic, singular, unchanging gospel contextu- alized within distinct people groups to the glory of God.
Holding tightly on one hand to the essential elements of the one gospel and on the other to the ever-changing realities of context leads to tension.
The danger of Church Planting is to either over contextualize on the one hand, and under contextualize on the other.
Under contextualizing can be understood if we look at Islamic evangelism. Those who wish to convert to Islam are told that Arabic is the proper language if you want to know God, for example. The cultural context of Islam is seen as the correct context. No innovation is allowed; no even minor alteration is tolerated.
Our American and English missionaries in the last century went to India, China, and Africa and brought our language, our music, our customs, our practice of liturgy to those places. We required people from these cultures to adopt our ways in order for them to know Christ.
This is not God’s way. God in his grace has always been contextualizing. The Son of God – the Incarnation – IS God contextualizing. God became a man. In the Old Covenant evangelism was centripetal – the nations coming to Jerusalem. Proselytes were to become culturally Jews (ie: circumcision, adherence to the Law)
Figure out what people want to hear and then go back to the gospel and amend it so it is popular. The “prosperity gospel,” the gospel of health, wealth, and happiness is an example of over contextualizing.
In 21st century American life we no longer preach the Word of God, we no longer preach the atonement, we no longer preach so much as we “dialog”.
1. Get the Gospel down
• Know what the doctrines are, unchanging • Know what the rhythms are, unchanging • Know what the means of grace are, unchanging
First, you need to know what THE GOSPEL is. What elements are eternal truth and what is negotiable? What things carry over into any context of the church and are universal? As a planter, get the gospel down. Understand and embrace and hold tightly to what is non-negotiable.
2. Get your people group down
• Know how they function • Know their biblical literacy • Know their cultural icons • Know their sin • Know how they have been sinned against • Know their fears • Know the lies that they have been told
• Preach repentance of their sin • Do not make gospel issues out of non-gospel issues • Be willing to shut down/replant your church when your people group doesn’t exist anymore
At the same time, get your people down. Know who lives around your church and what the content of their lives is so you can engage wisely with the people group you’re approaching. Get to know the cultural icons of the people you are approaching. (like talking about the Red Sox with your people because they know what it means to be under an unbreakable curse for 86 years and then experience the thrill of victory when someone breaks the curse; and then relate that to Jesus). Get to know their sins (prejudices, morays, etc.), get to know how they’ve been sinned against (culturally, ethnically, sexually, etc.), get to know their fears, get to of
There comes a time in the life of every church when the context we began with no longer exists. Every church needs to evaluate the context around them over and over and over to be sure that the context they were planted to reach is still there to be reached.
REPENTANCE LEADING TO REFORMATION
• Pride (your culture is superior to others) • Fear (gospel will be compromised if contextualized) • Laziness • Lack of love (for your people group)
• Ashamed of the gospel (fear or want approval of culture) • Lack of faith (in the sufficiency of the gospel)
We pastors and planters need to repent of our pride, our fear, our laziness, our lack of love if we tend to be non-contextualizers. The pride that says “I know how it should be done” is a killer. The fear that something important will be lost if I go to the context of the people group around us. The laziness that says “I’ve got my system down. I don’t need to learn the next context.” The lack of love for a people group. We need to repent of these. Those among us who over-contextualize must not be ashamed of the gospel or edit the gospel just to claim a people group. We also need to have faith in the sufficiency of the gospel and believe that Jesus way is still the best.