I recently spoke on ‘Planting Biblically-Rooted Churches’ at an East of Scotland Gospel Partnership conference on church planting in Edinburgh entitled In This City. I thought I would share some extracts from that talk on contextualization over the coming weeks.
I remember my first experience of church planting. We met in the village hall on Sunday mornings for a 45-minute sermon and in the evenings in a home to pray together and encourage one another. And then the ‘plant’ became a ‘church’ and that meant two ‘services’ in the hall. Out went the corporate prayer and mutual encouragement. In came another 45-minute sermon. Everyone said how they missed the evening meeting in a home, but no-one thought for a moment that it might be possible to continue it. A church – a proper church – has two services on a Sunday.
Here are some dangers when planting a church:
- to replicate your sending church or your past experience of church (a replica church)
- to plant a church defined by what it is not (a reactionary church)
- to plant the church you and friends always wanted to be part of (ideally suited to Christians, but not missional)
- to attempt to reproduce exactly what went on in the first century apostolic churches (restorationist church which tend to be inward-looking)
- to plant a church which is so ‘incarnational’ or ‘missional’ or ‘contextualized’ that it assimilates to the wider culture (and so in the end has nothing to offer)
This means we need what John Stott called ‘double listening’ – listening to the world and listening to the word. We need to understand the world we’re trying to reach and we need to understand the word we proclaim so that we bring them together. And by understanding the world I mean the specific context in which you’re working.
It also means that contextualization is not simply about adapting to the culture. More importantly it is about understanding the culture so that you can identify the ‘bite point’ – the moments were the gospel challenges the culture, offering good news and calling for repentance. Contextualization is not just about how we can be like the culture. It is also about identifying where the gospel is different from the culture.
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