Mission Briefing: Contextualization

By Howard Culbertson

When believers from one culture introduce the “unchanging gospel” to people of another culture, how do they keep the Good News from being dismissed as a foreign import? The short answer is one word: Contextualization.

When Christianity moves from one culture to another, there is danger that it will be thought of as belonging in the first culture, but very much out of place in the second one. The chances of that happening can be lessened if the Gospel will be proclaimed and lived out in culturally understandable ways. That process of meaningfully connecting biblical revelation to a specific culture is called “contextualization.”

Missiologist Darrell Whiteman said it this way: “Contextualization attempts to communicate the Gospel in word and deed and to establish the church in ways that make sense to people within their local cultural context.”

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Having the gospel “make sense” to people of a culture does not, of course, mean everyone will rush to embrace it. People must decide if they are willing to make the changes necessary for Jesus to be their Savior and Lord. That does not mean, of course, that people must abandon their ethnic or cultural identify to follow Jesus. Authentic contextualization is based on the premise that when people allow Christ’s transforming power into their lives, they will be even better Nicaraguans or Japanese or Bulgarians or Navajos than they were before.

Contextualization does not mean robbing the Gospel of its essence or “watering it down” to make it more palatable. On the contrary, good contextualization renders expressions of the “unchanging Gospel” more faithful to Scripture than they would otherwise be. Holy-Sprit-led contextualization allows Scripture to be as powerful and transformative in each cultural context as it can possibly be.

Proper contextualization moves gospel proclamation past a sense of foreignness to allow each people group to hear God say: “This is my design for you.” Contextualization allows people of a culture to see that Yahweh, Creator of the universe who reveals Himself in Jesus Christ, loves them and wants a relationship with them.

In tangible terms, contextualization involves the wording of theological expressions as well as things like sermon illustrations, music styles, artwork, decision-making, lifestyle choices, church programs and schedules, modes of preaching and teaching, the process of discipleship, evangelistic outreach, leadership selection and even architecture.

It must be clear says missions professor Zane Pratt, that the ultimate purpose of contextualization “is not comfort, but clarity.” Thus, authentic contextualization does not involve the softening or white-washing of Jesus’ radical commands. Indeed, contextualization enables the Gospel to be offensive to each culture for exactly the right reasons. Whiteman has said that good contextualization makes sure that the Gospel “engages people at the level of their deepest needs.”

Authentic contextualization must travel on two rails. One rail is an unwavering faithfulness to Scripture. The other rail is that of communicating and living out the Word of the Lord in ways that are familiar to people in a particular cultural context.

This article was originally posted at: Engage Magazine

7 Steps to Start Becoming a Church People Want to Commit To – Part 2 of 2

This is part two of the article published in the previous post.

4. Discover Your Calling – Then Be Good at It

Every leader and church needs to discover who you are and what you’re called to do. Then, do that and be that!

Giving people something worth committing to isn’t a matter of competing with the big church down the street. It’s not about offering nicer facilities, bigger events or even better preaching. It’s about discovering what God has called you and your church to be great at, then being great at that.

Excellence isn’t limited to churches with big budgets.

There’s no excuse for second-rate. It costs no more time or money to do it right. It just takes a full commitment.

5. Don’t Just Talk – Hang Out and Listen

No one wants a relationship in which one side does all the talking. We have TV and movies for that.

But even TV and movies are giving way to social media. One of the best parts about watching a show that has some social media buzz is chatting about it on Twitter and Facebook as it airs.

People want to engage with others, not just sit passively while someone else talks.

Sadly, the church does not have a reputation of being open to dialog – or to hard questions. And definitely not to criticism.

No, you don’t have to turn your sermon into a discussion group (although, some churches do that with great success), but there needs to be an easy and obvious way for people to engage, dialog, chat, hang out and feel like their life and their opinion matters.

And leaders, especially pastors of small churches, need to be engaged in those conversations. Listening, participating and learning, not just teaching.

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6. Keep Learning and Getting Better

I communicate, minister and lead much differently today than I when I started in pastoral ministry 35 years ago. In fact I do it differently than I did just ten years ago. And I expect to change at least as much in the next five years.

I now have over 30 years of ministry experience in addition to my formal ministry training. But that experience matters less today than it ever has. If I’m not constantly learning, listening and growing, I’ll fall behind very quickly.

But that shouldn’t intimidate us. Learning and growing is Discipleship 101. It’s central to being a follower of Jesus, let alone a church leader.

Jesus never made discipleship easy. He always inspired people to a bigger commitment by calling them to a greater challenge.

Too many leaders limit the expectations they have for their members to sitting in a pew and filling gaps in existing ministries. We think we can’t ask more of them because … well … they’re not even doing that!

But a lot of uncooperative church members and recently unchurched people aren’t as disinterested as we think. Like some of the rowdy kids in school, they’re not skipping class because we’re asking too much of them. They’re acting out because they’re not being challenged.

People are deciding that leaving church is better than being bored in church. I don’t blame them.

If we don’t challenge people through a genuine experience of worship, fellowship, discipleship and ministry, they’ll do one of four things: 1) go to a church that challenges them more, 2) go to a church that entertains them better, 3) show up physically, but disengage in every other way, or 4) stopping going to church entirely.

People want to go to a church where they’re challenged by something bigger than themselves and where their gifts are being used to further that cause.

If you ask small, you’ll get a small commitment. Ask large and your joy might be full.

7 Steps to Start Becoming a Church People Want to Commit To – Part 1 of 2

By Karl Vaters

People who don’t go to church, don’t want to go to church. They’re not rolling out of bed late on Sunday morning wishing they had somewhere more churchy to be.

In fact, a growing number of people who do go to church don’t want to go, either. If we don’t give them something worth committing to, they’ll be gone soon.

It’s not that people are less capable of making commitments than they used to be. They just commit differently. But too many churches haven’t caught up to that reality.

So how do we get people to commit to the church / ministry we lead? Especially when our church is small and struggling?

I don’t have all the answers, not by a long shot. But I’ve learned a handful of principles over three decades of ministry that have helped our church become a place people are excited to be committed to.

These steps won’t cost you any extra money and very little extra time – the extra time because of the learning curve. It’s not about adding to your already limited schedule and overtaxed budget. It’s not about doing things bigger. It’s about focusing on doing church better. Working smarter, not harder.

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Where Our Focus Needs to Be

But first, despite the title of this post, the challenge before us isn’t about getting people to go to church.

It’s about inspiring people to commit to

•Worshiping Jesus

•Genuine relationships with God’s people

•Making disciples

•Doing ministry for those in need

If your focus is trying to get people to commit to your Sunday service schedule, your denominational preference, maintaining your church building or anything like that, you might as well stop reading right now. In fact, you might as well close your church right now.

The days of people going to church for anything less than a genuine relationship with Jesus are over. Yes, there’s still a residue of those people, but they’re dying out – literally. And they won’t be replaced by a new group. Nor should they be.

But if you want people in your church because you have a passion to help them connect with Jesus and God’s family, read on.

1. Clear Away Anything that Isn’t Jesus

If people continue to go to church, it won’t be because they feel a sense of loyalty to a tradition most of them have never had in their lives to begin with. And it won’t be because they want to be entertained. They have better entertainment on the phone in their pocket than we can ever compete with.

The only thing that will get them out of their house and into our churches is if we give them a cause worth living (and dying) for. Namely, an authentic presentation of the gospel of Jesus – through our words and our lives.

If your generational traditions or your hip, new staging helps people do that, great! Keep doing it. But if not, don’t let your church’s personal preferences keep people from seeing Jesus.

Whether he’s hidden behind stained glass windows or laser lights and fog machines, anything that obscures Jesus instead of revealing him needs to be ditched.

2. Emphasize Relationships Over Spectacle or Tradition

For small churches especially, being a church that people want to commit to starts and ends with relationships.

We need to help people make connections to Jesus and each other.

We need to help people make connections to Jesus and each other. Then work together to build bridges with those outside the church walls.

Long after our traditions have grown stale and the spectacle has been replaced by a bigger show somewhere else, genuine relationships with Jesus and people will last.

3. Be Genuine

People are far less naïve than they used to be. They can spot phoniness in people very quickly.

This is especially important for church leaders, because we have a culture in which respect for leadership is lower than it has been in a loooong time – and mostly for good reasons.

Respect doesn’t come with the position of pastor or leader any more. In fact, it’s more likely to be viewed with skepticism than honor. That skepticism will only be overcome by practicing what we preach.

This article will continue in the next post.

15 Things I Want To Tell My Third Culture Kids

By Rachel Pieh Jones

I get to visit two of our Third Culture Kids in four days. And then in eleven days they will be ‘home’ for thirty days. Life is good. Until forty-five days from now. No, it will be good then too, just quieter and slightly more teary.

Part of me hesitates to hit the publish button today, it feels private. Is the internet the place for these things? But part of me thinks I’m not the only parent overwhelmed and honored and pumped up about raising TCKs. And this part of me wants to acknowledge that alongside other parents and our kids and to share in all the emotions of it. So here is some of what I want to say, and have said, to my own TCKs…

  1. You are the coolest kids on the planet. You cliff-jump and climb up and then down into active volcanoes. You flew internationally on your own before becoming a teenager. You sleep under the stars on the beach and know how to pee on a toilet or in a hole or behind a bush or where-there-is-no-bush.
  2. I know it is hard. I watched you, proud and teary, the first day of school when you didn’t know how to count to ten in French and on the first day of school in America when you didn’t know how to eat lunch in a cafeteria. I see your moments of hesitation when kids talk about something you don’t understand. I saw your shoulders droop that day you wore your traditional Djiboutian dress to church and then, once you saw how other kids were dressed, asked if you could take it off. I hear all three of you refer to a different place as home. 
  3. I don’t know what it is like. I know what it is like to parent a TCK but I don’t know what it is like to be a TCK. I’ve read books and listened to talks and attended seminars but you are forging a path I have not walked. I’ve got your back and I’ve got a box full of Kleenex and an ache in my belly from our shared laughter. I do not know what your particular journey is like but I will hold your hand, fierce, until the very end. 
  4. I am sorry for the things this life has taken from you. The names of all the friends you have said good-bye to are branded in my mind. Grandparents and cousins at your birthday parties and school events. The feeling of belonging to a specific place, house, culture, language. A mom who can be a parent chaperone without having an accent. Sports and musical and academic activities at which you naturally excel but will never fully experience. 
  5. I am thrilled for the things this life has given you. Adventure and a wide-cracked-open worldview. The opportunity to trust God when nothing around makes sense or when everything around makes sense. Friends all over the world of diverse faith and languages and skin colors and food preferences and economic levels. Multiple language fluency. Creativity and the intrinsic ability to look outside the box, to see from another person’s perspective. Real gratitude, stemming from an understanding that things are fleeting, gratitude for relationships and for time spent in togetherness. Adaptability. Courage. Courage. Courage. 

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  6. I want to hear from you. Tell me how hard it is, tell me the things you love, the things you wish were different, the things you would never change. I need to hear from you what it is like, I need you to be honest with me about the goods and the bads and then I need you to let me hold you. And I need you to hold me. 
  7. I cry for the choices we’ve made. And then I defend them with passion. It isn’t easy to parent a TCK, or any kind of kid, and I have wept tear-stains into our couches and our pillows and the shoulders of dad’s t-shirts. Sometimes I wonder if we have been crazy or irresponsible. But then I look at you and I cry again, good tears, because you are beautiful and complicated and deep and these choices have been part of forming you into you. 
  8. You are strong. You’ve been through evacuations and international moves and medical crises and hellos and goodbyes. You have tried new and scary things. You have laughed and cried but I haven’t heard you whine and complain. You have more than embraced life. 
  9. You are unique. No one else in the world has your story. And yet, you are part of an amazing community of people with stories similar to yours and stories different from yours, whom you can listen to and learn from. An oldie but a goodie. 
  10. You have built awesome memories. Remember the time you camped at Arta Plage and the flood came and the French military rescued you? Remember the time you carried baby God through the neighborhood in Balbala, head of a train of singing and clapping families? Remember meeting the Harlem Globe Trotters?
  11. You have grief. And that is okay, mom and dad are not afraid of it and we want carry it with you. 
  12. You are creative. 
  13. You are empathetic. 
  14. You are wise. 
  15. I am beyond proud of you.

You know that book, I Love You to the Moon? Well, I love you to Somaliland. And Kenya. And France. And Djibouti. And Minnesota. And anywhere else. And back.

This article was originally posted at: http://www.djiboutijones.com/2013/03/1-things-i-want-to-tell-my-third-culture-kids/

Five Ways to Invest in the Next Generation of Leaders – Part 2 of 2

This is part two of the article published in the previous post.

  1. See them as individuals and develop their gifts.

People have a deep desire to be known individually—their unique experiences, gifts, and passions. As you spend time with the next generation of leaders, point out what makes them unique and help them identify and develop their gifts and abilities. Encourage their strengths and affirm when you see them excelling in their gifts. When possible, provide roles to help them develop their strengths.

As I get to know the people in my new small group, I can’t wait to get a fuller picture of what makes each person unique, encouraging each one in their strengths. One young man has spunk and grit, and he will make a fierce leader one day. A young woman has wisdom beyond her years, and one day she will help an organization navigate wisely through a hard season. Yet another young man a free spirit, and one day he’ll remind the church to shake off our tired routines and fall in love with Jesus in a fresh new way. Each young person is made individually and by God for a unique impact in the world. I want to help each one move closer to their unique gifts and calling and watch them come alive.

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  1. Build relationships.

In Mark 3:14, Jesus didn’t just appoint the 12 disciples to go out—he appointed them “that they might be with him.” And Jesus didn’t just bring the disciples around when he was about to teach or perform a miracle. He shared meals with them, travelled with them, and met their families (Matthew 8:14).

The next generation of leaders look up to you, and want to know how you do what you do. They need to see who you are when you’re not in “ministry mode.” How do you balance work, family, and friends? How do you respond when you’re stressed? How do you take care of yourself? What does your marriage look like? Who are your closest friends, and how do you support one another?

Your greatest ministry doesn’t come from the stage. It comes when others witness the thousands of everyday moments when the character of Christ is being formed in you. Allow these young people to see your real life. They don’t just need to learn ministry skills; they need to develop the character that supports the work God wants to do in and through them. Invite them into your home for dinner, let them run errands with you, and provide an inside look into how God is at work in your everyday, messy, chaotic life.

  1. Take a risk and be okay with mess.

If you’re going to take a risk in ministry, let it be on believing in people. Development as a leader is messy and these young people will make mistakes along the way. With your care and guidance, those mistakes will turn into learning opportunities that propel them toward even greater leadership.

I was 23 when I started my first job working with a college ministry. I remember the first couple of times I taught at our weekly gathering, and I wince now to think of how it went. But since then, thanks to more and more opportunities to practice and receive feedback, I’ve grown to be much more confident and effective in teaching.

An omnipotent and omniscient God still chooses to work out His purposes through flawed humans because he knows that we’ll grow and develop to be even more effective leaders through the process. How much more should we be willing to take risks and give young people the chance to learn and grow! Reaffirm that you still believe in them, help them learn from their mistakes, and give them a seat at the table with you.

This article was originally posted at: http://www.christianitytoday.com/women-leaders/2017/march/five-ways-to-invest-in-next-generation-of-leaders.html

Five Ways to Invest in the Next Generation of Leaders – Part 1 of 2

By Laura Copeland

Practical tips for raising up more people in ministry

Recently, I started helping with a small group for university students. I’m only a few weeks in, but I’m already in love with them. They’re smart, passionate, kind, creative, and fun to be around. They are crazy about Jesus, and they love the church. They love deeply and care for each other incredibly well. When I look around this small group of students, I see unlimited potential.

As we were leaving after our second meeting, one of them asked me, “Are you sure you want to take us on as a small group? I mean, we’re a little crazy.” I smiled, and told her I wouldn’t have it any other way. As I drove home, I started dreaming and praying about how to help them unleash their God-given gifts to make an even greater impact in the world. These students are the future of the church, and that gives me incredible hope.

An essential ingredient for healthy leadership is the ability to raise up other leaders. This is discipleship at its best: raising up the next generation of leaders in the church who will carry on the mission and vision of Jesus. When we develop leaders, we take the cap off our own leadership capacity and exponentially increase our ability to influence the world around us through discipleship.

In my experience, I’ve found that this generation of young people eagerly look for people to invest in them and challenge them. Here are five tips to help you recruit and invest in the next generation of leaders:

  1. Believe in their potential.

Stop looking for existing leaders, and start looking for passion and natural influence. When he or she speaks up, do their peers listen? Does they ask questions and demonstrate interest in a particular area of ministry? If so, they are exactly who you need to spend more time with. They might not have experience, but maybe that’s because they haven’t been given a chance yet.

A person needs someone to believe in them and tell them they have what it takes. When I was starting out in ministry, I had an incredible boss who saw something in me that I couldn’t yet see in myself. He believed in me, and kept giving me new opportunities that stretched me and helped me grow. If he hadn’t believed in my potential, I would never have developed into the leader I am today. Give a young person the gift of believing in them self, and watch them rise to the occasion.

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  1. Recruit to vision, not to need.

Would you rather help set up chairs, or be part of creating an environment for genuine and authentic community where lives are changed? If we’re in event or ministry planning mode, we often see a list of tasks that need to be done. Then we go about trying to make sure all the tasks are completed. Sure, someone needs to set up chairs, but no one is inspired by that task! Instead, cast vision for how each task helps to accomplish the vision. Specifically, learn to cast vision for how your ministry changes lives.

I work with small groups, and I absolutely believe that small groups are the life of the church. If our small groups aren’t healthy, our church isn’t healthy. Whenever I meet someone who I think could be a potential volunteer, I start sharing my heart for small groups. If I see them get excited about the vision of healthy small groups, then I start sharing a little bit more about what our small-group ministry team does and ask if they would consider being part of how we’re changing lives through small groups. Always lead with vision, not needs. Once someone buys into your vision, they’ll be willing to meet any and every need that comes up. Show them the impact their life can have if they join your team, and you’ll find a loyal team member who will stick with you in the trenches.

This article will continue in the next post.

Towards Missional Effectiveness: Analogizing and Applying Missional Effectiveness – Part 7 of 7

By Ed Stetzer

Yo-Yos, newer churches, and established churches

Missional effectiveness begins with a biblical understanding of the message and movement of the missio Dei, which hopefully leads a church to become a missional people who embrace a missional posture and who enact a missional program.

So, how does this series about missional effectiveness apply to the local church today? My goal in this post is to answer this question with an analogy and application.

Analogy of a Fully-Orbed Mission

When we think of becoming a missionally effective church—whether we are a newer or established church—picture a yo-yo in motion.

  • The string is the mission (since it is the string being advanced).
  • The yo-yo (circular ball) is the church that has a centripetal and centrifugal movement (weight) that moves outward and inward.
  • The finger within the circular string represents a church held and captivated by mission. [Note: A church outside the string, not captivated and held by the mission, is a church that exists as a monument and not a movement, and according to many missiologists like Lesslie Newbigin isn’t really a church.]

[To get a visual of what a master “yo-yoer” looks like, see this TED video]

Here’s how the analogy works. In a non-movement state, the yo-yo exists as a missional community (people) captivated by mission in its local environment. In this state, it has a strong community held tight by the string (mission).

As the yo-yo is put into motion and begins extending, it manifests the missional mark of sentness (posture). Thus, it signifies a church sent on mission. When the yo-yo reaches its extended state, the yo-yo exhibits the missional mark of multiplication (program), for it becomes a church extending mission to the ends of the earth.

By centrifugally ‘going out,’ the yo-yo has a centripetal force of ‘coming back’ to its established position.

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Application of a Fully Orbed Mission

How do newer and established churches fare in being missionally effective? What follows is a list of the strengths and weaknesses newer and older churches possess with regard to missional effectiveness.

Newer churches tend to have the following strengths:

  • A strong missional program of evangelism and an acute awareness of living sent.
  • A mentality of ‘Go and Tell’ rather than ‘Come and See.’ The reality is that newer churches will not survive if they do not reach people.
  • A passion and vision to reach out to unbelievers and the unchurched. For example, in one study of established churches, there are 3.4 baptisms per one hundred resident members, but new churches average 11.7 baptisms per year. In short, new churches reach new people.
  • A desire to become part of the rhythms of the local community and find ways to serve the community.
  • A flexibility to contextualize to the present culture rather than the culture of two or three decades ago.

However, newer churches tend to have the following weaknesses:

  • A lack of structure and organization. In other words, they tend to have weak community. I have found that many new churches struggle with developing teams, leaders, systems, and processes that help facilitate ministry and mission. They struggle with foundation, and therefore are in need of creating centered-set primary theological boundaries, as well as a solid structure that includes governance, systems, and processes.
  • A lack of macro multiplication. In other words, they tend to never parent another church. While it seems newer churches are better at multiplying in a micro way (making disciples), I would like to see more of them multiply in a macro way (church plants).

Established churches tend to have the following strengths:

  • A strong centripetal pull through the foundation they have laid—usually through their programs, systems, processes, and structures.
  • A solid financial base with resources to fund mission acvity and global missions.
  • A stable, consistent presence in the community. In some cases, the church has become an anchor in the community.

However, established churches tend to have the following weaknesses:

  • A difficulty to multiply in both micro and macro ways. There’s no denying that the majority of established churches in the West are in trouble. Thousands close each year, while others struggle to maintain or slow down the decline. Typically, the longer a church has been established, the more mission drift occurs. Based on research, churches that are not involved in multiplication, especially in church planting, are unhealthier than those who are. Thus, they could use more intentionality in their missional posturing and programming.
  • An inward focus. Many established churches typically have lost sight of the mission. Rather than being motivated by mission, often they are motivated to maintain their traditions, preferences, culture, and systems. They fall into the same trap as the church in Jerusalem; they go overboard on their foundation and end up protecting and preserving their culture and homogeneity at the expense of mission. (Unfortunately, churches often choose maintenance over mission.)
  • Allow a clergification to set in where the paid clergy does all the work while the members sit by consuming and watching.
  • Prohibitive leadership. Although there may be a solid foundation with strong leadership, in some cases, established churches are controlled by what Mark DeVine calls “lay cartels” that act as the powerbrokers of the church that prohibit leadership and mission advancement.

Why do I share all of this? My goal is to show areas where churches exhibit strength while noting areas where churches can improve. My intention in listing the weaknesses isn’t shame, but brutal honesty. If you are a pastor or church leader, it may be helpful to talk through these posts and discuss your church’s strengths and weaknesses.

We live in changing times.

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My goal in this series was to outline how churches today can be missionally effective.

Missional effectiveness begins with an understanding of the message and movement of the missio Dei, which should result in enacting the marks of becoming part of a missional people (community), embodying a missional posture (sentness), and enacting a missional program (multiplication).

In doing so, churches become the effective vehicle of God’s mission, the vehicle that He purchased with the blood of Christ over two thousand years ago.

 

This article was originally posted at: http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2017/january/towards-missional-effectiveness-analogizing-and-applying-mi.html