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

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. 

    third culture kids

  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/

Why Multiculturalism Is a Must for the Church

By Ashlee Holmes

It’s time to get serious about diversity in the body of Christ.

There’s a fine, gray-ish line between things in life that are nice and things that are absolutely necessary.

Cable TV and Wi-Fi access? Nice, but not necessary. No-chip manicure with shellac polish? Nice, but not necessary. My iPhone 5? Nice—and embarrassingly crucial to my sanity—but ultimately, not necessary.

There are plenty of choices we make on a daily basis that can be categorized as either nice or necessary, but what about when it comes to more weighty topics—like multiculturalism in the church, for instance?

First off, let’s talk about what multiculturalism is and is not. The dictionary talks about multiculturalism as being “the preservation of different cultures or cultural identities within a unified society.”

I like that word: preservation. To preserve means to keep alive or in existence, to keep safe from harm or injury, to maintain, to retain. So to only tolerate and blindly accept people of many colors (or to be multicolored) isn’t enough. A person’s culture and experience must be kept safe and alive. It must be threaded so flawlessly into the human tapestry that others start to learn and eventually grow from the truth of someone else’s identity.

Multiculturalism means inviting someone to be fully oneself, unapologetically, and actively celebrating the difference. “Multicolored” leaves gaps and disconnection. “Multicultural” builds bridges and elicits celebration.

Interestingly enough, my first bout of wrestling with the value of multiculturalism didn’t start in the church. It started the day a little girl in my after-school program innocently asked me if I took showers because my skin was so dark, and it continued the day a girl on my club track team asked me why I talked so “white.”

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So my wrestling with this value didn’t start in a community context at all; it started with me. Why was it puzzling to others that I was so different? What was so threatening—if anything—about my dark skin and dialect? I didn’t have answers to those questions at that time, but I knew I felt singled out and uncomfortable.

I was uncomfortable being myself around my white friends, and I was uncomfortable being myself around my black friends. There was a huge, painfully daunting gap between me and people with whom I so desperately wanted to engage in friendship and community. I internally apologized for my uniqueness and decided to become whoever I needed to become in order to be accepted. The idea of fitting in, then, wasn’t just nice to me; it was necessary.

Anyone feeling out of place experiences some level of discomfort when they’re the “other.” What I realized later in life, however, was that discomfort was actually good for me. Not only was I forced to seek my true identity in Christ—an identity formed on much more than the color of my skin—but I also took inventory of the people I’d chosen to surround myself with, and the inventory was beautiful.

I realized my life was richer and more wonderfully complex because of others’ uniqueness and truth in which I’d chosen to engage. Over time, I resolved that sacrificing my comfort for the sake of that beautiful advantage wasn’t just nice; it was necessary to my walk with God and a deeper understanding of how His Kingdom worked.

I truly believe God feels the same way about His Church. A simple, yet profound display of this sentiment is found in the Gospel of Luke, when Simon of Cyrene was made to carry Jesus’ cross. Cyrene was a city in Libya, a country in Northern Africa. An African carried Jesus’ cross.

Not much is mentioned about Simon of Cyrene, but metaphorically, his being singled out and uncomfortable says something to me about the heart of God: that everyone—regardless of race or ethnicity—has a vital role to play in the Gospel story.

Though uncomfortable at times, the pursuit of multiculturalism in the Church isn’t just nice—it’s necessary. We ultimately develop richer, more wonderfully complex views of God and a deeper love and appreciation for one another when we choose to actively participate in one another’s stories that are different from our own, that originate from different places.

My hope for the Church is that congregations and communities become more challenged—more uncomfortable, even—in wrestling with the idea of welcoming not just color, but culture, and that expressions of worship, teaching, evangelism and discipleship would be influenced by multiculturalism so richly that Christ in all of His beauty may be known more fully by many.

 

3 Steps To Develop A Culture of Service – Part 2 of 2

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

Repeat it

The pulpit (or table, in my case) will always be a key place to shape the values and culture of a church. When the pastor repeatedly inserts the idea of serving others into messages, writings, and conversations, it has an impact on the hearers and can work to correct a misguided focus.

For example, at Grace Church I work to talk about the culture we want to have. Our church uses the concepts Begin, Connect, Thrive, and Engage. Those are our four values. We’ve got a lot of people at Begin and Connect. But then, how do we move people into the last two: Thrive and Engage, creating a culture that our passion is disciple making? How do you do that?

We have to hammer it relentlessly. (And, we are not perfect at it; we need to do it more.)

As churches grow, most often you find that a higher percentage of people get the desired culture of the church at the beginning, while fewer people take hold of it later. You have to help those who come later (whether the church is 200 years old or two years old) to have the level of service they had at the beginning.

It’s that consistent repeating of the culture and its values that helps us to create a mindset discipleship.

To perpetuate this cultural value (or bring about a cultural shift) you must continually reiterate it with key leaders and get them engaged first. Then, you encourage them to repeat it in their small groups and within their circle of influence. You work with the various ministries in your church. Have them all consistently focus on developing a serving culture.

This is not a six-month process—this is a multi-year one. You will echo the values of your culture over and over again. Those who are not on board from the beginning will either allow the repetition to sink in and they’ll follow the new culture or they will become annoyed at repeatedly hearing about serving and they’ll leave. Sometimes, that’s a good thing.

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Celebrate It

I’ve repeatedly said, “What you celebrate you become.” The International Pentecostal Holiness Church celebrates church planting by giving pastors pins for planting or sponsoring church plants. Not surprisingly, their last two decades have been their best in a long time.

When I preached at Progressive Primitive Baptist Church, they clearly celebrated the educational achievements of their members including one young man who had a list of academic achievements from high school through his master’s degree.

Denominations and churches should affirm positives at least as much as you reject negatives. The people in the church should know that you stand against what is unbiblical, but there should be no doubt about the type of church culture you support.

You celebrate what you want to become.

If you want your church to keep a serving culture, you should celebrate it at every opportunity. Have recognition services for volunteers in your children’s department. (Medals may be appropriate there!) Create a monthly feature on your website to highlight a member who served others in an extraordinary way. Announce a church-wide celebration of every member who was involved in a mission trip during the past year. Whatever ideas you can come up with to continually remind your church what it is you value—do it!

We give away a volunteer award at our nights of worship. Last week, I had everyone applaud for the set up crew at the movie theater. We’ve had appreciation dinners for volunteers. The list could go on and on.

Those who visit your church should leave with a clear picture of what it is you value through what you celebrate. Members and attendees alike will see that servanthood is appreciated, which will encourage them to adopt the serving culture you have instilled and repeated throughout the body.

Culture Eats Strategy For Breakfast

Here’s the thing, culture eats strategy for breakfast every day. That’s not from me. The quote, attributed to the late business guru Peter Drucker, reminds us that our plans are pointless if the environment in our church undermines them. Your strategy becomes sort of an add-on in which few people are engaged.

In John 20:21 Jesus said, “As the Father has sent me, I also send you.” So that tells us that all of God’s people are sent on mission. 1 Peter 4:10 reminds us that all of God’s people are called to the ministry.

So, don’t miss it—all of God’s people are sent on mission and all of God’s people are called to ministry. The only questions: Where?, Among whom?, and Doing what?

Having a serving culture established through instilling it, repeating it, and celebrating it will provoke members to love and good deeds (Hebrews 10:24). With that culture in place, they won’t be asking if they should serve. The questions will be where should I serve, among whom should I serve, and in what way can I serve.

That creates a serving culture—part of a missional focus—in your church.

This article was originally posted at: http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2014/march/moving-to-missional-part-i-3-steps-to-develop-culture-of-se.html

3 Steps To Develop A Culture of Service – Part 1 of 2

By Ed Stetzer

Having a missional culture established through instilling it, repeating it, and celebrating it will provoke members to love and good deeds. 

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Why is it that churches often get stuck and turn inward, and what can be done to reverse this inwardly-focused approach?

Often times, as a church grows larger (or even just older) it tends to focus on maintaining and servicing what is already there. Internal ministries overwhelm outward mission. Any church can be overwhelmed with by this temptation.

Yet, many places in Scripture point to the church as a body of servants—being used by God to minister to one another and to a hurting world. For example, 1 Peter 4:10 says, “Based on the gift each one has received, use it to serve others, as good managers of the varied grace of God” (HCSB).

The key phrase here is “each one.” Each and every church member is to serve others. Most of the time we see verses like this it is to serve one another inside the body, but there are so many verses about the poor and hurting that we know many are called to serve beyond the body. (I like to say that we can serve “in, through, or beyond” our local church.)

But unfortunately, there is a huge chasm between this passage and our practice.

According to the research from the book I co-authored with Thom Rainer, Transformational Church, the majority of people in the majority of churches are unengaged in meaningful ministry and mission. They come for the show—and that might be a contemporary church, traditional, liturgical, etc. since the numbers did not show a difference—but they don’t stay for the service.

So, how can we avoid having a church full of customers rather than a church full of co-laborers in the Gospel? We develop a culture and implement a structure.

Churches need a culture that encourages and a structure that enables people to move from passivity to activity, from being passive spectators to active participants in the mission of God.

Today, I want to focus on developing the culture. Here are three steps to develop a service mindset culture: instill it, repeat it, and celebrate it.

Instill it

A pastor I know put it in a way I thought was really helpful. He said they see four categories of people that come to their church—three categories that they want and one they do not.

  • Category one: The visitor or seeker
  • Category two: The growing disciple beginning to take steps
  • Category three: The mature disciple serving others
  • Category four: The person who thinks they’re mature but is unengaged and serving no one.

And here’s what he said to those in the last category: “We need your seat for some of the other three categories.”

With a few exceptions (someone in transition, some personal issues, etc.), I think that mentality is helpful. The sooner you place such an approach into the DNA of your church the better, because as you reach new individuals you want to bring them into a place where service is the norm. A person will become what the majority of your people already are.

You can help develop this within your church. As Mike Dodson and I found in our book Comeback Churches, the primary factor for the revitalization of a church is the leadership. The same is true of developing a serving culture. The leaders, including, but not limited to the pastor and staff, must work to intentionally engraft the right mindset in the body. How can they do that? By repeating the values of the culture you want to instill.

Preach them regularly. Explain why they matter. Call out the idea that you can be mature and not serve others. Teach service.

This article will continue in the next post.

Three Things Muslims Can Teach Christians About Prayer

By Sofya Shahab

Just because we believe differently doesn’t mean we shouldn’t pay attention

I knew I would love Afghanistan before I even arrived. As a student of arts, it is easy to romanticize the Middle East, drawn to its exotic mysticism, history and culture.

My first nights in Kabul were spent sleeplessly listening to the helicopters passing overhead, wondering what was happening and where they were going. At 4 a.m., the city would receive its wakeup, every Mosque sounding out the call to prayer, rousing Afghans and expat alike.

In each country, the call to prayer is slightly different, and while Afghanistan is far from the worst, I certainly didn’t welcome the local Muezzin intruding on my sleep.

But it didn’t take long for my body to tune out the nightly chorus of Kabul, much as those living near railways learn to adjust to the noise of passing trains. Ten months later, I now appreciate the intrusion of prayer time throughout my day as I have realized how much there is to learn about my own faith from my Muslim colleagues.

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Christians and Muslims obviously have very different beliefs. As Christians, we need to be firm on that, and not compromise what we know to be true from the Bible. But there has to be a dedication to learning from our neighbor while holding true to our faith.

Think of Malala Yousafzai’s recent statements to Jon Stewart on the importance of turning the other cheek. Or of Eboo Patel’s tremendous work in the area of creating interfaith dialogue. These are Muslims who have lived out something that is beautifully true. And, as is often said, all truth is God’s truth.

In that interest, I’ve seen three things Christians can learn from Muslims about Prayer:

Discipline

A majority of the Christians I know will spend the first part of their day in morning devotions, rising perhaps 30 minutes before the rush to get ready begins in order to spend time with God. But I’m not sure I know many how would wake at dawn, no matter how early it falls, in order to pray.

To me, to get up with the sun each day demonstrates an uncontainable excitement for God. There are far too many mornings where it is all too easy to hit the snooze button and simply relegate God to later in the day.

Utilizing the call to prayer as a reminder to take time out and invest in a relationship with God teaches a discipline that can often be lacking. No matter where you are or what you are doing, you must stop in order to read, worship or reflect. It puts God at the center of your life and physically demonstrates that He is more important than any other concerns you may have as they come second to Him.

Reverence

Seeing the preparations for prayer that Muslims go through can change the way in which we approach God. Removing their shoes and washing their hands, face and feet; they are making themselves clean.

While the blood of Christ has already done that for us, it is a poignant reminder that our God is a Holy God who we should come before with reverence. He may be our Father who loves us, but that does not mean we should come before Him lightly.

One of the beautiful things about the cross is it has removed the barriers between us and God, so that we can raise our voice to Him, sharing our needs and joy whenever it strikes us. But maybe we should also picture who God truly is when we talk to Him. He is the God of Moses who said “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” (Exodus 3:5) And the God of Revelation 4, who shines out from His throne like precious stones.

Community

Praying five times a day, whether at the Mosque, in the office or in the home creates a sense of unity amongst Muslims, whether they are literally together or spread throughout the world.

I was raised in an evangelical Baptist church, so it was not until I came to Afghanistan that I first experienced the liturgy. I was surprised by how much I enjoy it.

One friend who has recently been working her way through The Divine Hours explained how praying a prayer that you know someone else somewhere else will be taking up after you feeds into a community that represents the true body of Christ, regardless of denomination or location, creating “a cascade of praise before the throne of God,” as Phyllis Tickle says in her book The Divine Hours.

In some ways, it is easier to be a Christian in Afghanistan than it is in England. There is a value and worth placed on religion that is often dismissed within secular cultures. Although Christians and Muslims obviously disagree about a lot of aspects of who God is and how we relate to Him, there is much we can learn from each other.

 

This article was originally posted at: http://www.relevantmagazine.com/god/worldview/3-things-muslims-can-teach-christians-about-prayer

The Most Offensive Word in America – Part 2 of 2

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

We don’t always acknowledge it, but many of us subconsciously believe God gives us commandments to force us into a stiff, single-file line. This lie makes God seem like an angry referee obsessed with rigid rules and regulations, as if He bitterly paces back and forth in heaven, waving a red flag and trying to control our every word and step. Who would want to obey a god like that?

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The reality is that God is much more like a loving father trying to keep his children from running into traffic. The more we learn to submit to His commandments, the more we see they are not burdensome rules but rather signposts pointing toward the path of true joy, life and peace. For instance, I always thought King David sounded a bit crazy in Psalm 19 when he said the rules of God are “sweeter than the drippings of the honey comb,” but when I compare the peace of submission to the emptiness of sin, I know he was right.

We may think independence is what we want, but it comes with a hidden cost.

Speaking to an atheist who asked about the difference between heaven and hell, renowned author and pastor Tim Keller once said, “Nobody ever goes to hell unless they want to. People go to hell because they want to be away from a god who will tell them what to do. People in hell would say, ‘It’s pretty miserable here, but I would never want to be in heaven with God, where He is telling people what to do.’”

Our culture tells us true freedom comes in following our desires wherever they lead us. While this sounds nice and provides the plot for most romantic comedies, reality reveals why this is false. For example, I have a number of friends who have overcome extreme substance abuse. When one of my friends recounted his past addiction to pain killers to me, he said, “I had become a complete slave to pills. My desires were killing me.” In many ways, unrestrained pride, lust, greed, fear, control, jealousy and anger have the same effect.

Defiance of God’s commandments may give us a fleeting sense of power and independence, but this actually reveals our weakness and constant need for grace. We have to have the humility to acknowledge our own faults and the trust to follow God’s commands, even when they run contrary to our personal desires. Because something better is on the other side. God offers us abundant life, the fullness of freedom and more love than our minds have the capacity to comprehend.

If we ever hope to experience these things, we have to do the most countercultural, rebellious thing imaginable within our culture: submit to a truth deeper than ourselves.

This article was originally posted at: http://www.relevantmagazine.com/god/god-our-generation/most-offensive-word-america