Being contextual without being a zealot

One of the important factors in growing a movement is that it becomes indigenous.  What does that mean?  Miriam Webster defines indigenous as: produced, growing, living, or occurring naturally in a particular region or environment.

We speak of indigenous plants, indigenous people, indigenous culture.  Basically what we mean is that these things grow naturally there and have not been imported from the outside.

When we talk about church planting and disciple making movements, it is widely accepted that indigenous movements grow faster than when we import culture and traditions from outside.  Most people involved in cross cultural church planting accept this at least in theory.

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Indigenous peoples have their own culture, customs, language and worldview

The main thing I want to discuss in this blog, is the degree to which we focus on indigenization or contextualization as we pursue a DMM.  I realize that what I write here may be controversial or offensive to some people. Please forgive me ahead of time and hear me out.  Feel free to comment about what you agree or disagree with.  I won’t be offended and maybe we can learn together!

I have seen both sides of the spectrum of contextualization efforts and emphasis. I  find myself wanting to stay in the middle, not getting out of balance either way.

On one side of the spectrum are people who don’t care much about adapting their methods, tools and efforts to the local culture.  They don’t take the time to research, understand the people they are trying to reach.  They impose models from other places rather than adapting them to fit the worldview of those they are reaching.  They seem to rely on miracles and power encounters to see people saved, but not to concern themselves much with deeper level culture and worldview change taking place.  While sometimes getting quicker fruit than those who take time to learn the language and understand culture more deeply, these church planting efforts seem to stay shallow and have little broader community impact.  They don’t seem to attract influencers in the society but mostly reach fringe (rather than core) people in the unreached group.  For those people, as a coach, I encourage them to go deeper, adapt more, learn the language and worldview better, and work to reach not only people on the fringes but also to share good news with those who others in that society respect.  As these core people come to faith, the potential for massive growth and transformation is much, much greater.

On the other side, I have seen many examples of people who are deeply committed and passionate about contextualization and adapting every tool and method and word they speak to fit the Buddhist, Hindu, or Muslim mindset.  They are fearful of making mistakes in their communication of the gospel or causing offense.  They sometimes seem so focused on not creating walls that they don’t actually share the gospel very clearly and seem afraid to let the gospel be what it is and speak for itself, even if it is a stumbling block to some as Jesus said it would be.  (1 Cor 1:18 18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.-NIV). People on this side of the spectrum seem to somehow think that the key to seeing a movement is contextualizing enough.  Their commitment to contextualization sometimes seems higher to me than their commitment to see the lost saved and to see a movement happen.  This tends (in my opinion) to make them hesitant to do honest evaluation of the fruitfulness of their contextual methods and strategies or to listen to the ideas of fruitful indigenous workers who are not as contextual as they think everyone should be.   This too is dangerous and ineffective when it comes to the goal of seeing a DMM in an unreached group.

I’ve kind of opened the proverbial jar of worms here and probably made people on both sides upset with what I’ve written.  Again, I apologize.  My intention is not to make anyone upset, but to advocate for a balanced approach to the issue of contextualization.  It is important, vitally important, that we adapt what we do to fit the context, language and culture!  We must be extremely careful about imposing outside ways of doing things (be they Western or from somewhere nearby but still not indigenous to that place and people).  At the same time, we need to be careful that we don’t start to think that contextualization is the only or even the main key to seeing a movement start.  There are many other things we need to also consider and emphasize too.  Things like abundant seed sowing, prayer, finding people of peace, participatory worship, training trainers, indigenous giving, etc.

Be contextual and work hard to understand and adapt to those you want to reach.  Be careful not become a zealot who only sees one thing as the key to starting movements.  Always listen to and learn from fruitful indigenous workers around you.  They have much to teach us!

 

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