Contextualize, contextualize, contextualize

Contextualize, contextualize, contextualize. I hear this word a lot.

I hear it from the emerging Church movement. I hear it from the evangelical pragmatics, (that’s what Robert Webber calls them in his book ‘Young Evangelicals’). I hear it from training colleges…
What do young evangelists think of this word? Some are excited. To them, the Church, the training centers and the people with influence are finally waking up to the fact that the best Church growth and health practices are focused on mission. Some of us evangelists (who would still like to be classed as young), but who have been around long enough to become slightly cynical are somewhat less excited about this new push for contextualization.

Why? Simple: evangelists have been contextualizing the message since day one. It’s not a new thing, people. Most evangelists are crying out for the Church to be contextualized.

Have you heard the one about the magic plane ride syndrome? That’s where well-meaning Christians hop onto a plane and fly overseas where they expect to lead a whole nation or people group to Christ, when in reality that Christian has not even led a single person to Christ in their home land.

Evangelists know ‘you reach your own kind best’.

Contextualizing the message or process of evangelism will achieve little for the Church if the Church doesn’t respond in the same way. What happens is that a person might be saved, but immediately that person is expected (or has no other option but) to fit in with the congregation. But the reality may be that the message was so contextualized at the very beginning, the new convert may have very little in common with the people of the Church. We immediately take them out of their ‘belonging’ situation and expect them to believe and become something which is foreign to them. The result? Well who knows?

I believe we should go further and explore contextualization in the context (ha ha) of the entire discipleship process – from pre-belief right through to re-producing follower of Jesus.

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