5 of 6 Proofs of a Healthy Church
Explaining simple truth is not always simple. When I explain the simple truth, “what goes up must come down,” to a teenager, it’s painless. Try explaining that to a 4 month old, and all hope is lost. What about explaining basic chemical reactions to a second year chemistry major vs. a grown man that has lived in the Australian Bush all his life.
Simple truths are only simple in theory. Conveying and acting on any truth in a way that the listener understands takes work. The individual communicating the truth must understand the audience, the environment, biases, personal obstacles, and experiences. These things along with dozens of others, shape the communicator’s message and the listeners perception. This is why contextualization is so important. Without it the most fundamental truths and applications may be lost.
Lets explore what contextualization is and its impact on healthy church.
Contextualization (Acts 17:22-23 / 1 Corinthians 9:22)
Contextualization takes a concrete truth and gives it the power to impact people of any time, culture, setting, and background. Contextualization is the process of assigning biblical application of scripture and purpose to serve the spiritual needs of a given environment. Contextualization allows a text or action to be executed without compromising the integrity of God’s word or discipleship.
Below are some of the byproducts of any church focused on contextualization.
|Accurate Scripture Application||Appropriate Worship Style|
|Authentic Community||A Balance of Diversity and Similarity|
|Missional Impact||Attentiveness to Needs|
I recently had the privilege of interviewing David McPherson, the Sr. Pastor at Eldorado Community Church near Santa Fe New Mexico. David has years of experience and is gifted at communicating, caring, and discipleship in diverse settings. Eldorado Community Church has grown to be respected in the community as a real church with real people that have real answers. Here are some thoughts David shared that help us better understand the byproducts of contextualization and how any church can gain momentum.
Accurate Scripture Application
It is vital to know the essentials of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Here are some of the non-negotiable when it comes to the core theological truths of Scripture (God, Salvation, Sin, Grace, Creation, etc.) In everything the church does it must committed to communicating these truths.
At ECC, one of our core values is “Authentic Community” with the subtitle: “Me, Too”. It’s based on Acts 2:42-47 and Acts 4:32-35, but we use phrases like “Me, Too” and “When you walk in the door, you belong” to make that more relate-able those that have no church background
People in a particular culture relate in a particular way (norms, taboos, etc.). God is relational; salvation is relational; Christ’s church is relational. It therefore follows that the church provides a setting / context where people relate in a way that is comfortable, familiar, and welcoming, in order to be receptive to the Gospel.
ECC’s context is unique. Inviting someone to our home first comes across as “weird.” We plan for our weekend services to be the first door people walk through; we set up our worship space with a “living room” feel (semi-circular, very low stage, two side aisles instead of a middle aisle) as well as plan time before and after weekend services for refreshments and coffee. This still feels like being invited to someone’s home, but not as intimate. This give guests a chance to check things out with a certain amount of safe space.
Missional Impact fulfills the Great Commission as well as reflects our God’s heart. The church is the same around the globe in its purpose and focus. The beauty is found in the fact that the Church can be creative (contextual) in its expression of Christ’s community in that particular culture.
Every year, ECC has a “Giving To Christ At Christmas” emphasis. We highlight 3 organizations (1 local, 1 regional, 1 global) that we give a special offering to. (This past year: new church plant Rio Church in Albuquerque, America’s Kids Belong addresses adoption and foster care crisis, and International Justice Mission that combats slavery and sex trafficking.) It reinforces the reality that we are part of a larger community of faith, and it highlights how we participate in the Kingdom of God in a global way, not just in our own local community.
Relevant ministries are based on felt and observed needs. These evoke a unique application to serving people where they are in life. The church looks for how people can be served in that unique setting, and then determines an appropriate practical response that addresses that need in a way that will be received in a positive context.
When we first started ECC, we met in the Eldorado Community Center. We discovered that their kitchen was in poor shape, even though they were trying to feed senior citizens 2-3 times a week. We offered to upgrade the kitchen appliances and setup so they could feed more seniors and feed them hot meals. (The offer was immediately accepted!) That gave us an “in” with the community to illustrate we cared about physical needs, not simply spiritual ones alone.
Worship is an expression of the heart towards God. Different cultures and communities have different values of what expresses their heart toward God. It’s essential to understand what will bring out those genuine expressions of worship, from the physical environment to relational interaction between worship leaders and worshippers.
Our crowd began mostly with people unfamiliar with traditional church worship styles. We made sure song lyrics connected with the sermon message. When singing hymns, we made sure that we used updated tunes, words on screens, etc. Living in a community known for interest in the arts, we use a variety of artistic elements in worship: drama, film clips, art installations, object lesson materials to take home, etc. Our crowd also needs to interact – so there’s a sense of being able to respond to questions posed in the sermon, etc.
Balance of Diversity and Similarity
A balance of diversity and similarity reinforces the reality that we all have the same Lord, even though the expression of how we connect to Him and worship Him and follow Him might vary from one setting to another. We are united even though we may not be uniform in expression.
People attending ECC come from a variety of backgrounds (Catholic, Protestant, “never-been’s”, “burned-out’s”, Buddhist, Mormon, New Age, etc) as well as a variety of life experiences. We’ve had people decked out in “Sunday-go-to-meeting” attire sitting next to someone with full-body tattoos. We have people who express their worship with raised hands, and people who stand stock-still while singing. But the similarity is found in a hunger to find and know God, and we point to Jesus for discovering that.
Attentiveness to Needs
Jesus made it clear that he came to heal the sick – to meet needs physically, emotionally, mentally, as well as spiritually. He had compassion on the crowds. Following His example means we look for what’s happening around us – locally as well as globally – and prayerfully assess what’s wrong and who is hurting. We seek to address needs by being obedience to Christ’s teachings and example.
When people get connected, especially in a group, and they start talking about their lives, the group learns how meet one anther’s needs. When that group discovers a community need, sometimes they rally around that need / ministry and take it on as a group. (One of our groups is a group of ladies who cook a meal for our local firefighters every month when they have a mandatory training day.)
Eldorado Community Church’s momentum is unique to their context. Gauge the health of your church by answering these questions. If you do not have a clear, confident answer for each of these questions your church contextualization is at risk of becoming ineffective.
- How does the church ensure their contextualization is based on accurate scripture application?
- How is the church contextually cultivating authentic community?
- How is the church’s contextualization creating missional impact?
- How has the church created relevant ministries based on their contextualization?
- How has contextualization helped the church discover the appropriate worship style?
- How has the church’s contextualization fostered a balance of diversity and similarity?
- How has the church’s contextualization developed attentiveness to needs in the church, community, and beyond?