Wednesday, February 5, 2014
Contending and Contextualizing
I have just finished reading Creature of the Word: The Jesus-Centered Church by Matt Chandler, Eric Geiger, and Josh Patterson. I found this to be a very helpful and engaging book discussing the ministry and mission of the church. It was a refresher in gospel-focus and cross-emphasis. It was well worth the time and effort spent reading it.
One of the topics it covered which I found particularly informative and edifying pertained o the tension between contending for the message and contextualizing the mission. The authors do an excellent job of presenting this tension noting that "churches don’t minister to people in general. Instead, they reach particular people with particular values, idols, aspirations, dreams, gifts, strongholds, and sins." Conversely, focusing too much on the context is fraught with problems: "Sadly, the medium becomes louder than the message. And while the medium might impress, only the message can transform."
Creature of the Word reminds us that there are two sides to this dilemma, that is, "[w]e can contend for the purity of the gospel of Jesus but lose the very opportunity to clearly present this message if we fail to speak and contend for it in a way that is meaningful to the culture at hand" and "there is need to both contend for the message and contextualize the mission."
Their means to achieving balance is not new, but it is often ignored: "The balance of contending and contextualizing is the tension a faithful leader must consistently consider. Fear will lead toward under-contextualizing and over-contending. Foolishness will lead to over-contextualizing and under-contending. The fear of the Lord produces godly wisdom that will lead to a healthy balance of contending and contextualization."
To find balance they return their center, the central focus of their book and the prescribed focus for every church: the Lord Jesus Christ.
One of the main things I have appreciated about Matt Chandler's ministry and the work of The Village Church is their willingness to live in this tension between message and ministry. It must be hard work. As they faithfully hold on to both of these ideas it must, at time, feel like they will be torn asunder. But that is what churches and ministers are called to do.