[This house church leader is preparing to return to China following his seminary training in the United States. He asked that his name not be used for privacy/security reasons upon returning to China.]
Throughout your ministry, is there a particular occasion when you had to consciously engage in contextualization in order to get the message across?
That’s for sure. I don’t think I ever compromised the message, but the methodology has to be contextualized and consciously designed to get the message across.
And in China the house church has to survive under modest persecution. So the worship form is contextualized. We don’t do public baptism and Lord’s Supper, and I sit when I preach (if I stand, I am preaching, but if I sit, then it’s just teaching. So it will be difficult to identify as a church).
As to evangelism, we use narrative explanations more often than abstract reasoning. We don’t use ‘4 spiritual laws’ kind of things.
There isn’t attractive model of service to draw people to the church, so we have to depend on relationships.
What are some of the greatest challenges that the you faced in doing contextualization?
You’ll need years of practice in order to conquer the culture and language barriers. Sometimes it’s a shock to see that some of the evangelistic methods that have been effective and used for a long time lose its power. I often attempted to train people to use my methods of evangelism but they cannot use them effectively.
In my experience, the young generations of Chinese who have higher education tend to accept western culture and adapt their thought and behavior very well. A “foreign religion” like Christianity is attractive to them. But, still, the message needs contextualization to proclaim well.
What would you say to a missionary who claimed that they didn’t need to contextualize in order to communicate to the target culture?
If I met someone in the field who claimed that statement, I would like to see their fruits of their ministry. Maybe we have a different definition of contextualization, but I probably would say to them that they are wasting their time and resources to walk in a hard road.
How should contextualization shape the ministries of American churches and Christians in their cultural contexts?
I am involved in an international ministry here in the US, and understanding the target culture and contextualizing the message is crucial for the ministry here as well. The church should train their people in a contextualization mindset, and think of creative ways to reach out people in their cultural contexts.
[To see the other articles on contextualization, click here.]