Contextualization: Perspective from a Church Planter

[Micah Colbert has served as a church planter in two continents. He’s worked as a missionary in Ghana for 4 years. He currently serves as Lead Pastor of Gospel Life Church, a multi-ethnic, Gospel-centered church plant in Buffalo, NY.]

Throughout your ministry, is there a particular occasion when you had to consciously engage in contextualization in order to get the message across? If so, when?

A conscientious minister of the gospel is always involved in the practice of contextualization in order to communicate his message. Why? Because context determines meaning. If I am not aware of my context, then the message I am seeking to communicate and the hearer’s interpretation of what I am saying may be two dramatically different things.

What are some of the greatest challenges that the missionary faces in doing contextualization?

One of the greatest challenges missionaries face in practicing contextualization is taking the time to thoroughly immerse themselves in the “life context” of the people. This requires a tremendous amount of humility (becoming a learner before taking on the role of a teacher), patience, and a willingness to break out of one’s comfort zone.

What would you say to a missionary who claimed that they didn’t need to contextualize in order to communicate to the target culture?

I would say, “DON’T GO… for the glory of God, the cause of truth, and the good of the people, DON’T GO!!!!”

How should contextualization shape the ministries of American churches and Christians in their cultural contexts?

Being aware of our cultural context enables us to communicate truth in a way that “hits home” for our listeners. People of all generations want to see how God’s eternal truths relate to the daily grind of work, relationships, etc. Ministries that are “out of touch” simply cannot make disciples who penetrate their spheres of influence with the gospel.

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