The chasm between the church and the culture is widening. What’s the solution? Being “intentionally indigenous,” which is what missionaries have been working at doing for years. Stetzer says, “What we have found is that when the pastoral leadership, core of the church, and community all line up, the potential for the church to take on an indigenous form is significant. The combination seems to provide a greenhouse for explosive growth” (p. 92).
The key to indigenization is contextualization. This is when “the eternal, universal truth of God’s Word is understood and appropriated by people through a cultural grid or framework” (p. 93). This boils down to the way we do and communicate different aspects of doing church. How the message is communicated, how worship is experienced, how evangelism happens, and how disciples are made.
The Way the Message Is Communicated
It has to start with a connection to their lives – why it should matter to them out of the gate. Most don’t care about the Bible’s authority or what it says unless it matters to their lives. Once it is connected to their lives, the communicator needs to use “redemptive analogies” (Don Richardson fans know what these are). This is using the stories of the culture and linking them to the message of the Bible in significant ways – modern day parables, Stetzer calls them. Experience is also important, particularly for emerging generations, but each community needs to figure out how to engage their culture experientially.
The Way Worship is Experienced
In this Stetzer recognizes the tension between targeting worship for believers and seekers. When they are the targets, it is hostile to the other. Stetzer promotes a third way – Seeker Sensitive. It is a “recognition that it [worship] requires other seekers and believers coming together in order for worship to be everything that God intends it to be” (p. 101). Looking at Jn. 4. 23 and 1 Cor. 14, Stetzer sees worship being for believers, but including both believers and unbelievers. Worship should not be a stumbling block for the latter. Breaking the code will live with this tension and ask questions like these:
1. Is the setting inviting and familiar?
2. Are those attending and participating familiar with the music?
3. Can those attending and participating relate to the communication style of the preacher/teacher?
4. Is the Bible being taught in a way that people can experience and grasp the message?
5. Is the language used understandable and true to biblical content?
6. Is the way in which people are invited to participate in truth clear and engaging?
7. Is the environment safe for those in process?
8. Is there enough tension created to cause people to move forward in faith?
9. Does the creativity used connect with those attending and participating?
10. Is Jesus clearly lifted up in the worship experience? Is worship God-centered?
11. Is the gospel clearly presented?
12. Are people given a clear opportunity to respond?
13. Are they invited to participate in community on a regular basis?
The Way Evangelism Takes Place
Stetzer rightly notes that evangelism/conversion is the first step on the discipleship process and should not stand alone. David Putnam (Stetzer’s co-author) was asked about their church evangelism program and, despite the great amount of adult life-change they see, they don’t have one. They focus on personal relationships. Here are his tips to breaking the code.
1. Trusting God to be at work in the lives of lost people.
2. Building relationships with all kinds of people and valuing who they are.
3. Listening and learning where God is already at work in their lives.
4. Praying that God will reveal to you and give you words to share with others on their journey.
5. Helping them connect the dots between their story and Jesus’ story.
6. Being a third testament by becoming a ‘living epistle.’
The Way We Make Disciples
As previously noted, evangelism is part of the discipleship process. There’s more to come on this later, but Stetzer gives some principles for code-breaking discipleship.
1. Discipleship begins prior to conversion. They may be attending for years before they go public with their faith.
2. Discipleship involved participation in community prior to conversion. Specifically, the unreached/unchurched need to get connected in small groups.
3. Discipleship often involves participation and experience prior to conversion. We need to celebrate each step a person makes toward the cross.
4. Discipleship often involves participation in service prior to conversion. The unchurched/unreached need to be included and affirmed in their acts of service.
5. Discipleship often involves participation in missions prior to conversion.
Stetzer adds (for our conclusion) that “it is important to note that churches that break the code are serious about conversion and make a big deal about people going public with their faith, and they recognize the importance of continuing spiritual growth” (p. 106).
Contextualizing the Church
1. Based on the definition of indigenous, what does it mean for you to be an indigenous church?
2. Evaluate how effective you are at contextualizing the gospel in the areas of communication, worship, evangelism, and discipleship.
3. What are some practical steps you can make to become more contextually relevant?