In 2013, we had our calling (to plant a church in Casper, Wyoming). We knew it was time. We began to think on the differences between our old area (Arkansas) and our new area (Wyoming). We spoke the same language but the style, slang and intent of some of the language was different. There would be subtle (and some not-so-subtle) cultural differences that we would need to learn and address if we were going to be able to ‘get through’. What I am describing is context. How would we go about learning our new context? How would we be sure that God’s message was getting through? There was a time in the early church where the followers of Jesus needed a miracle to communicate to the people.
When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. (Acts 2:1-6 ESV)
For today, don’t worry about all the details (how, what, etc.). Instead, just marvel in this…God gave the followers of Jesus a special ability to communicate with others who had not yet heard the Good News that Jesus came, died, rose and is coming again. God also allowed a special ability for the hearers (for the miracle was not only in the speaking). Wow, God loves us enough to not let language be a barrier from knowing Him. More than just language, God bridged the gap of context then and can do so now.
Have you ever been ‘turned off’ because somebody couldn’t speak ‘your language’? It isn’t only in a foreign mission situation or even a church-planting situation where context is important. Maybe you have experienced the in-ability to ‘speak the language’ of a teen or a person in a different stage of life.
Context is at least half of the battle when you are trying to communicate to the heart of another person. To contextualize is to speak in a language that comes to life for the hearer. How do we learn the intricacies of a context that is different from our own and then learn how to speak within it? We start by asking God to reveal it to us. Then we pay attention. We talk less and listen more. We trust God to take our preparation and our words and put them into the heart language of the hearer.
I’m still learning how to communicate effectively...still learning context. One should never stop! We must not ever get comfortable in in this because time brings subtle changes that, if ignored, can create quite a chasm between us and others.
Is contextualization on your radar of things to do to ‘prepare for ministry’? It should be. Have you spent enough time in your area that you have become overly comfortable with what you think you know about your context? Ask the Lord to teach and re-teach you.