Contextualization: Its Strategic Importance
Because a person’s and a community’s intellectual scaffold structures their beliefs, outlooks and convictions from life experiences and influences (good and bad), learning to discern and to determine the platforms and supports of their “belief grid” (paradigm) is strategically important in order to apply the gospel effectively and contextually.
Platforms (the major grounds upon which people stand) generally are the first recognizable traits that are seen, usually seen and heard in spoken words, behaviors, actions and attitudes. Platforms are the what: what you see and hear.
Frameworks (the long-term philosophies that people embrace) generally serve as the supporting beliefs, rationale and convictions that undergird the reason for a person’s or a community’s words, behaviors, attitudes and actions. Frameworks are the why: why they behave the way they do.
Braces (the short-term needs, motivations, drives and impulses that keep people going) generally serve as the tangible things people must do in order to survive in their “dog-eat-dog world” on a daily basis. Braces are the how: how people attempt to survive and to stay afloat.
Discerning a person’s and a community’s scaffold—first through questioning, dialogue, observation and then through piecing and framing—positions leaders to understand the belief and value structures that undergird a person’s and a community’s thought processes. If you cannot discern effectively the components of an intellectual scaffold (above), relating and contextualizing the Christian gospel to individuals and to a community is practically difficult, if not impossible.
Contextualization is the means by which the gospel’s fullness and richness confronts and addresses the weaknesses and deficiencies (portrayed in Scripture as strongholds) in a person’s or a community’s scaffold. Contextualization relates and applies the gospel’s profound wisdom and transforming power to individuals and communities in practical, sensible, relational, behavioral and workable ways.
- It addresses issues of human need and brokenness (the braces of a scaffold).
- It addresses issues of human belief and rationale (the frameworks of a scaffold).
- It addresses issues of human behavior and action (the platforms of a scaffold).
Connecting the Scriptures properly and sufficiently to a person’s and a community’s scaffold presumes recognition of at least five starting principles:
- Contextualization recognizes and affirms that God’s power alone brings salvation and spiritual change and wholeness. Do not contextualize simply to “relate” to people. Contextualize to change people!
- Contextualization recognizes and affirms that the power of God within the gospel can only demolish strongholds. The objective in gospel contextualization is to confront worldly and pagan elements of a person’s and a community’s scaffold with the Holy Spirit’s power and truth, replacing it with gospel-centric virtues and biblical realities.
- Historically speaking, preaching and teaching have been used as the vehicles that confront and address a person’s and a community’s platforms (belief groundings). Why? Platforms are public displays of action and behavior (generally through spoken words) and preaching and teaching are public events.
- Generally speaking, discipleship has been used as the tool that confronts and addresses frameworks (the assemblage of varying philosophies in a scaffold). Why? Frameworks are personal displays of belief and conviction, generally requiring longer times to address and to change than a typical sermon.
- Practically speaking, word and deed ministries (mercy, outreach, social justice, etc.) have been used as the vehicle that confronts and addresses braces (the impulses, conditions and drives that keep people going on a short-term basis). Why? Braces can be physical conditions, emotional barriers or psychological actions that people do in order to survive and to stay afloat.
In launching a contextualized ministry in a community, determine what pockets of the population you will initially target. No one can reach every person in a community because their scaffold will be different. However, leaders can target specific pockets within the population, usually where they already have some connection (through their existing congregation members) and specifically where there is an existing passion within the congregation to reach a particular people-group.
In contextualization, identify the human needs (braces), human beliefs and rationale (frameworks) and human behaviors and actions (platforms) through observation, questioning and conversation.
- As human needs (braces) are identified, develop specific mercy and word-deed ministries.
- As human behaviors (platforms) are recognized, devise strategies to create awareness and to invite people in that population pocket to hear preaching that addresses that platform.
- As human beliefs and actions (frameworks) are uncovered, devise discipleship strategies that invite people to a journey in personal, spiritual growth.