A Contextualization Blindspot

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Fellow missionaries, church planters, and leaders: whether something feels traditional or old-fashioned to you has no bearing whatsoever on whether it is good contextualization or not. Good contextualization comes from studying the word of God, studying your particular context deeply, and from that study carefully choosing your language, methods, forms, and applications. We all have baggage and certain forms that rub us the wrong way, but we must be careful that we don’t assume that for something to be good contextualization, it must feel progressive, new, or fresh to us. A certain method may feel traditional, old-school, or (God forbid!) paternalistic, and it may be the most powerful and faithful form for your focus area or people group.

Case in point: The believers among our Central Asian people group have enthusiastically embraced a translation of the song, I have decided to follow Jesus. Now, I have baggage with this song from Christian camps long ago where this song was part of poorly-done and dragged-out altar calls. That bad taste in my mouth would be enough for me to never introduce that song into our church-planting context. But someone else did introduce it, translated it, and now it is a beloved fight song for believers facing ostracism and persecution on a regular basis. The world behind me, the cross before me… no turning back. My local friends don’t have the Christian camp baggage that I have. They have found a song that resonates powerfully with their experience of suffering as marginalized believers.

We must be aware of our own assumptions and baggage that unnecessarily limit our faithful options for contextualization. We must be open to considering traditional methods and forms and not be merely captive to the allure of novelty.

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