Ministry in Context-Seeing our own “ministry template”

In training new cross-cultural workers on context-sensitive ministry I have developed a diagram to illustrate what I call the macro-process for developing culturally sensitive ministry. You can find this on the resources for ministry page under “Ministry Template Tool”

The metaphor for thinking about ministry in context is “wearing a set of glasses”-thus it is not a ministry methodology but a lens for looking at everything we do in ministry in the new cultural setting.

The first place that we “look” is to turn the lens on ourselves to realize that our “version” of the faith is made up of things from our cultural background and things from the bible. They are so intertwined together and so invisible to us that it is our natural default position to think our “way of doing church and ministry” is the biblical one.

When we realize we have a “ministry template”-in the sense that we have default ways of handling evangelism, discipleship, public worship and so on, we are then freed to do two things. First, we thank God for it, because that is what brought us and many others to faith, and second, we can begun to question it and seek out the biblical basis and understandings for why we do what we do. Once we start to get clear on the biblical material we can start to untangle what is our cultural inheritance and what are the biblical functions that need to happen in any social setting. When we enter a new cultural setting, we are then prepared to look at those biblical functions with new converts and local Christians to now explore culturally appropriate ways to live them out in that society.

In a recent graduate class where I was presenting this macro-process diagram, one of the students pointed at the “ministry template” in the diagram and said “That is the hard part…to see that we even have a template”. I had never thought of it that way, but she was right. Once you actually realize you have a default way of doing things…how you share the faith, make disciples, conduct public worship, the music we use and so on, then it is a relatively easy move to step back and look at the template reflectively and begin to see what of this inheritance is fulfilling biblical injunctions, and what is accommodation to our culture. From that point, sitting with local Christians and new converts to look at biblical functions and how they can be fulfilled appropriately in their setting is not a big jump…unless they also already have their own template of the “right way to do things!”


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