Contextualization as an Evidence of Spirit Empowerment

“Some wish to live within the sound of a chapel bell; I wish to run a rescue mission within a yard of hell.”C.T. Studd

Choosing a missionary path absolutely means personal religious inconvenience.  It also means a decision to disconnect cultural forms associated with the Gospel for the cause of Gospel advancement.  These are forms that may be a significant part of your life, forms that have little to nothing to do with the original Gospel message.  These forms and practices are not bad.  They are a part of your story.  But, the value they hold for you may not be valued by others away from “the sound of the chapel bell.” In fact, they may be a barrier between people and the Gospel.

Being flexible in culture and faithful to the Gospel message is the hard work of a missionary. It is the hard work of the missional church.  Reaching into the culture, being a part of the culture, and contextualizing (pdf) the Gospel message while remaining faithful to the Gospel is what the missional church does.

Paul instructs that our reaching-in should consider a diversity of cultures and be delivered in such a way as to maximize effectiveness in each.  Acts 1:8 shows that the Holy Spirit will propel is into a multitude of cultures with great effectiveness.  Our greatest distinctives are not rigidity in style, dress, or tone.  They are actually adaptability of style and fidelity in message while being launched into and flourishing in a multitude of cultures far from the sound of our familiar chapel bells.

  • What are the chapel bells that you have silenced in your own life to advance the kingdom in your culture? (Thank you Nathan Griffis for the suggested question.)

23 Responses

  1. Oooh I may be the first to reply on this one, if I can only type fast enough. You didn’t ask the question that I would like to know from readers of this post. What are the chapel bells that you have silenced in your own life to advance the kingdom in your culture? I am asking because I have silenced some bells that were a big part of my “fabric” and Iam wondering if God has been asking others to do the same thing. There are some that I am still struggling with and others that I don’t know are ringing but I am sure others have noticed. So maybe your responses will make me aware of them.

  2. Hi Nathan,

    You ask a fine question. While I am far from a Saint (though I am, of course, a saint, by his mercy), I have heard his call and received it, leaving my home in the West and moving (with my family) to the Middle East to be a very small part of the Church’s mission to Islam.

    But clearly there are things that made that decision difficult, and in some way still do make it difficult. One is status in the church. I had to choose between ordination and mission, it could not be both ways in my denomination. That was a significant thing to leave behind.

    Another was tranquility. I am not even talking about terrorism, which is part of life here in any case, but about having the luxury of waking up and thinking, you know, things are going well. When you live here and see in a very real way the increase of Islam and the decline of Christianity it is unsettling and troubling and pushes one to a level of faith that is not often required at home–at least in my experience.


  3. One of the chapel bells I’ve had to silence is the judgmental attitude toward addiction.

    Most “white’ churches in my neighborhood have been trying to move out to avoid the addicted and the downturn of the community which resulted.

    God has blocked our moves over the past 40 years, and instead of moving out of the community we are now moving more into the community. The only way this can be accomplished is by being less judgmental (hopefully non-judgmental) toward those held captive by the illicit drugs that plague our streets.

    There are multiple other bells that need to be silenced, but this is probably the biggest one in our struggle to affect transformation in our community.

    Darrell Buttram, Jr.

  4. I know some of the obvious things – like music or attire. For example, the little church out in the country might prefer to continue using an older hymnal, while a church in the suburbs is Hillsong all the way. Or, for example, with attire – Rick Warren, in California, would be almost foreign to his community if he started preaching in a tie this Sunday, whereas another minister might be threatened with his life if he didn’t.

    Beyond that – personally, one might have to give up a favorite sport or entertainment in order to be truly missional. A person coming from the West to minister in Iraq would have to leave behind the NFL and start learning to love Soccer. Or, in your efforts to plant a church in a city, you find that Saturday night is the best night for your main worship service. If that were the case for me, I would have to sacrifice Saturday Night College Football (hey, it IS a big deal for me, haha!).

    The same could be said for any part of a way of life. It will have to go if it interferes with reaching the culture for Christ.

  5. Maybe you younger guys will have patience with an older pastor (65) who is trying to keep up with the new and the cutural things going on. I apprecieate all the great post but coud you be more specifice about the missional things you are doing in your churches as missianaries that I can maybe institute in my church. My church is multi-cultural and we are happy about that but some times I wonder if I am getting the message across to the other cultures. Help me out to come of age and minister more affectifly. I am very serious about this.

  6. Darrell,
    Wow – great post! It made me think of another thing predominately white churches in the cities need to leave behind: racism.

  7. To answer Nathan’s question directly, perhaps the biggest “chapel bell” in my life to silence involved joining a church like this one.

    Before I was out of high school, it became apparent that the church I was raised in just wasn’t going to cut it. Although I was receptive doctrinally to an Evangelical church, it was simply too big of a leap culturally (there were intellectual considerations as well) to join one from where I was at. So I ended up in the RCC.

    After a few years there and having come into the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, it became obvious once again that the RCC wasn’t the place where I was going to fulfil God’s purpose for my life. It was just too hard to do God’s work with the RCC in the background. So, after a process, I joined this church. There was a lot to leave behind, but the choice was simple: I was either going to stagnate in comfort or move forward. But, as they used to say in the Life in the Spirit seminars, that which doesn’t move forward moves backward.

    The rest, as they say, is history. It’s gratifying, though, to see so many of our ministers (and hopefully lay people as well) grapple with the issues of cultural barriers, so that people in the future won’t have to deal with cultural barriers like I did. And it’s especially gratifying to see so many of you doing it in what is, for me, the “old country.”

  8. Kevin,

    You are right on about racism…as well as the normal change of music styles that you referenced earlier…but one of the chapel bells I’m still working on is how to blend worship with an urban feel. I haven’t solved that one yet. The closest I’ve come is Hillsong as a middle ground that seems to appeal to my “Red Back Hymnal” folks and the multi-ethnic crowd as well. Unfortunately, the blend still comes out so “white” I think we glow in the dark.

    This is another area we’re working on, but are still a long way from achieving.


    If I’ve not already said it let me say it now…I am so glad you have become a part of the CoG. Your insights are so unique and your perspective always makes me think.

    Thanks for silencing those bells.

    Nathan and Travis,

    Thanks for bringing up the question.

    Darrell Buttram, Jr.

  9. I hope some of you don’t think “whites” are the only ones with racist attitudes about church. I pastor a multi-cultural body of Christ that some reject because we are not enough “black, yellow, white, latino, and etc.” As to music, we are there to worship, can’t hardly do that if you’re too caught up on whatever your groove is. Our praise team is composed of latinos, blacks, plain old whites, male and female, ages 14 to 50, and saved by the blood. We use electric keyboard, amped guitars, drums, congas, and various percussion instruments. We’re there to lead in worship and not entertain.
    Try some “Amazing Grace” based on a pentatonic scale. We know where the lyrics came from, but the melody is from somebody named unknown. The pentatonic scales can be played on the black keys of the piano alone. It has been suggested that Newton heard the melody while at the helm of a slave ship, and perhaps it became embedded in his soul, just waiting to be released. You ought to hear that melody groaned out, it definitely stirs your soul.
    Then follow that with with Tomlin’s My Chains are Gone. I don’t care what color or race, if you are there to worship, you’ll be set free.

    Gone to worship!

  10. Ray,

    You said:

    Maybe you younger guys will have patience with an older pastor (65) who is trying to keep up with the new and the cutural things going on. I apprecieate all the great post but coud you be more specifice about the missional things you are doing in your churches as missianaries that I can maybe institute in my church.

    The key in developing a missional mindset is to spend time figuring out who your community is and then speaking/reaching in a way that touches them.

    My father-in-law’s church is in Robert, LA, which is outside of Baton Rouge/New Orleans- a rural crossroads of a town. The church is incredibly warm. I love spending time there. One thing that their church has done to express a missional heart is to provide free childcare for anyone in their community on Friday nights once per month, which allows couples to drop their kids off and go into town for some time together.

    It is a no-strings-attached blessing for families in their community. It demonstrates grace and speaks volumes about who they are and who Christ is in them. That is absolutely perfect for Robert, LA.

    I don’t think I’d replicate it here. There are some other ways we try to touch the lives of our community that may fit a little better.

    Ultimately, it comes down to being a listener and a watcher of the heartbeat and smell of a community and then responding accordingly.

    I hope that helps…thanks for having patience with me. 🙂

  11. Hey Tim,

    I understand what you are saying. I face racism of all kinds where I am…if anyone knows it goes both ways I do. I have been viciously attacked by African-American ministers because I am a white pastor ministering in a rapidly growing urban neighborhood.

    My congregation is 90 years old with a median age of 55 and is 88% white. They’ve tried multiple ways to “sponsor” “black” ministry, but never tried to find a way to become a truly multi-cultural fellowship.

    Their focus for the past 40 years has been more about getting out of the community instead of reaching into the community. As a result, their numbers have slipped from 250 down to 45.

    Now that we are intentionally involved in the community, we are finding that the demographics are radically different than what the church envisioned when it relocated to this location 60 years ago.

    It is out of this understanding that I referred to developing a more urban style of worship, simply because this seems to be one of the barriers that is holding our church back from being a more multi-cultural body.

    For right now, we blend as best we can and focus on a lifestyle of worship. At the same time I pray that God will raise up new musicians or at least give our 86 year old pianist some soul 😉

  12. I need to clarify the first paragraph above.

    I have been viciously attacked by African-American ministers because I am a white pastor ministering in a rapidly growing urban neighborhood.

    I was attacked because the ministers mentioned felt I should be reaching anglos since my congregation is predominantly anglo, and because of many past indiscretions committed by white pastors toward the black community.

  13. Dr. Minger,

    I’m not exactly one of the ‘young guys’, however, I’m learning something very important. I’m learning that a part of being ‘missional’ is serving people with no strings attached. That is, we shouldn’t serve people to get them to come to our church, or to even accept Christ (as strange as that may sound). It means caring for and serving people just because Christ told us to do so. The ‘saving’ part is left up to Him.

    I’m sure this little blurb is not enough to give the thought justice, but maybe it’s a start.

    Man, I’m really enjoying the posts. Thanks!

  14. Darrell,
    I hear ya man. Its taken 3 years to get where we are at. That would be from mostly white to mostly not white, mostly older to mostly younger, and mostly satisfied to mostly seeking a relationship with God. However, one downside to this has been that the new people aren’t as financially faithful as the older crowd. But, that’s part of the work in progress.
    The church is surrounded by primarily ethic churches and there is this other little Church of God just 5 miles away. You’ve probably heard of it(Cental w/ Loran Livingston). I was a member there for a long time while I taught college and before I became a pastor. Its a great church, they have what a lot of folks are looking for that we don’t. Please don’t think I’m knocking them or their ministry, its just that it has strong attractive powers.
    I do thank the Lord that we have progressed from 20 to about 60 in these 3 years and that the leadership in the church is growing in God. So, regardless we must keep on what God has called us to do, and not be weary in it.

    Be blessed!

  15. As a military chaplain I am a missionary to the military. Chaplains are ingrained in the fabric of our military and those ministers who do not silence many bells, the non essentials, are often ineffective and miserable.

    I have faced many challenges that I have found enriching once I engaged them. Protestant chaplains are expected to be able to minister in all traditions of Protestantism. The only exception is if something in that tradition/worship style violates the chaplain’s doctrinal convictions or the doctrine of the Church that the chaplain in endorsed by.

    In the Air Force chaplain corps we have worship services categorized by worship style.
    So, I have pastored chapel services that are traditional (a hybrid of a Baptist & Presbyterian Church), Contemporary, Gospel (African American) and Liturgical (Lutheran, Episcopal). Some congregations were more of a stretch than others but I grew to appreciate something in all of these traditions. That experience helped to crucify what Ed Stetzer calls the “sin of preference” in me.

    My current pastorate I arrived last year to find a tiny (60 or so) traditional congregation with very few active duty personal (my mission field). Most of the attendees were military retirees. It was quite a shock moving from a Gospel Congregation in Alaska to a Traditional Congregation in New Mexico! My new Lutheran Wing Chaplain told me to change the worship service to meet the need of the Active duty.

    In a matter of weeks I made drastic changes. I changed the format to contemporary with a few traditional elements. I based these changes on my assessment of the community. Since the military is composed of people from all areas of the country are very racially diverse I fell back on Ed Stetzer’s statistic that 80% of congregations in the US will grow if the church would convert to a contemporary format.

    Over the past year we had tremendous growth and tremendous turmoil. Now the active duty attendees out number the retirees 5 to 1. I was amazed! I figured we would lose people before we grew. But the retirees didn’t leave! I still get complaints about me preaching in jeans, my use of PowerPoint and not being able to see the cross behind the screen but at least I haven’t been called a liar to my face lately!

  16. Our leadership is currently re-evaluating our community to answer the very question you pose in your post Travis. As a growing military community in a drug infested city where social services dependency abounds, we are asking the question “How.” “How do we effectively meet the people of our community at their points of need – and how do we prioritize those needs in order to be effective at our current Church size. Last night we had a time of reflection and dialog on this subject and are making much needed progress at admitting “yesterday’s ” tactics aren’t working. In my opinion, over focus on style, dress etc. continues to perpetuate the same old problem of being too “inward” focused. In our community people haven’t really noticed our “special lighting,” (installed last year), our “multimedia experience” and “casual” methodologies of “doing” Church to any meaningful degree that we had hoped would draw more people to our Sunday morning services. The truth is, we fell into the trap of believing “if we build it – they will come.” (not so!!) The only ones drawn by these things are the people disgruntled with their current Churches and looking for another place to land for a while (likely until they get disgruntled again). What we are coming to understand is that we really need to go and meet them at their point of need – through meaningful “service”. I am encouraged that we are having such dialog among our leaders (some of whom have been here since the old regime – before my arrival). I am encouraged by the posts here, but would love to hear testimonies (nuts and bolts) of how others triaged the needs of their individual communities and decided which ones to take on first.

  17. As I read, it appears to me that there is a large number of small church leaders searching for similar solutions. It makes us ask questions of one another, with most of us not knowing one another personally. We write and respond to one another on here, trying to encourage and help each other. I am thankful for what is happening here. However can somebody show me what our denomination is doing to help us? If I have missed something I want to know what is out there. If there isn’t anything, then what must we do to change this? I ask this, not to “dog” the COG, but to find a solution for a problem.

    Thanks again for the responses.

  18. Tim,

    The COG as a denominational structure doesn’t have the solution for you. Large structures of all types are slow and typically inflexible. We’ve got to find/develop relational networks within our organization to find synergistic and coaching/mentoring relationships.

    This can be done by leveraging denominational structure, working around it, or working within it. But, ultimately, it comes down to us organizing and placing ourselves in these networks.

    Here’s a good example of one forming:

    Here’s a previous discussion about the possibilities:

    I am starting a group in October. Tom Sterbens and Jerry Lawson are opening their places as well. And, while I don’t have anything to do with David Boggs’ group, I would definitely recommend being a part of that network. In total, that is a group in Alabama, Florida, Tennessee, and Kentucky.

    In those environments, you can pick up principles/systems that translate to any environment. You can also work through issues of mission. The greatest benefit may not even be the coach. It might be the other relationships you make in the networks and the benefits that follow.

  19. Tim,

    In the absence of denominational focus for our situations, the networking that Travis mentions is essential.

    The denomination desires for us to be inter-dependant, which in its original context meant being networked with others both within the denom and outside the denom. Now it is becoming more and more only within the denom from the denominational level.

    I find my greatest support currently from inter-denominational community/city reaching movements. Not to slight the CoG, but since my State Offices and Intl. Offices are not in my community they really don’t know what I am up against unless I tell them…and even that doesn’t carry the full weight of my situation.

    I also think your question kind of ties into Rob’s question about where to begin…begin with networking.


    The best place to begin is by finding networks you can work with in your community. In some cases these are para-church organizations, in others these are community organizations, but by finding out what others in your community are already doing it gives you some insight into what you can assist with and what you can provide that no one else may be providing.

    In my immediate community, there are probably 25 churches all trying to reach the same people and turn the community around. When I began intentionally focusing on the community, there were only 2 churches that would work together. Now there ae multiple churches both within the community and from outside the community that partner together to help the hurting. In addition, after partnering with multiple agencies both public and private, my church is known for community involvement instead of its programs and facilities.

    There’s a lot more to it than this outlines, and it takes years to see the results, but as a result of the relationships built between churches, agencies, and the community, it makes it significantly easier to present the Gospel. After three years of this intentionality, we are finally beginning to see the fruit.

  20. Good stuff, Darrell.

    Our city church networks/ministerial associations are pathetic…a colossal waste of time. One-on-one networking is where we are able to find life giving relational connection.

    I look to the guys that are ahead of me that are really making gains in reaching the uncurched: Christ Fellowship, Miami Vineyard, Flamingo Road Church primarily.

    I also get a lot of great connection from the guys that gather regularly at Cooper CIty COG. Dwight Allen really reaches out and gives of himself to other pastors in a mentoring role.

  21. Travis,

    I understand what you are saying about your area ministerial networks. I think it bears underscoring that not all ministerial networks are beneficial. However, if you can build quality inter-dependant relationships with a few pastors…or even with just one other pastor…you end up being better positioned for Kingdom work than without.

    Here’s my take:

    While I can do all things through Christ…What I can not accomplish alone I accomplish with other pastors. What I can not accomplish with other pastors I accomplish with other churches. What I can not accomplish with other churches I accomplish with city/community leaders. What I can not accomplish with city/community leaders is either not for me to accomplish or not for me to accomplish right now.

    The farther I go in this model, the more inverted it becomes.

    One other thing to note is that the best relationships I have with CoG ministers in the state, are with those in my region who also are a part of the same associations that I am. One of those ministers is Paul R. Farley (now semi-retired), an accomplished church planter who strongly encouraged me to build relationships in these networks. He, like Dwight Allen, continues to encourage other pastors, and has been a great source of help for me.

  22. I was just venting about my local MA, which lacks viable Gospel witnesses while excelling in sitting around talking about how bad things are. I just dismiss myself from that group and go find alternatives where people talk in terms of Gospel opportunity and invest in one another and provoke one another to good works.

  23. I understand what you’re saying Travis. I am not involved with all the networks that I’ve looked into for many of the same reasons you’ve listed.

    Honestly, when it comes to provoking me toward good works, your missionalCoG forum is one of the greatest encouragements I receive daily. Thanks!

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