A church for every context

Monday, 16 January, 2012

Graham Cray's monthly e-xpressions column.

The challenge facing the churches in 2012 is the re-evangelization of Britain. This is a diverse task, addressing a wide variety of national and regional settings and different cultural and economic contexts. It is a call to sensitive contextual mission, based on confidence in the gospel, but humility, when deciding how it is to be shared and embodied. We are still in the process of learning how the church takes appropriate local shape; whether that be existing churches becoming more missional, or fresh expressions being planted. The temptation to clone, rather than listen to the Holy Spirit in the specific context, remains the greatest temptation. Corner cutting, disguised as passion for the gospel will not do. The gospel is best served by patient, but expectant listening, which longs to share in the mission of God in the context to which we have been called.

As the Church in Britain grows in its understanding of contextual mission a number of issues are raised. When should the gospel community take appropriate shape within a distinct culture or subculture, and when should it embody the breaking down of the barriers between cultures? Contextual church planting must not be just an ideological justification for niche churches. Consumer choice is not the same as contextual mission!

It is the missional challenge, not the desire for convenient forms of church, which gives fresh expressions their character.

Two questions lie at the heart of the listening process through which they are planted: who will never be reached if we only do what we are accustomed to doing and which aspects of society will remain untransformed and unchallenged if we do not plant? We who have encountered the grace of God in Jesus owe it to others, we cannot just plan for more of the same, and hope that 'they' will come. Contextual mission involves going and incarnational planting. But even that is insufficient. The church does not exist for its own sake, nor is it primarily an evangelistic agency. It serves the kingdom of God. The proclamation of salvation is a call to the kingdom. To be evangelized is to be reconciled to God and drawn into a community of disciples which serves God's purposes in its locality. The church is the community of the kingdom of God for its locality – whether neighbourhood, network or a combination of the two. This is the calling of fresh expressions as much as of inherited models of church.

In some contexts, the primary need will be to broaden the reach of mission, to plant fresh expressions which reach those unreached by existing ministry, adding diversity to the combined witness of the local churches, and making further social transformation possible. In other, more conflicted or divided areas, the challenge is to plant fresh expressing which demonstrate the reconciling power of the gospel, exactly across the local lines of division, because the Kingdom of God requires it. In all cases the unity of the church needs visible expression between congregations as well as within them.

The purpose of contextual mission – of church for every context - is to fulfil the Father's purpose. Which is that his Son and his Son's ministry, be embodied through the church, in each and every contest, as a sign, agent and foretaste of his kingdom. This, and nothing less. is the task and challenge of re-evangelization.

+Graham Cray


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