Ministry Must Be Contextual in Nature
Updated: Dec 16, 2019
One of the problems in the church today in Australia is that far, too often, it is program orientated, instead of mission or contextually orientated. Too often we take programs developed in another context and seek to use and adapt them to our ministry context. But, programs developed elsewhere never quite fit into the Australian context.
This is different to Paul’s approach, which was both contextual as well as missional in his orientation. Paul developed his approach to different groups and situations according to the context into which he was ministering. His message remained largely the same while the starting point, terminology and the manner in which he communicated it was different in each new context.Paul’s communication strategy is found in 1 Cor. 9:19-23:
“Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jew I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law, I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.”
Here, Paul develops his philosophy of ministry and his communication strategy. At first, it seems to be very relativistic. What does this approach mean for the absolutes of the Gospel stated clearly in the Scriptures? The communicator must first earn the right to speak and when speaking he, or she must do so out of a knowledge of the situation, presenting the Gospel as meaningful to those who hear the message. This is not moral relativism, but an application of cultural understanding to the effective communication of God’s truth. It is cultural relevance, not cultural relativism.
When preaching in the synagogues as in Acts 13, he uses the Old Testament Scriptures and demonstrates how Jesus was the promised Messiah. When preaching to the Gentiles as in Acts 17 he spoke to them in the philosophical terms that were familiar and he begins from their knowledge of the unknown God. This matter of being relevant was central to Paul’s missiological method. Paul understood that the purpose of communication is to communicate. Paul understood receptor-oriented communication and developed his message to address the needs of his audience while remaining faithful to the Gospel. He also understood the need for presenting the message according to the needs of the audience developing his vocabulary or terminology; accordingly. Thus, his approach was contextual instead of program orientated. Paul concludes the passage in 1 Cor. 9 by saying, “I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.”