One of the greater frustrations I have experienced in the church I serve has not come from the people within the church as much as it has from well intended (I presume) outsiders and fringe folks who espouse a missional approach. This is surprising because I want to embrace a missional approach. But much of the advice I repeatedly get is to make implementation without regard for the context of the culture in which our church is set, and without regard to the understanding of the people that have long been within the church.
The models that these well-intended Christians admire (and the models these folks have often reminded me are far different from what I have to-date effectively implemented) look a lot like those models I read about from cutting edge missional churches in Seattle, Dallas, and Metro Atlanta. They are excellent examples of missional thinking put in practice. And it is exciting to read about what God is doing in those cities. But I don’t live in any of those places. Nor, obviously, does anyone who regularly attends our church. Nor do any of our neighbors that God has put us here to love.
So, in short, the reality is that much of the well intended criticism I receive is by those who desperately want to be missional, but whose advice is not really so much “missional” as it is the imposing of particular personal preferences on a people through practices and structures. The irony is that their advice is just as much driven by their own personal preference as are the practices of the “Traditional Church” these folks rail against.
One of the primary marks of missional is to actually exegete the culture where you live and worship. It requires an understanding of the real values, the faith shapers and influencers, and the idols that may offer peculiar obstacles to the gospel specific to ones own area.
The question is, then, how to determine what those factors may be in a particular community or region.
I appreciate Jeff Vanderstelt who has compiled a list of questions he calls Centextual Assessment Starters. These questions, if answered honestly, will help assess the community, which will enable you to develop a better understanding of the uniqueness of your community. Once we understand our community we are in a better position to think missionally and implement genuine contextualized missional strategies.
1. Do you know the story of the particular community or culture that you are called to?
2. If you know the story, what are the barriers to the gospel? List 3 Barriers to the Gospel.
3. What is the message and medium of the gospel for your community? Through what tangible forms would you demonstrate the gospel to your community? List 3 tangible ways to demonstrate the Gospel in “rhythm”.
4. In your community, do you know the personal life stories of any unbelievers? What are some ways you can get to know the personal stories of unbelievers around you?
5. What are the forms of celebration that unbelievers in your culture engage in?
6. How are you leading (or how could you lead) the believers in your community to either create celebrations that un-believers can engage in or join un-believers in their celebrations?
7. Does your faith community have a clearly identifiable “people group” and mission to whom they are focusing their prayers, activities and resources? If so, who is it? If not, how can you find one?
8. If the answer to #7 is yes, is there a group of believers working together toward that mission on a regular basis? And if so, how?
9. Do the believers that are working on mission together know each other’s life stories? Do you know the stories of the believers you are ministering with? How can you get to know teach other’s stories?
10. How often do the believers gather together to eat meals, celebrate and focus on a mission in their community together? What does this look like?
11. What form of serving do you think would best communicate the gospel to the community you live in?
12. Are you able to clearly articulate the Story of God (the gospel narrative)? How can you begin to tell The Story of God in a form that makes sense to your culture? List some ways to start.
13. Are the believers in your community equipped to know the Gospel Narrative (The Story of God) and demonstrate and declare it in culturally appropriate ways in their community? What are some ways you can start NOW to equip them to Tell The Story?
14. Would you say that the unbelievers in your community would grieve the loss of your church if your were to “close the doors” and the believers left the community? What would it look like to be the Church in such a way that the city would grieve if you all left?
More Questions for Personal Application…
Q: Are you aware of where the gospel could bring healing to your own life story? If so, where in your life story did you begin to believe a false gospel?
Q: How does the gospel re-inform your story?
Q: Which parts of the gospel narrative do you need to remind yourself of in order to both live out the gospel AND live out the mission of the gospel?