One of the difficulties in church ministries these days is understanding the dynamics and ethos of those in our culture today. We must ask and evaluate the thinking of those we are trying to reach. This is nothing new. Those who have had studies in missiology understand its importance. Missiology is the study of missions, in which the student is prepared to engage in another culture. In a sense, missiology is cultural prolegomena. We must understand the way people think before we can make the Gospel relavent to them in their own context. This is called contextualization. The missiologist will ask many questions:
- What is the history of this culture?
- How do they think?
- What are their norms?
- What are their taboos?
- What is their communication style?
- What is the best way to get the message of the Gospel across?
- What is the best context to transition into so that our message is incarnate?
Naturally, no one preparing for missions will raise an objection to this need. If they do, then they probably would not make it through the program. Why? Because they would not be prepared to represent Christ, the Church, and the Gospel to this culture.
Ironically, it seems that we have less trouble adopting this incarnational philosophy when it comes to other cultures than we do our own. What I mean is that we fail to do cultural prolegomena within our own context. We live in a world that is changing greatly. While our message stays the same, we must be willing to incarnate that message in a way that is sensitive to the needs and ethos of the day. This means that in our own culture, we must be continually doing missiology. We must be asking the same questions above, being ready at any time to adapt and sacrifice our sacred cows of methodology so that we can have true impact. Let’s take the above questions again and ask them of our culture.
- What is the history of my culture? One of suspicion of authority. The loss of heroes. Post-modern. Post-Christian. Post-fundementalistic. Feels betrayed by religious charlatons.
- How do they think? Critically when it comes to matters of religion. Pessimistic due to history.
- What are their norms? Reality shows and fast paced living. Entertainment.
- What are their taboos? Canned language, salesmen, and dogmatism.
- What is their communication style? Very fast paced and informal.
The last two cannot be answered in a short blog, but need to be wrestled with based upon our missiology, not our christian sub-culture taboos and norms. We are not here to transform the culture to look like our local churches or denominations. This is why I appreciate so much the emerging conversation. They are asking these tough questions. They are doing cultural prolegomena.
What is your philosophy for doing missions? Are you doing cultural prolegomena? Are you applying that philosophy in your own back yard? If not, why?