Most churches actually require unbelievers to be the missionaries. In order for them understand the gospel and its effect on their lives, they have to enter our church culture and extrapolate for themselves what a relationships with Jesus would mean for them. They have to learn a new language in order to hear the gospel. They have to assume our worldview. They have to see past our politics, ignore our offenses, and overlook our ignorance, just to hear the gospel.
In response to the question, “What must I do to be saved?” our words say, “Confess and believe,” but our actions say, “In order to be saved you must learn to understand and appreciate our music, our culture, our version of community, our attitude toward you as an unbeliever.” This is not good news.
It used to be that you could distinguish between local “ministry” and cross cultural “missions.” Not anymore. Your influence will not grow– your “light” will not shine brighter– simply by doing more of what you’ve been doing. Your comfort in your setting is keeping you from being effective in ministry because you assume that you’re a member of the culture you work in. You’re not. You’ve got to be a missionary to the culture in which you find yourself.
Unfortunately, it’s not enough to simply join a culture. It won’t do to just blend in. Contextualization begins with dressing, talking, and acting the part, but it doesn’t end there. Our mission to make disciples requires us to incarnate the gospel by communicating and demonstrating what a disciple would look like in this culture. Crossing cultures requires us to live as models of what it would look like if they came to faith from within their own cultural context. This can be difficult, to say the least.
Incarnation requires that we do our homework. We have to deliberately and intentionally join the conversations that are happening within the culture. This means reading, watching, attending, eating, and experiencing the same things that our people do. But we’ve got to do it wisely. We can’t just passively consume the way dead people do, we’ve got to have our guard up, be in tune with the Spirit, and never go alone. We must learn the language of the “locals” in order to build redemptive relationships with them.
For too long, our ecclesiology has been divorced from our missiology. We must begin to see ourselves –our churches– as missionaries.