Contextualisation on the Ground (with Andy McCullough)

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The Difference Between Global Islam and Global Christianity

  • Wherever you go in the world, Islam looks the same: the dress, the beards, the layout of the Mosques, the style of worship in 7th Century Arabic – the form is very fixed.
  • This has a beauty to it, but Christianity is very different.
  • Wherever you go in the world, Christianity has a very different form – different songs, different languagues, different dress, different foods, the content of preaching, the way church is worked out, the choice of language.

“Christianity has an intrinsic translatability.” (Andy McCullough)

  • Contextualisation isn’t just changing one or two things – there is a more fundamental change that happens when the gospel is lived out in a different context.
  • Contextualisation is hard for Westerners to do. Often Eastern cultures see truth in terms of context. In the West we often take things atomistically and without context.
  • We need to handle grey more, zoom out from an issue to its context and refrain from making quick judgements.
  • We talk about justice being ‘blind’ – but it never is: you always take context into account.

Contextualised Ethics

  • There is an extent to which ethics is situational (though not always).
  • There are many ethical issues that vary according to context. For example, in Proverbs there are 6 verses about bribery – 3 are negative and 3 are quite positive.
  • Is bribery right or wrong therefore – it depends on the context.
  • Ethical questions depend on so many things. One of these things is the trajectory that people are on – are they moving towards or away from righteousness.

Contextualised Leadership

  • Leadership is not like riding a bicycle. Just because you can do it in one place doesn’t mean you can do it somewhere else.
  • Leadership is not a decontextual package of skills – it is a contextual gift.
  • In every country, leadership looks different.
  • To train a leader in one place and send them somewhere can actually be destructive. When people get to their context they will need to unlearn and relearn.
  • Leadership is about where you are and what is valued in the culture where you are.
  • You see this often when you bring fruitful and powerful leaders from overseas to teach in the UK and they are not always well received.
  • Teaching on what leaders should do is one of the biggest forms of neo-colonialism today.

Contextualised Church Planting

  • Every church plant will be different.

“Church planting is more art than science .” (Andy McCullough)

  • If there is one gift that cross-cultural church planters need it is the gift of Barnabas – he saw where the grace of God was at work and championed it.
  • We need to be reactive to the Holy Spirit‘s initiative and align ourselves with what God is already doing.
  • We must work really hard to understand our context – Jesus spent 30 years listening and then 3 years speaking.
  • The 30 years made the 3 years effective.
  • We can’t answer people’s questions until we know what those questions are.
  • When you go cross-cultural, it is good to spend a couple of years learning context, getting to know the culture and the city that you are in.
  • The first time you visit somewhere, you shouldn’t turn up to preach, you should turn up to listen.

The Contextualised Nature of the Bible

  • Our understanding of inspiration is contextual (again, this is in contrast to the beliefs of Islam).
  • The Bible is 100% God’s words and also 100% human words.
  • It is contextual in nature. The four gospels are contextualisations of the same material: Matthew (for Jews), Mark (for people in Rome), Luke (for the Gentiles) and John (years later for a different audience).
  • This shows how to tell the same story to different people in different ways.
  • The Bible is infinitely translatable – and we hold the value of translatability very highly. We want everyone to be able to receive it in their own language.
  • Linguistic translatability begets cultural translatability – because there is not always a direct one-to-one translation available. Translation is never 100% direct, there is always different nuance and emphasis.
  • Theology comes from the questions that we ask of the Scriptures – and these are different from one culture to the next. So you will go to Bible and see different things – and this is a beauty of Christianity.

Some Key Words in Contextualisation

  • Live among people and get to know their worlds. Mission that is not proximate is dead.
  • Contextualisation is not just an intellectual exercise. It is about feeling what people in your culture feel. Contextualise from within.
  • Contextualisation is like trying to hit a moving target because culture is always changing. But also we are journeying from where we came from to the local/indigenous audience.
  • Mission with people not mission to people. Galatians 2 talks about ‘eating with the Gentiles’. We do this together and find the person of peace who becomes a guide to the city.
  • The goal is an indigenous local church.You want something that can outlive the foreign Christian workers and will make the gospel live in that culture.


  1. How do we figure out which ethical situations are contextual and which are absolute?
  • Some of it you will know and feel intrinsically.
  • Some you will know from Bible reading.
  • Some will only come when you arrive in a new place and realise that everyone doesn’t do it the way you do.
  • When you see something different just pause and think before dismissing it as wrong and try to learn why it is done that way (it might still be wrong, but don’t be too quick to reach that conclusion).
  1. Is there a predominant leadership style that works in a nation like the UK?
  • Our leadership style shouldn’t be like the culture around us.
  • So we shouldn’t just mirror our church structures on the leadership we see in culture.
  • But we can often only understand leadership in the terms that we are used to.
  1. What can we do to help people from overseas in our churches contextualise their gifts for the UK?
  • It starts with listening – hear stories, be in each others homes and eat food together.
  • Gain an understanding of their context and their trajectory.
  • If God is with them and has brought them hear, we want to receive their gift and make space for it.
  • Jesus was very happy to be distracted.
  • Try to see what God is doing rather than just what they can bring to what we are trying to do.
  1. Can you give more examples of what you mean by ‘Mission with people not mission to people’?
  • As an outsider, there are many issues where you should defer to the judgment of local people (even new believers) because they have more insight into the culture.
  • Proximity to a situation can bring wisdom and understanding.
  • Sometimes you may even do this with unbelievers – they can be gatekeepers into situations.
  1. Can you give us some ways to hear the questions that people in our town are asking?
  • Watch movies, watch soap operas, read magazines (often the picture on the front of the magazine shows their view of ‘heaven’ and the magazine is an instruction manual how to get there).
  • Movies tend to show the crisis moments of life – and it is at these points that what people really believe is shown.
  • Go to funerals, go to weddings, visit people in hospital and you will see the underlying worldview come to the fore.
  1. Practically speaking, what does day-to-day life look like when you are learning culture?
  • During this time, there are just three goals:
  • 1- Stay married, keep your family together and establish a routine of family life.
  • 2- Work hard to study language and culture.
  • 3 – Keep some of aspect of team life and proto-community, working towards the point that you plant in the future.
  1. Apart from learning a language, what other things would you encourage people to do to understand the culture they are planting into.
  • Tim Keller shares a grid where on one axis you list all the ministry you think the church should be doing and on the other axis you put different aspects of the culture.
  • Go through the ministry areas and think about what they look like in terms of the culture.
  1. How is contextualisation different when you are planting into multiple cultures rather than one.
  • It depends what vision of ministry you are aiming for.
  • Some would argue that one new man in Christ can only be expressed where everyone is in the same room worshipping together.
  • The truth is that there will always be a dominant culture and things will be in the comfort zone of certain people more than others.
  • The other way of doing it is micro-contextualisation, which a lot of people are trying to do through sites.
  • In the UK we need to do more of the second option and go to where people are to reach them rather than waiting for them to come to us.
  1. In cities with multiple cultures, how important is it to have monocultural churches and multicultural churches?
  • There is a need for both.
  • It depends on gift. Not everybody can break out of a mono-cultural bubble.
  • Have a look at your context and see what is needed.
  • When you are trying to reach an unreached group in your city, you will probably need to go to them.
  1. What are some of the mistakes you have made in contextualisation and what have you learned from them?
  • Felt that local elders was a milestone – so spent too much time focussing on potential elders and not enough on the general discipleship of everybody.
  • Underestimating the pain the comes with cross-cultural ministry.
  • Pain is a part of ministry.
  1. If you were planting again in a new place, what are the first four things you would do in terms of contextualisation?
  • Not be in a hurry but making the most of the learning stage.
  • Have someone on the core team who is a local (not always possible).
  • Get to multipliability
  • When people get saved don’t try to pull them out of their circles of friends and into the church, but try to get the whole friendship group saved.