July 14, 2008

The questions concerning church planting are undoubtedly vast. Demographics and contextualization are two issues that keep me asking. One would go like this…

Can a church adequately reflect the local demographics? If so, how?


16 Responses to “Asking…”

  1. Bryan Barley said

    Ok, after some classes, work, and preaching I’m back to the blog and will be more involved from here on out!

    I assume what you’re asking is a question in relation to race – i.e. if you have a church in an area that 30% hispanic, 30% white, and 40% african-american is it realistic that your church body will proportionately reflect these numbers. Or, if you were in an area that had both very wealthy neighborhoods and impoverished neighborhoods, you could have a good number of both in your church body.

    I would say that while this is definitely desirable, I have not yet seen this in a church. God’s desire is that people of all nations and would worship Him and that things like money would not determine who or who does not attend a particular church – “He is not a God who looks at faces.” I often struggle when I go into an all-white church to know if that church is truly pursuing God’s plan. With that said, I recognize that it’s just easier and more comfortable to reach out to the people that are more like you.

    But how does the church fight this, and if a hispanic church is successfully reaching out to the hispanics in your area, should you be content with that?

    After some discussion of this I’d like to pose a question of my own about how to best implement biblical preaching in a church-planting context.

  2. Jonathan P said

    You got my question exactly. I have also yet to see this in a local church. I think it even is harder to find churches that represent the social-economic demographics. When we speak of race as meaning color of skin it can be deceiving. It is easy for churches to have a variety of “different colors” if these people are still essentially the same in other affinities like economic status, or general cultural identity. Can there be one local church with homeless guys and Phd’s in the same small group? “rednecks” and rappers? This takes us soon to contextualization. But I want to get your thoughts, can one local church meet the needs of a body of diverse cultures? Is the conglomeration of diverse cultures in one demographic exclusive to our day? How diverse are these cultures, really? Or do we prop us superficial cultural barriers (possibly music, definitely shoe style?)?

  3. Randy said

    Good thoughts my friends. Thabiti’s message from T4G this year was very good (dealing with the question of race). I would recommend you listening to it if you haven’t already. Maybe I’m optimistic, but I believe it can happen and should happen (diversity). Yes, most all of the local churches I’ve been in do not reflect diversity. However, there are some who do it well (Jonathan will see much diversity at Bethlehem). I think you will find most churches are fine with anyone coming to their church, but they are not very active in seeking to reach every ethnicity within their community (there is much that could be said about that). I think a good point for us to remember (and as of right now I am heading toward North American Church Planting as well) is that what we attract people with is what we attract them to. If you emphasis a particular style, group, taste, etc., then that is who you will most likely reach. It is absolutely easier to go to people like you, which is why Thabiti’s message was so good.

    As far as Bryan’s question goes about biblical preaching, I would like to know what you’re asking. I am in the process of joining Christ Baptist Church in Wilson, NC (a church plant from Open Door in Raleigh), and they are great expositor’s of the Word. If we are actively engaging the culture with the gospel throughout our lives, it would be far easier to see the gathering of the church for Biblical exposition as proper and good. I’m not sure what exactly you mean, however, so I’ll stop.

  4. Randy said

    Another way to try to accomplish reaching the different ethnicities of the community is to have an ethnically diverse staff/elders.

  5. Bryan Barley said

    Excellent thoughts – in reference to what Jon saying, “But I want to get your thoughts, can one local church meet the needs of a body of diverse cultures?” I would first ask, what are the needs of diverse cultures? If someone says that those needs are filled by services and churches being directed specifically towards all their cultural preferences, traditions, etc. then obviously they cannot meet those needs.

    However, if meeting those needs means meeting the universal need of mankind to know Christ then a church can do this. One of the most amazing things about the gospel is that it is for all cultures and is successful in so many more cultures than our own.

    This is not to give an unsympathetic answer and say that all we need to do is just preach the gospel (“lobbing truth grenades”) and not worry about contextualization. But, I think that if a pastor is doing his job well he’s going to encourage and challenge his people not to make their greatest concern finding a church that is 100% suited to their cultural needs. Instead, they will be more excited at the idea of creating a church body that presents a more accurate picture of the diversity we will see in Heaven. Hopefully that concept will let people be less dogmatic about cultural preferences.

    Randy, I want to check out Thabiti’s message and thanks for recommending it. I’m pumped to have him in chapel this fall. As for my question, I’ll hold off and put together a post in a few days after we finish talking through all this. I’m glad everything at Christ Baptist is going well.

  6. Bryan Barley said

    um, i have no idea where that winking smiley face came from but please don’t think less of me for it.

  7. Jonathan P said

    Thabiti’s sermon on race has changed the way I think about it. Matter of fact, I don’t even like to use the “r-word” anymore in that context.

  8. Randy, I don’t believe your being “optimistic”; I believe your being “right” and “biblical”.

    The issue, then, is if a local church congregation is all one racial, or ethnic, or socio-economic makeup, is it to be considered a biblical church? And I would qualify that question by adding that biblical diversity is not the sole or even the utmost qualification for being deemed biblical. But I find here a couple of thoughts:

    First, in my experience, the local churches that are most successful in being congregationally diverse are churches are those of the non-denominational (charismatic) variety with obvious doctrinal limitations and biblical shortcomings. Two thumbs up for diversity; two thumbs down for how it is being accomplished. The driving force behind such diversity seems to be socially or culturally driven rather than the desire to be biblically solid, Christ-exalting, Gospel-centered, and therefore, color blind and soul-seeing. It seems to be a wave of the times rather than an immersion in the Great Commission.

    Second, in the family of God, “there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all,” Colossians 3:11. The Gospel of Christ only knows sinners, – saved by grace through faith in Christ alone. The failure to see Colossians 3:11 in the local church congregation is due in large part to the failure to teach, preach, and embrace the essence of the Gospel, – we are universally (without distinction) sinners and we are all saved by grace alone in Christ alone, and until we get that we will continue to make distinctions in our Gospel endeavor rather than aim at the universal need of individual sinners. But many do not understand the Gospel.

    With that in mind, from the ground up, we ought to build churches on the pure Gospel, teaching them with all wisdom that they were saved by God’s mercy and grace and not due to anything in themselves. We ought to endeavor to present every believer mature in Christ and that includes an intense passion for the lost regardless of human distinctions. And for this reason, that they ought to live for the complete fulfillment of the Great Commission, – “make disciples of ALL NATIONS.” If you go into a predominantly black neighborhood, send them out in two’s – one white and one black, etc. and vice versa, so that they may know that the Gospel is not about differences, – it’s about Christ and their need for His righteousness!

    The only time that I have seen this evidenced on the ground of Scripture was during a stay in a Israeli hostel. Again, this was not an organized local church, but it was the Church, and it was an amazing disply of the glory and grace of God. The owner of the outfit is a Christian, John Pecks, and is a lively evangelist to the Jews in Israel. But in this place he holds worship services almost nightly, and believers flock to receive instruction in the Word of God. During my visitation, there were believers from Israel, Russia, Japan, Finland, and spanish speaking countries, not to mention Americans. The sermon was preached in English and translated simultaneously in those other languages, and God was glorified. The unity of diverse individuals and the love expressed between believers was extremely edifying to me, truly something to behold, and awesomely Christ-exalting.

    And this is the biblical vision that needs to be cast to the local church (plant or established) and worked out therein, – an extreme passion for the glory of God in all things, in and through Jesus Christ, reaching out to bring wretches to glory.

  9. Jonathan Parnell said

    Brian M.,
    Brother, thank you very much for your post. Amen to all that you wrote. The church is the only place where people of different ethnic groups and social-economic status can come together. The gospel unites us, in Christ there has been created “one new man.” Beside the great reality of the redeemed people of God…
    I still ask how we evangelize these people of different cultures? What do we do before they come to embrace the gospel. How do we disciple them? (And I mean disciple them without making them conform to a culture that is not there own). This goes into contextualization. I don’t want to keep going by ignoring the name. How do we contextualize to diversity is what I want to know? Or do we just concentrate on particular people group? In what ways can we contextualize without undermining the biblical mandate of diversity in the local church?

  10. We see when sin is gone- a diverse Group worshiping Jesus together. This is redemptive history at its greatest. With sin, both of christians and non, it is rare to see one local church reach its 5-or 10 mile context. It is important for Pastors to look at the make up of there congregation, and the make up of there context area, and ask them selves the hard questions.
    We can not expect non believers to want to be with, “the Other Kind” until they see the Gospel. And we must preach Jesus in such a way to the christians who are just ignorant of the full Gospel that kills any ounce of racism that may be residing in there heart.

  11. It is possible, it has been promised.

  12. Jonathan Parnell said

    I also think we should admit that there are some barriers that we prop up which in reality are more superficial than how they appear. And we have to ask ourselves the hard questions, “what are the superficial barriers that I endorse, perhaps even in oblivion?” “What in my lifestyle may be a handicap to the discipleship of others?” And I do not intend for us to run to the realm of cool belt buckles, faded jeans, and radio station. But how do I see others? Am I peculiar about my hospitality? What kind of personal dichotomy do I create between me and them that goes beyond being “in Christ” and being “separated from Christ”?

  13. Jonathan P., – thanks for you questions and insights; they have been the means of much thought for me, – and I find that the more I think about these matters, the more come to acknowledge my absolute dependence upon the grace of Christ.

    Here are my humble thoughts to your penetratingly practical questions:

    1. How do we evangelize people of different cultures? I find it incumbent upon me to affirm with confidence that this can be done, and then, that it must be done insofar as the aim or goal and the practice is to evangelize without distinction. The fruits of such a goal are left up to God. The question then is how? These may tend to be oversimplifications, but, I would broadly state, – a)”realness!”, – realness cannot be falsified. And unfortunately it seems that the world of unbelievers can often tell the fake from the authentic more than professed believers can. At any rate, “realness” seems to be universally admired in any culture. Let us above all things identify with Christ in His reality and the reality of His interests. When we get this sincere love for Christ and authentic passion for the glory of God and a true burden for the lost, this is the “realness” of the Gospel, and whether they accept it or not, they at least are complimentary of it, which seems to serve later advances of the Gospel; b) This of course involves an intense study of our surroundings, that we might acquire an accurate understanding of the people that we might minister to. I believe we find this in our Lord and in Paul (see his investigation in Athens and his contextualized address). In other words, we ought not go to a place where bread is not a sufficient food source and teach them that Jesus is the “bread of life.” This won’t make sense to the people. But if we find the sufficient source, let’s say, “corn”, then we can teach that Jesus is the “corn of life”, and we have thereby contextualized without compromise for we have captured still the intended meaning of our Lord, that He is the Source of our life in Him and hence that life to come; c) “fluidity” also seems to be essential to me; that is, a willingness to become all things to all men in order to win some; to use our freedom in Christ as a slave unto God and servant in the Gospel. I mean this without compromise of the Gospel; rather, to redeem from the culture that which properly belongs in purity to Christ alone.

    2. What do we do before they come to embrace the Gospel? My thought, here, is simple, – WE must embrace the Gospel. If we do not know what the Gospel is, or why it is more than necessary, why should expect the world to? The problem that I have seen in much of those dear people whom I love with the affections of God’s grace is that they simply do not know the Gospel, – but they are telling unbelievers to embrace the Gospel. It is not to them what Paul said it was to him, “of first importance.” Besides that, I agree with Timothy Keller, in whom I have found encouragement to repent towards this remembrance, – I TOO am a SINNER saved by GRACE! I am a SINNER, that is, – aside from God’s grace there is nothing in me to distinguish me from anyone else who at this moment continues in deadness. My lot, deservedly, was hell, and God was in no way obligated to save me apart from Jesus Christ. But for GRACE, – that unmerited favor of God in Christ Jesus, whereby He quickened me from spiritual death and made me alive unto the horror of my sin and the infinite comforts of my Lord Jesus Christ. These things, God’s mercy upon me while I was yet a sinner, serve to propel a universal Gospel offer towards every sinner in every place at any time at all costs, – though clearly, I am imperfect in this pursuit.

    3. How do we disciple them? As one of them, without compromise, with much patience, endurance, love, and prayerful discernment. We must be willing to stake our lives there and to invest our labors in them to find them mature in Christ; We must contextualize the Gospel without compromising the Gospel, – a task worthy of many years of painstakingly glorious prayer and thoughtful meditation on the Word of God and the culture of those people. We must teach them to “observe all that (Christ has) commanded (us).” Ultimately, we seek not conformity to our native culture, but rather to Jesus Christ.

    4. How do we contextualize to diversity? Do we just concentrate on particular people groups? In what ways can we contextualize without undermining the biblical mandate of diversity in the local church? If we make music, or style of worship, or money and fellowships the main thing, then we will fail at doing what the Bible commands us to do; we will have effectively and inevitably cut off certain groups of people. But if we preach, teach, live, contextualize without compromise, the Gospel (which is one) and in that Gospel, the Supremacy of Jesus Christ (Who is One), and in Him, the ultimate Glory of God (that chief end), and the grace and mercy and promise of God in these things towards we wretches, then Christ is all and in all, and perhaps, by the grace of God, all human differences and subjective preferences can be laid aside for the greater glory of God in Christ and that love of one’s neighbor in such a way that people of all distinctions might love God and one another together in Christ. Granted, sin limits this, but where sin abounds, grace abounds much more, such that we press on towards the supremacy of Christ in and above all things.

  14. Jonathan Parnell said

    I especially like your response in #4. Praise God for your embrace of that truth, and for the local churches that embrace such a truth.

    To make this clear and let everyone see what this is coming from, let me share more about how my experience has helped produce such questions:

    My family attends a church nestled in the inner-city. On our route to church we pass through a section laced with low income housing, shady food mart stores, people of the minority ethnicity walking up and down the sidewalks, women scantily dressed, brown bags, puffed smoke, etc. I get to our worship service and look around… I see no resemblance. Why don’t those people come here? (well, because many of them are without Christ). But if they were to embrace the gospel would they still feel comfortable in here? Would they feel like my brother? Do they understand the wonderful illustration that my pastor uses even though they don’t have a college degree? or even a high school diploma?

    (A) Then I think… well if this person feels like they must tuck their shirt in, speak in correct English, and know the three major turning points of World War II to fit in here then we need to reform the way we are doing this?

    (B) But then I think… if I think the way I dress, cool speech, and the dumbing down of sermons is going to draw people here then I am flat wrong and I am undermining the gospel.

    How do I keep A from happening without falling into B??!

    Ah! This is no easy question, with no simple answer. But I believe that it is one we must struggle through in journey to our goal of the glory of Christ displayed and treasured.
    I just want Jesus to be seen as great, and wonderful, and better than anything in the entire universe! As best as I know how, I don’t want to get in the way of that, I don’t want to lead a church that gets in the way of that.

    God help us not to get in the way of that.

  15. brianrmahon said

    John MacArthur once wrote, “I am responsible for the depth of my ministry; God for the breadth of it.”

    J.P., – I rejoice with you, brother; these are not light matters. Your quote, – “I just want Jesus to be seen as great, and wonderful, and better than anything in the entire universe! As best as I know how, I don’t want to get in the way of that, I don’t want to lead a church that gets in the way of that. God help us not to get in the way of that,” – is indicative of “getting there”.

    This is where I am also. I think that as we attend to the content of such a quote from the inner man, we will inevitably find ourselves turning again and again and more dependently and fervently and steadfastly to the word of God. Let us not be moved from it. Let us attend to it and live and suffer and die there. Let us weep with it and laugh for joy with it. Let us minister with it and be still with it. Let us preach and live Christ and Him crucified. Let us keep the charge of Paul to young Timothy (2 Timothy 4:1-5). Let us exalt and love and treasure Jesus Christ supremely and let us do it in and around others, privately and publicly. Let us rejoice in Jesus. And trust God for the breadth of it all.

  16. Jonathan Parnell said

    Amen, Brian. Amen!

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