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Fruitful Practice #2 : Develop A Unique Approach to Each Ethnic Group

Friday, October 29th, 2010

I am just at the beginning of a twelve part series of fruitful practices for church planting.  These are practices gleaned from my own field experience and the experience of many other missionaries.

I would appreciate any comments from you and, with the your permission, I will post responses in preceding newsletters.

The importance of planting churches among the unreached people groups was stressed in a previous post.  Click here to read Fruitful Practice #1: Target Unreached People Groups.  There are thousands of these unreached groups.  Many of them have cultural practices and worldviews that differ greatly from neighboring groups.  A unique church planting approach to each group, bathed in prayer, has the greatest opportunity to bear fruit.

FP: Develop A Unique Approach to Each Ethnic Group.

Every ethnic entity (tribe, nation, people, people group) deserves an opportunity to hear a clear, contextualized presentation of the Good News, in their own language. If we understand that each people group’s culture is, by definition unique, then a unique approach needs to be made to each ethnic group.

A major reason that some ethnic groups are unreached or have been unresponsive to the gospel is that initial attempts to reach them were not appealing because the message seemed foreign.  I talking about the message both spoken and lived before them.  They seemed foreign.   Dean Flemming, in Contextualization in the New Testament: Patterns for Theology and Mission put it this way, “Contextualization has to do with how the gospel revealed in Scripture authentically comes to life in each new cultural, social, religious and historical setting… Every church in every particular place and time must learn to do theology in a way that makes sense to its audience while challenging it at the deepest level.”

Some denominations and agencies implement standard methodologies that are often branded and market.  This modern, mass market approach to the serious endeavor of church planting may well result in alienating or inoculating people groups even further from accepting the message of salvation.

Wise church planters understand that people come to the Lord quicker when there are few barriers and many bridges into hearts and minds of the people.  Knowing that, he/she will pray and work toward fluency in language and culture, knowing that many unreached peoples think that one can’t at the same time be both a member of his or her ethnic group and a Christian. Many are convinced that to become a Christian is to reject one’s heritage.

A conscientious church planter will scrutinize the culture looking for parallels to the gospel such as the way in which people:

  • receive or reject forgiveness
  • settle disputes
  • are initiated into various life stages or cults.

How people handle news is also of importance.

  • how is important news disseminated
  • to whom is it disseminated
  • how do people discuss it
  • how do they make decisions concerning it’s validity
  • how do they show agreement and rejection.

All of this information comes into play as the a unique strategy is formulated.  (See my articles “Culture Fluency: Experiencing Another’s Reality and “Language the Key to Culture“)

There is no shortcut to language and culture fluency.  It can take several years.  Most cross-cultural, church planters focus their attention and ministry on one ethnic group for ten to fifteen years, or more.  That is not to say that they stay ten to fifteen years with one congregation, rather they multiplying relationships and congregations over the years.
The current global security situation presents real challenges to church planters and their supporters.  Cultural sensitivity is extremely important when working among people groups in these countries.  Each situation is different.  (see “Security and Missions“).  Praise the Lord that we no longer shy away from planting churches in countries who are not favorable to our presence.  The Spirit has supplied many, creative ways of entry.

In upcoming post I will discuss Fruitful Practice 3: Form relationships with groups of non-christians in public settings. Relationships formed in disparate locations exposures one to language and culture variations.

As always, I invite your comments.