An ever-changing context
Although the biblical mission of the church is unchanging, this mission must be accomplished in an ever-changing world. Every community is different; every neighborhood has its own story. What’s more, these stories take place across time and change as the years go by. Like any good story, the narrative of a community shifts and changes with the plot of the neighborhood.
This means they are all unique, and they never stay the same.
The beauty of the local church is just that: It is local. Each congregation is the answer to a specific context at a specific time. In this way, the church’s task is taking the unchanging mission to an ever-changing context. Vision becomes important when a local church considers its context and the responsibility of accurately testifying to the gospel among its neighbors.
Context sets the agenda for how we accomplish the mission as local churches. This is where we get the word ‘contextualization.’ As Dean Flemming notes, contextualization refers to “the dynamic and comprehensive process by which the gospel is incarnated within a concrete historical or cultural situation” (Contextualization in the New Testament, InterVarsity Press; 2005.) A healthy local church vision must first grapple with the biblical mission and then consider how the particularities of their context set the rules of engagement.
Vision-casting requires depth in discovering the community around the church. Often this process reveals not one but many differing — and sometimes competing — communities. Multiple narratives exist in the same block of streets.
An easy example is the twin stories created in a gentrifying area: one a story of economic renewal and the other a story of land-grabbing and displacement. Vision requires a church to understand the many social groups that may exist in their context and attempt to provide cultural manifestations of the gospel that make sense to those groups. Context sets the agenda for vision, and replanters must take intentional steps to analyze and understand their context.
A unique congregation
The aspect of vision development that may be most overlooked is the unique makeup of the specific congregation. Unlike a church plant, which often starts with a few people, replanting an existing congregation necessarily means understanding the congregation as it exists now and then equipping them for the work of the ministry.
Like the context, every congregation is different. Consider Paul’s body analogies for the church: each part is different, and every part has a role to play. In this way, a congregation is a unique assembly of gifted individuals who are called together to accomplish the mission of the church. This truth should greatly impact vision development in the congregation.
Replanter, lean into the strengths and corporate personality of the congregation.
Vision must always consider:
- where the congregation is now
- what they have to offer
- how to enable those in the congregation to put their best toward the mission
Too often, however, vision is set with an eye toward the ideal, not the actual. This is problematic for a couple of reasons. First, the ideal is really just in the mind of the replanter setting the strategy. Second, it overlooks the foundational purpose of vision, namely leading those in the congregation from where they are to a preferred future of appropriately engaging their context and making new disciples.
Replanters can come to the table with ideal components of strategy, such as a full music team for a specific kind of worship. When the congregation does not match their ideal, the temptation is to look outside the congregation to find those pieces. If the replanter’s mental concept of ideal is off, this will not reach the context.
Furthermore, the knee-jerk reaction is to look outside the congregation for the resources necessary to accomplish this idealized vision. If more leadership is needed to accomplish the idealized vision, then we try to hire from outside. If leadership thinks better music is ideal to reach the community, then leading worship is outsourced. And the list continues.
At its base level, this approach to vision ironically circumvents the congregation that already exists in order to accomplish the congregation’s mission. Pastors must shepherd their flock, and that requires engaging them in the mission.
These three pillars are the platform for a healthy local missional focus. All churches are tasked with the same mission, but they are given a unique assembly of people and an ever-changing context.
Replanter, it is your task to understand each, or vision is little more than a shot in the dark.,
Published November 7, 2019