4. CONTEXTUALIZATION PREPARES THE SOWER – NOT THE SOIL
We are studying in Matthew 13, the parable of the sower. Jesus begins the story by saying, A sower went out to sow. The last three weeks we clarified that of the three main characters; the sower, the seed, and the soil, only one character changes. The soil. So the logical understanding is that there are four types of persons who hear the Word of God. We’ve also learned that before you sow, you first must plough the soil and we’ve discussed what it means to clear the rocks and pull the weeds.
Contextualization is good–it helps people to accept that we wish to be a part of their culture and community, but contextualization is not love. I dress like the people, set up my home like theirs, eat their food and speak their language. Sounds good–and it is–but is it impactful on the lives we are striving to win to Jesus? Ultimately nearly every B4T worker and missionary who strives to contextualize experiences the following…
The other day my Muslim friends, Zul and Hamida had me over for Eid el Fitri, their main holiday which is celebrated at the end of the fasting month of Ramadan. Like our Christmas it’s a time for family and feasting. For two years now I’ve striven to be accepted, adopted by this community. So to be invited to a friend’s home to celebrate the Eid is a great honor. I went to great lengths to buy appropriate gifts for the family, and to wear their festive clothes. After a time of games and food, my host pulled me aside and in front of his family and relatives, most of whom have become my own friends, he said to me using my local name,
“Pak Panjang you are one of us. You honor us by your dress, your gifts, you are truly one of us.”
Inside I am beaming. I feel so good. For two years, I’ve studied and struggled to learn the ways of my Muslim neighbors. How I longed to be accepted by them so that they could see Jesus in me and realize that Jesus could be in them too. I am quietly thanking God for those who taught the importance of contextualization and I am thinking, contextualization works! I am so excited! I am so happy!
And then Zul says to me, “Pak Panjang are you ready to become a Muslim?”
The question comes with all earnestness, even love. But it hits me like a ton of bricks, for I realize that Zul, Hamida, all my Muslim friends, saw my learning their ways as an effort to leave my faith, my way of life and convert to theirs!
Have my efforts to contextualize touched their hearts? Have my efforts changed their perspective of Jesus? Not one iota.
Yes, contextualization has prepared me to understand my Muslim friends, but it has done nothing to prepare their hearts, their souls to receive Jesus. I am learning that contextualization is good for the sower, but has little impact on the soil. If I believe my assignment is greater than being accepted by the people, but rather the people accepting Jesus – then for the objective of changing the hearts of people, striving to contextualize our lives and work is in vain, if we also don’t also work the soil.
Contextualization is important because when we contextualize our lives we remove barriers, we remove offense, that locals my feel against Western dress, Western foods, Western ways of living and Western ways of socializing – Western culture. Contextualization will reduce these barriers, but I’ve met dozens of Muslims and Buddhists who have come to Christ, and not one has told me that they came to faith because their friend dressed liked them and enjoyed their food. Contextualization is necessary part of sowing, but it is not ploughing.
LISTEN! A good sower works the soil before sowing any seed.
PATRICK LAI and his family have worked in SE Asia for over 37 years. His experience in doing business with Jesus has brought him to understand the meaning of work and worship in the marketplace. He started 14 businesses in four countries, six of which are still operating. Patrick and his wife, May, mentor and coach businesspeople working where there are few or no Christians. Check out Patrick’s latest book, Workship, now available in paperback and e-book.