Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Understanding Your Context

A lot is made of understanding our cultural context. There are magazines like Relevant and people like Walt Mueller who help us in that area. There are web sites about how to use movies, music, Facebook and other cultural phenomenons to further God's kingdom. To all of them I am thankful, and I have learned a lot from many of those sources. There is another kind of context we must consider before we close the door on understanding out context. It is our church context.

In every church there is a culture that church has developed whether they have done so intentionally or not. There are values which have been lifted up above other values, commitments to programs or strategies, and a host of other cultural commitments. A lack of understanding in this area may be one reason that youth pastors sometimes have short stints at a given church. There are all kinds of ministry philosophies and strategies. For instance the church I am currently serving in talks about being "attractional" and "a real church for real people". These two things work themselves out in a variety of ways in our context. It is essential for me to make sure what I am doing with the students is consistent with these two principals.

This is important for a few reasons. The first is that my Senior Pastor will have my back if I am being consistent with the philosophy and strategy that he is implementing in the overall church. Second, this creates a consistency that help students integrate into the rest of the church. Third, when it comes to making changes I have an understanding of what kind of changes would be acceptable in this context and which changes would not be. This gives me a pretty big head start in making programing and strategy type decisions.

Context is not just about what students experience when they are not at church, it is also about the kind of experiences they need when they are at church. Here are some questions that will help you determine the culture at your church:
  • What phrases are repeated conistantly by the staff and expecially the Senior Pastor at your church?
  • What values or strategies consistently show up in other programs throughout the church?
  • How does my Senior Pastor run the ministries he has his hands on?
  • Has the church put printed values anywhere? What are they?
  • Are there values that I have that are inconsistant with the culture of the church?

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