context and strategy

Here’s an interesting comment from Craig Van Gelder about how churches tend to whip up some sort of ministry strategy without consulting God:

"Contexts go through fundamental change, which require congregations to consider how they might respond.  The tendency is to approach the challenge of contextual change primarily from the perspective of developing strategies.  But unfortunately, the strategies employed by many congregations often tend to be either too late in response or too limited in scope.  Congregations that successfully adapt to such fundamental change are few.  Even those that are successful usually end up having hteir core identity substantially challenged and eventually changed.  This often occurs largely by default rather than by design.  It is the premise of this book that in the midst of this process of constant change taking place within congregational contexts a congregation needs to understand the ministry of the Spirit.  God’s intent often is to use such change either directly or indirectly to move a congregation in new directions of meaningful ministry under the leading of the Spirit.

"It is critical for congregations to realize that contexts are always changing.  This is the very nature of life.  Congregations would be well served by staying on the front side of the curve in anticipating contextual changes so they could intentionally continue to recontextualize their ministries to address new conditions as they emerge."

** from Van Gelder, Craig.  The Ministry of the Missional Church: A Community Led by the Spirit. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2007, p.48.


  1. Indeed.
    I think the freedom a church can experience when they hold out their hands with open palms and ask the Spirit to lead them is kind of like the freedom one experiences when they embrace the mystery of God. Some do not like mystery and such fear has often led to maintaining what is known and not embracing the Spirits lead into new adventures. Same with God. As we embrace the mystery and allow God to be somewhat “unknown,” we can cling to what is indeed known and thus dive head first into unknown territory both in our spiritual lives and as a church.

  2. Great observations, Paul. I think you’re on to it… and Van Gelder is commenting mostly on existing congregations and their struggles with ecclessia semper reformanda (church always reforming).
    I suppose that even in a church of 3-5 families, however, some reform will also be necessary. As they face job challenges and teenagers and schedules, etc… their minor contexts will always be in subtle shift, eh.

  3. I’ve appreciated often what Van Gelder has to say about the local church, and I’ll have to get my hands on this one as well to read further.
    There is, however, something which does seem suspicious within the quoted text. It’s almost as though Ven Gelder is assuming that local congregations are more large than they are small; that there are more than a few couples/families who make up the congregation.
    Because from what others are saying (Hirsch and Cole specifically), the smaller a church is (3-5 families), the less they have to worry about keeping up with contextual changes; that the mDNA within a local body by its very nature will respond to lost and searching people effectively because it is very transparent, unlike many programmatically driven efforts to share Christ effectively with others.
    Perhaps what Van Gelder is getting at is that local congregations need not attempt to try and be at the very tip of contextual changes, but rather through a sensitivity to the Spirit the local church, through the building of intentional relationships, will be contextual to those they are engaging with the love and message of Christ…or maybe I’m totally speculating?

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