Many American Christians see themselves, consciously or unconsciously, as consumers of religious goods and services provided by churches. They "pay" for the goods and services by their presence, participation, and giving, but they always retain the right to go elsewhere if they find a producer (church) that offers better goods and services. They justify leaving their church because "it isn't meeting our needs." How different is the perspective of the New Testament! The church is like a family, and one cannot retain the right to transfer families; the church is like a body, and one amputates a part of the body only under extreme circumstances. Joining a church is an expression of commitment to the fellowship, not a commitment to having one's needs met. (From John S. Hammett, Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches, p. 236.)I am reminded of a phone call I got recently from someone (a wife ... mmmmmm) looking for a church for their family. They were attending a good church not far from here (which is closer to their house than we are). She asked about ministries for the age groups of their children. I told her that our elementary age group was pretty small, and our college age group was essentially non-existent because we did not currently have anyone in that age group.
She commented on how important that was for them in deciding on a church. I wanted to say to say, "The reason we don't have those ministries here is because everyone looking for them goes where they already exist, rather than committing to come here and be a part of starting that ministry." I managed to refrain from saying it, but hung up the phone somewhat disgusted and discouraged by the consumeristic view of ministry and church that a twenty plus year Christian had.
Churches will never have certain ministries until people commit to being a part of the ministry. And if you insist on having that ministry before you will commit to the church, you might be a part of the problem of consuming the church rather than serving the church.
On another note,
Sin in us keeps us from ever being as good as our right beliefs should make us. The image of God in unbelievers keeps them from ever being as bad as their wrong beliefs should make them (Tim Keller, from Connecting Audio Session, 8:05).If everything in our lives ties to what we believe, as I believe it ultimately does, this statement holds both truth and fiction. It is true that sin affects believers negatively, and the image of God affects unbelievers positively.
However, it is also true, that at any given moment, our beliefs are being revealed by our actions. The particular action might not reveal our belief of two hours ago, or two minutes ago, or two seconds ago, and the action might not reveal our belief of two hours from now, or two minutes from now, or two seconds from now.
But in the moment, our beliefs are revealed by what we do. A person who chooses to get sinfully angry, reveals that at the moment, he does not believe God's plan for handling conflict will successfully address the problem for the resolution he desires. A person who chooses to become immoral reveals that at that moment he does not believe that God's plan for sexual satisfaction will truly work. These people might say all the right things, and might practice those right beliefs at certain times. But in the moment, their beliefs are truly revealed by what they do.
This is why pastors, teachers, parents, leaders, and disciplers (did I leave anyone out) must constantly address what we believe as well as what we do. Addressing what we do is convenient because it is easy, requires very little time and involvement. But addressing what we do will never bring long-term change until we also address what we believe.
So we must learn to ask the question, "What beliefs about God and his word did you reveal when did __________?" And then shut up and endure the silence while people think.
Note: Tim Keller is a popular mentor of sorts for conservative emergents. He is in the PCA, and pastors Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City. He is worth listening to, if you want to further your understanding of what contextualization is. If you prefer not to understand contextualization, you can read some blogs.
Here are some sites where you can listen and read stuff by Keller.
A Collection of links to Keller's preaching and writing
Another collection of links to Keller's preaching and writing
The Movement - Redeemer Urban Church Planting Center e-Newsletter