Monday, February 4, 2013

Contextualizing with Tea

The tea station at our church here in England
If you've read about or studied missions, you've probably heard of the term "contextualization". It's a long word for a pretty simple, yet important, concept. Contextualization basically means looking at a culture and asking "how should and can the gospel be expressed here?".  When we take Christ's message of salvation into a new culture, we do not compromise that message...but what we do need to change is how it is communicated and expressed based on the unique cultural context. How Christians express and live out their faith differs from country to country, dependent on cultural values and traditions, and this affects what Christian community looks like.

For example, things like translating the Bible into the common cultural language, engaging in (non-sinful) cultural traditions, wearing traditional dress and playing culturally-relevant music can be ways that missionaries engage in contextualization. In Austria, it can mean allowing time after each church service for eating and socializing together, as relaxed time to develop relationships is highly valued in Austrian culture.
Tea is always served with sugar and milk.

Here in England, one way that the missionaries contextualize is by offering tea to everyone who comes into the church service. This may seem like a small gesture, but it carries with it an important message. In British culture, tea is a popular drink but also something that brings people together. Social gatherings always involve tea, and offering someone tea is a welcoming gesture of hospitality. When we offer someone tea at church, it invites them in to be a part of the community. It says "welcome" and it makes them feel comfortable, giving them something to enjoy that is comforting and familiar.

When we get back to Austria, we look forward to exploring the culture and discovering new and creative way to contextualize. Our goal will be to plant a church that is distinctly Austrian, so that when people walk into a church gathering or service, they feel at home and welcome.

How does the church in your country contextualize?