Utah Advance Goals for 2016

LDS_Percentage_of_Population_2000We’ve already been very busy in 2016 – too busy to post this back at the beginning of the year. I want you to see this overview of some of the ministry activities we’re already involved in this year and others that we would like to accomplish. The needs are great in Utah and the Intermountain West – as this map demonstrates. Thanks for your prayers!

 

  • Recruit and mentor interns in ministry in Utah. We started laying the groundwork for an internship ministry last Fall, with our first intern arriving in February. We hope to see a steady stream of young adults training for ministry by coming to Utah.
  • Work with pursueGOD.org to create and distribute resources to help former Mormons on their transition to biblical faith. PursueGOD.org provides a simple platform for mentoring conversations that will help former Mormons in their journey. We don’t have much up yet, but you can see what we have at the Mormonism Resources Page.
  • Work with pursueGOD.org to create and distribute resources to train people to mentor former Mormons.
  • Complete a book: “A Guide to Shepherding Former Mormons.” This is serve as a companion to the online mentoring library at pursueGOD.org.
  • Organize two church planting Summits. These Summits, typically in May and October, gather church planters and church plant leaders from throughout Utah and beyond for prayer and encouragement.
  • Create training materials for leaders of the Transitions curriculum. Transitions is a ministry helping former Mormons on their journey to a new faith home.
  • Advise church planters, churches, and ministries as asked.
  • Speak at events and churches as asked.
  • Create and distribute resources to train churches in ministry among Mormons.
  • Network with local and national church planting leaders.
  • Put Utah Advance on a more solid financial footing.
  • Expand regional church planter networks for regular support, mentoring and prayer.

 

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Good News from Urbana 15

I spent thu15_blockgraphic_facebooke week between Christmas and New Year’s at the triennial Urbana Student Missions Conference. 16,000 students descended on downtown St. Louis to explore the ministry and missions calling God may have for their lives. Many of these students are looking for a next step in following God’s leading into missions.

 

Seminar
I was invited to give a seminar at Urbana called Mormonism: Cult or Culture? A Contextualized Approach to Ministry Among Mormons. On Monday afternoon, I shared for about 35 minutes and opened the floor for 25 minutes of Q & A. You never know what turnout to expect, IMG_1594but this session was packed! Just over 300 students crammed in. Many had to stand. Others were turned away at the door. I spent 45 minutes afterwards talking to students and answering questions. Many more came by my booth that afternoon to talk. Because of the popularity of the session, the Urbana team made a spot decision to offer it again on Wednesday afternoon. Without little advance publicity, about 120 students came. The attitude of students in both sessions was great. They were thoughtful and caring. Many of these students have close friends who are LDS. They came to my session to learn how to understand their Mormons friends and how to share their own faith with them.

Exhibit
I decided to invest in a booth in the Urbana Exhibition Hall to share the work of Utah Advance. I was one of 250 IMG_1611missions and ministry agencies seeking to connect with interested students. The booth was open every day from 1 to 6 pm, staffed by myself and my assistant Chasen (a student a Utah State University). It became a great place to meet up with students who had attended the seminar. At the booth, we invited students to come to Utah for a ministry internship. I met a number of young people who are seriously considering this option next summer or after graduation, or who otherwise have a significant interest in Utah. I’m not sure the booth would be fruitful for Utah Advance if I wasn’t also speaking. But in tandem with the seminar exposure, the booth was a good tool.

Mentoring
During the week I was able to meet with several people involved in ministry in Utah, particularly those affiliated with Intervarsity Christian Fellowship. I met local students and interacted with campus ministry staff. In a few cases, I was able to have significant input in helping to solve life and ministry issues.

Follow-up
I’m taking pains to keep in touch with people who expressed interest. I’ve had three great interviews with students since Urbana, and one student has already applied for an internship. I’m praying that God will create a pipeline of people coming to Utah to serve over the next several years – many of whom will decide to stay.

 

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Urbana Seminar Audio and Notes

Urbana seminar 1.1Here is the audio feed, along with a copy of the notes, for my recent seminar at Urbana 15. It’s called “Mormonism: Cult or Culture? A Contextualized Approach to Ministry Among Mormons.”

Audio Feed

Abstract: Latter-day Saints constitute a large, unreached people group. Their strong religio-cultural identity makes them resistant, but growing numbers are open to the gospel. Ministries are reaching Latter-day Saints by proclaiming the gospel in ways that take into account the unique LDS cultural identity.

Mormonism – Cult or Culture Notes

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Review of 2015

Utah on map2015 has been a productive year at Utah Advance! Here are some highlights.

  • Led a weekly training cohort in biblical and theological studies through CB Matrix.
  • Participated in monthly dialog meetings with teachers at local LDS Institute of Religion.
  • Hosted the “Think Outside” workshop for local pastors to help churches succeed at reaching people far from God.
  • Created a video curriculum series on Living in Utah, designed for small groups or Sunday school classes.
  • Attended the Exponential Conference, the nation’s largest gathering of church planters and church planting leaders, in Tampa, Florida.
  • Taught a 2-week module on Cults and Apologetics for CB Matrix.
  • Organized the spring Church Planters Summit, and participated in panel on Facing Family Challenges.
  • Participated in a panel at the Ethnic Ministries Summit on “Understanding your Latter-day Saint Neighbors.”
  • Graduated a cohort of leaders with CB Matrix.
  • Spoke at the Transitions Conference about navigating the relational journey from Mormonism to faith in Christ.
  • Helped a church design a support group and curriculum for people transitioning from other faiths.
  • Made progress on a new book: A Guide to Shepherding Former Mormons.
  • Published the Jesus Without Joseph study guide as an electronic book available on Amazon Kindle.
  • Organized the fall Church Planters Summit, and moderated a panel of veteran pastors on persevering in ministry in Utah.
  • Counseled with several former and transitioning Mormons about their faith journey.
  • Consulted with several church planters and pastors on areas of strategic and practical ministry.
  • Translated past training seminars into web articles on utahadvance.org.
  • Developed a multi-faceted internship program for young adults and others with an interest in cross-cultural ministry in Utah. Approved the first intern, who will be coming in February 2016.
  • Prepared to teach a seminar and staff a booth at the Urbana Student Missions Conference in St.Louis, MO – December 27-31.

 

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What Is Contextualization?

One of our goals at Utah Advance is to help churches contextualize the biblical gospel in the LDS culture. What does that mean? This article explains it well.

What is Contextualization?
Presenting the Gospel in Culturally Relevant Ways

by 

The topic of contextualization arises frequently in contemporary discussions on missiology and ecclesiology. Although it is sometimes controversial, contextualization remains a critical component of effective Gospel communication. The New Testament models the importance of healthy contextualization, and the history of Christian missions displays the need for contextualization.

In this research brief, I will discuss the process of contextualization. I will explain the nature of human culture, the definition of contextualization, contextualization’s final goal, and cautions that we should consider before we start contextualization.

Culture
Contextualization involves an attempt to present the Gospel in a culturally relevant way. For this reason, discussions about contextualization are connected to discussions about the nature of human culture; we cannot separate the two.

Defining Culture
When describing culture, I like the definition offered by Harvie M. Conn in The Evangelical Dictionary of Missions. Conn writes,

We use the term ‘culture’ to refer to the common ideas, feelings, and values that guide community and personal behavior, that organize and regulate what the group thinks, feels, and does about God, the world, and humanity. It explains why the Sawi people of Irian Jaya regard betrayal as a virtue, while the American sees it as a vice. It undergirds the Korean horror at the idea of Westerners’ placing their elderly parents in retirement homes, and Western horror at the idea of the Korean veneration of their ancestors. It is the climate of opinion that encourages an Eskimo to share his wife with a guest and hides the wife of an Iranian fundamentalist Muslim in a body-length veil. The closest New Testament approximation for culture is kosmos (world), but only when it refers to language-bound, organized human life (1 Cor. 14:10) or the sin-contaminated system of values, traditions, and social structures of which we are a part (John 17:11).

In light of this definition, I have written, “What this means is that ‘culture’ itself is not evil, but a composite of good and evil (as understood biblically) values and vocations, customs and creations, beliefs and behaviors that characterize a particular people in a particular place.”

Unfortunately, not all evangelicals understand culture in this manner. Some evangelicals mistakenly believe that Scripture’s warnings against the world, the kosmos, are warnings against culture itself. However, this is not the case. All people are fashioned in the image of God and are recipients of common grace. This means that we should expect to find some positive features present in every culture, even non-Christian cultures. At the same time, every person has sinned, and we should expect to find some negative features present in every culture. Instead of shunning culture completely, we should instead engage culture with care and discernment.

The Importance of Understanding Culture
Discussions about culture are unavoidable; all people live in a culture of some sort. There is no neutral position, one that might allow a person to stand in a cultural vacuum and make objective pronouncements on the cultures of others. All people, whether they realize it or not, are shaped by the culture in which they live.

Culture even shapes a person’s reception of the Christian faith. Andrew Walls has written well on this issue:

No one ever meets universal Christianity in itself: we only ever meet Christianity in a local form and that means a historically, culturally conditioned form. We need not fear this; when God became man he became historically, cultural conditioned man in a particular time and place. What he became, we need not fear to be. There is nothing wrong in having local forms of Christianity–provided that we remember that they are local.

With this statement, Walls does not suggest that the Christian Gospel is merely the product of a particular culture (or that it is only “true” in particular cultures). The teachings of Christianity remain objectively true in all times and in all places. Walls merely argues that we receive the truths of Christianity wrapped in the baggage of a particular cultural context. As I have put it, “Contextualization matters because we are not eternal, timeless, and a-cultural. Some of the ways we worship, how we present eternal truths, and how we live in and relate to society all must be considered. We live in a culture. How we see things, understand them, and present them to others must take culture into account.”

A failure to understand this point can actually lead to a form of cultural imperialism. A person might begin to believe that his culture’s way of practicing Christianity is the only way to practice Christianity. Should such a person begin to minister in a different culture, he will inadvertently share not only the Gospel but also his cultural traditions. This action would be unhelpful; it would try to force a distant culture onto potential converts.

Definition and Biblical Defense
The process of contextualization takes these facts about culture into account. It involves “presenting the unchanging truths of the gospel within the unique and changing contexts of cultures and worldviews.” Dan Gilliland offers a full definition of contextualization. He defines contextualization as a tool “to enable, insofar as it is humanly possible, an understanding of what it means that Jesus Christ, the Word, is authentically experienced in each and every human situation.” Such a tool is necessary because “while the human condition and the gospel remain the same, people have different worldviews which in turn impact how they interpret themselves, the world and the things you say.”

Scripture offers much support for this concept of contextualization; it is on display in the ministries of both Jesus and Paul. For his part, Jesus lived his earthly life in Palestine as a first-century Jew. He entered the culture of his day and “was so thoroughly a part of His culture that, when being betrayed by Judas, He had to be identified by a kiss.” Jesus’ ministry therefore displays a strong incarnational model; he not only took on human flesh, he also accepted a specific cultural context.

Paul’s ministry also reveals the need for contextualization, perhaps most notably in his sermons recorded in Acts. Paul intentionally addressed his Jewish listeners one way but addressed pagan philosophers differently. When he addressed Jews, Paul began with Scripture. When he addressed Gentiles, he began with general revelation. The focus of Paul’s sermons remained the same—the Gospel. However, Paul shifted his presentation of the Gospel to fit the worldviews of his listeners.

Contextualization, then, is simply about sharing the Gospel well. Those who deliberately practice the process of contextualization desire to have an element of intentionality in their Gospel sharing; they desire to share the Gospel in way that is most relevant to the culture they are addressing.

Models of Contextualization
One can contextualize the message of the Gospel well or poorly, and it is important to know not only the need for contextualization but also how to engage in the process appropriately. Paul Hiebert has helpfully suggested that there are four levels of contextualization: no contextualization, minimal contextualization, uncritical contextualization, and critical contextualization. The no contextualization approach understands the Christian faith as something that is not a part of human culture; it rejects the notion that culture shapes how one receives and practices Christianity. The minimal contextualization approach acknowledges that differences exist between cultures, but it tries to limit cultural adaptation as much as possible. Under this model, missionaries might translate the Bible into a foreign language but will likely arrange new church plants in a fashion similar to the churches in their home country. Uncritical contextualization tends to prioritize culture over the Gospel. It minimizes the eternal truths found in Scripture in order to emphasize cultural convictions and practices.

Critical contextualization seeks a balanced approach. In the words of Hiebert, in critical contextualization the Bible is seen as divine revelation, not simply as humanly constructed beliefs. In contextualization the heart of the gospel must be kept as it is encoded in forms that are understood by the people, without making the gospel captive to the contexts. This is an ongoing process of embodying the gospel in an ever-changing world. Here cultures are seen as both good and evil, not simply as neutral vehicles for understanding the world. No culture is absolute or privileged. We are all relativized by the gospel.

Out of all of these approaches, contemporary Christians should prefer critical contextualization. This approach preserves the truths found in the Gospel while also taking into account cultural differences.

Several missiologists and theologians have offered suggestions as to how Christians can practice a critical approach to contextualization. John Thorn lists six steps: be present, practice discernment, develop your theology, find courage, speak clearly, and love. I like to explain that when examining a culture, Christians must decide what parts to accept, what parts to reject, and what parts to redeem for Christ. I believe this assessment tool will allow Christians to contend for the faith as they contextualize the Gospel message.

Contextualization’s Goal
The goal for contextualization is to create “indigenous expressions of gospel-centered, mission-shaped churches.” Describing what an indigenous church might look like, Allen Tippet writes that when the indigenous people of a community think of the Lord as their own, not a foreign Christ; when they do things as unto the Lord, meeting the cultural needs around them, worshipping in patterns they understand; when their congregations function in participation in a body which is structurally indigenous; then you have an indigenous church.

Though this indigenized church might look radically different from a church in a different culture, it can be a faithful ambassador of the Gospel within its own cultural context.

Two Dangers to Avoid
I warn that contemporary Christians must avoid two pitfalls in regards to contextualization—obscurantism and syncretism. Obscurantism occurs when a person “confuses the gospel with some idea or expression external to the gospel.” For example, a person might believe that certain musical genres or evangelistic methods are essential features of the Christian faith.

Syncretism is the opposite error. It is the “mixing of Christianity with something else.” In an attempt to contextualize the Gospel, some Christians might uncritically accept the religious convictions of a particular culture. Should they believe and present these religious convictions in a manner that distorts or denies the Gospel, they are guilty of syncretism.

Exercising Caution
I offer three suggestions for those who seek to avoid these two dangers. I instruct readers to conduct an honest self-evaluation, develop an awareness of the history of the church, and maintain a focus on the Gospel.

Conclusion
Contextualization is an important component of effective Gospel ministry. The Gospel is an eternal, transcultural reality, but it comes to us within the context of a human culture. Contemporary Christians should carefully seek to discern the difference between Gospel truth and cultural tradition. They should then present the Gospel in a manner that is culturally relevant, taking care to practice the cautions I outline here. By doing so, they can create effective, indigenous churches.

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