Saturday, August 28, 2010

The “Seven Selfs” of Indigenous, Contextualized Churches

True indigenous church principles are in reality New Testament church principles.” —Melvin L. Hodges, Indigenous Church, pg. 58.

You’ve heard of the “Three Self” church before?  Well, here here are the “Seven Selfs” of indigenous or contextualized churches:

  1. Self-governing
  2. Self-supporting
  3. Self-propagating
  4. Self-identifying
  5. Self-teaching
  6. Self-expressing
  7. Self-theologizing

These are explained in Discovering Church Planting, by J.D. Payne, pgs. 18-24:

Though there are many ways to plant churches, it is wise to plant contextualized churches. A contextualized or indigenous church springs from the soil and manifests many of the cultural traits and expressions of the people themselves, rather than being a church that consists, primarily, of an outside culture imported onto the new believers.

For example, I grew up in southeastern Kentucky. Many of the churches there had a great appreciation for the use of a piano in the worship services. They also believed that a vital part of church life required a fellowship hall where the congregation periodically gathered for meals. Though the people in my hometown still favor these elements of church life, a piano and fellowship hall would probably be seen as an oddity in a church planted among a nomadic people group of Africa.

In the nineteenth century, missiologists Rufus Anderson and Henry Venn discussed these matters and developed what became known as the “Three Selfs” of indigenous churches: self-governing, self-supporting, and self-propagating. A self-governing church makes its own decisions. Though seeking the wisdom of others is helpful, there is no need to consult an outside body in all matters of church life. There is no governing official or authority overseeing the local congregation and mandating what that particular church will do or not do. For example, the local congregation is free to govern itself regarding the purchasing of property, appointing leaders, organizing its own order of service, and developing ministries.

A self-supporting church supports itself financially. If the congregation needs a new building, the congregation provides the money for such a structure. If it is necessary for the church to provide a full salary for the leaders, the church provides the income. A self-supporting church is not dependent on outside funds to meet the day-to-day financial requirements for ministry.

A self-propagating church is able to spread the gospel across its own local geographic area and throughout the world. Everything the local church needs in order to share the good news with others is already present among the members. No outside and separate authority (e.g., Western missionaries) is needed for the church to carry out the Great Commission.

Though Venn and Anderson popularized the Three Selfs, over the years other missiologists—those who study the science and art of missions— have included other characteristics in the list. For example, a self-identifying church has its own identity as the local church in its area. To be considered a church, those who gather as a group must identify themselves as the local expression of the body of Christ. The group is not a mission, chapel, Bible study, or a preaching point. The group is not seen as a ministry of another congregation or a second campus. Self-identifying is the concept that the membership of a congregation has come together to clearly identify itself as the local church in its area.

Charles Brock, in his book Indigenous Church Planting, a Practical Journey, wrote about churches being self-teaching and self-expressing. Self-teaching means that the individual members of the church family are able and willing to teach one another (Romans 15:14; 1 Corinthians 14:26, 31). For example, members can share with one another what the Lord reveals to them during their time in the Word.

Brock also noted that indigenous churches have the freedom to express themselves in a worship style according to the guidelines of the Scriptures. Therefore, churches in African contexts should have the freedom to express themselves through music with African instrumentation, rather than using a North American praise team. If a Nepalese congregation desires to sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs in accordance with its melodies, harmonies, and meters, then it should have the freedom to do so. If believers from a Muslim background want to use a preaching methodology that expects elders to sit on the floor while teaching the Scriptures, rather than standing in a pulpit area, then such freedom must be allowed. Some churches may expect their pastors to preach sermons in a monologue manner; other churches may find this insulting and expect sermons that involve dialogue with the people.

Self-expressing also includes the idea of the church being able to organize itself according to culturally appropriate patterns. For example, many Western churches operate with numerous committees in place and periodic business meetings. Such structures are not appropriate in other cultures of the world.

Indigenous churches should be self-theologizing as well. This means that they have the freedom to develop their own theologies regarding the unique cultural issues of their contexts. Self-theologizing is not the liberty to decide what parts of the Bible they will follow and what parts they will reject. The Scriptures establish the parameters whereby all theologies rise or fall. And though there is value and importance in church tradition and community wisdom, the Scriptures are paramount. No church has the freedom to tamper with, adjust, add to, or discard the teachings of the Scriptures. However, there are certain localized issues that impact churches but are not transcultural.

For example, churches in certain parts of Africa—particularly areas where there are large numbers of Muslim converts—struggle with the practice of polygamy. In the United Kingdom and in the United States, however, polygamy is not a widespread matter of ecclesiastical concern. Rarely would a systematic theologian address this topic for a Western audience, because the Church in the West is not being significantly affected by this issue. However, African churches need to have the freedom to allow the Holy Spirit to guide them in understanding how they should think about the issue of polygamy according to the Scriptures and how they should practice their faith in their contexts. So, a self-theologizing church, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, is able to apply a biblically guided ethic to the local issues of the day.

It should not be assumed that these seven selfs advocate that indigenous churches be self-sufficient and isolated from other churches and from the empowering Holy Spirit. Though church planters should work toward planting autonomous churches, no church is an island unto itself. The Scriptures are clear that local churches are interdependent with other churches. Such interdependence includes healthy cooperation among churches for fellowship, accountability, and the propagation of the gospel.

Concerned that church planters would think that indigenous churches are to be self-sufficient, Brock emphasized that these selfs should be seen as “Christ-sustained” activities. That is, only by the power of the Lord himself is the church able to live according to a kingdom ethic in the world. Therefore, these seven selfs only come about as the Lord gives the ability (Ephesians 2:10; cf. Philippians 1:6; Jude v. 24).

Read the entire book on-line.

10 comments:

Abu Daoud said...

This would seem to mean that c5 approach to evangelism is inherently flawed then. I say this because in that approach the Western missionaries do the 'contextualizing' and then present their version of the 'contextualized' gospel to Muslims. This information here seem to imply that contextualization should be done by the indigenous believers, not done pre-emptively by missionaries.

Warrick Farah said...

Abu Daoud, have you seen this chart?: http://muslimministry.blogspot.com/2010/03/insider-movement-debate-which-c5.html

Abu Daoud said...

Hi Warrick, yes I have. In fact, I'm on the editorial board of SFM and was the person who brought this article to the journal and helped prep it for publication.

What I am suggesting is something a little more nuanced, and on a different plane. I have a 20-page paper on this topic if you really want the details.

In a nutshell, I disagree with Abed's spectrum. I also disagree with the idea that you can have contextualization without syncretism. I also think that syncretism is a built-in part of Christianity and is unavoidable, and that doesn't bother me.

Finally, I think that genuine syncretism (or, as I call it, organic syncretism) is something that is for the most pat carried out by indigenous missionaries, and certainly not, as is the fad nowadays among evangelicals, by missionaries.

Again, if you really want the details email me and I'll send you the paper.

Tim Herald said...

Abu Daoud,

1. Could you please define how you are using the words "contextualization" and "syncretism" here?

2. You said, "In that [c5] approach the Western missionaries do the 'contextualizing' and then present their version of the 'contextualized' gospel to Muslims." That is a pretty broad brush-stroke considering that c5 is not a methodology but a system of classifying indigenous "churches." Are you implying that, in your experience, all Muslims who have chosen to follow Jesus and retain their Muslim identity have been spoon-fed this concept?

Peace.

Tim Herald said...

Abu Daoud,

1. Could you please define how you are using the words "contextualization" and "syncretism" here?

2. You said, "In that [c5] approach the Western missionaries do the 'contextualizing' and then present their version of the 'contextualized' gospel to Muslims." That is a pretty broad brush-stroke considering that c5 is not a methodology but a system of classifying indigenous "churches." Are you implying that, in your experience, all Muslims who have chosen to follow Jesus and retain their Muslim identity have been spoon-fed this concept?

Peace.

Abu Daoud said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Abu Daoud said...

You said, 'In that [c5] approach the Western missionaries do the 'contextualizing' and then present their version of
the 'contextualized' gospel to Muslims.' That is a pretty broad brush-stroke considering that c5 is not a methodology but a system of classifying indigenous "churches." Are you implying that, in your experience, all Muslims who have chosen to follow Jesus and retain their Muslim identity have been spoon-fed this concept?

The two terms 'c5' and 'contextualization' have suffered the same fate. They were removed from their original context and recruited as evangelistic tools. Thus C5 went from being, as you rightly noted, simply a descriptive tool, to being a church-planting strategy. Missionaries decided ahead of time what kind of church their team would plant, maybe c4, maybe c5, and they would tell you, even before their first convert. Does this not match your experience? It sure matches mine.

Spoon fed? That's a little bit stronger term than I would use. It implies a sort of mono-directionality to the relationship between missionary and disciple. I would not say they are spoon-fed it, but they are fed it, or at least offered it and told that's it a good dish. And in the end, Anglican missionaries tend to make Anglican converts, as do baptists and Catholics and Pentecostals. We teach what we know. We try to allow for self-expression and exploration, but for the most part what the missionary suggests is what the disciple will believe. If the missionary suggests, you can or you should continue to call yourself a Muslim, then guess what, he or she probably will.

Hope that helps. --AD

Abu Daoud said...

Try this again:

A friend tried to ask a question on this blog but the blog kept eating it, so here is my answer, and the questions are included in there. I will probably post a version of this at my blog too:

Question 1:

1. Could you please define how you are using the
words "contextualization" and "syncretism" here?


I am using a different definition of contextualization, and I think that it also the meaning that is being used by the seven self-church article here. The original meaning of contextualization was an extension of indigenization and was understood to be something carried out by the local believers, not by missionaries. Of course missionaries do indeed need to adapt aspects of their communication, that's not new at all. But the actual work of contextualization is primarily the prerogative of the local believers, in conversation both the church of history and other churches in the world. This is the understanding of contextualization advanced by Coe and Schreiter. This is what I cal organic contextualization.

Initially evangelicals didn't like this idea at all, as it came out of the World Council of Churches in the early and mid 70's.

Eventually, though, some did get on board but they started to view it not so much as an historical progression that would take place perhaps decades or even centuries after the initial founding of a church. Rather it was interpreted as a missionary method, something that missionaries could do ahead of time, in advance of the founding of the actual communities. Do you see the difference? It's quite dramatic, I think. So in the older sense of the word (organic) contextualization is an extension and the next step after indigenization (leadership and authority are xfered to the locals).

In the newer sense of the word, which is only used by evangelicals incidentally, this is what I would call directed contextualization.

Now to your question about believers in Jesus who still call themselves Muslims. I would break them down into three categories, though maybe there are more. 1) Those who do this because they don't want to be persecuted. 2) Those who use the term for the sake of evangelism and not burning bridges. 3) Those who genuinely feel and think like Muslims, but with some kind of affection or love for Jesus and faith that he reconciles us to God. I don't know any of the third sort, though I'd be interested in meeting some. Based on my lengthy conversation with our common friend yesterday I *think* he is advocating the second category. That doesn't seem to be what I hear from CG people though.

The only real study of people I've read who might be in category three are the 'Jesus Imandars' in Dhaka by Jorgensen, which is really hard to get (I had to get it from Yale, good grief!) Even there, only a third of the believers would say they are 'muslims', another third said something like 'Muslim followers of Jesus' and the final third would not say they are Muslims at all.

Re Syncretism: I simply mean 'mixing' and I think it is integral to Christianity. The Christmas tree is syncretistic, but it's ok. Modeling worship after a concert is mixing too, and evangelicals love it. So syncretism is, I would say, neutral. There can be good or bad syncretism. But both of the forms of contextualization mentioned above are syncretistic.

John Columbus said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
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