A couple of years ago two of my coworkers went to visit a new small church in a village. Upon arriving, they asked the villagers what they knew about the community that meets there. The villagers told them that they were Protestant Christians. They come on Sundays, they dance and they go home. The villagers also explained, they did not understand what these Christians were saying since the worship was in a different language. In fact, that is the case with many churches in my community who don’t yet realize their ministry context. This story came to my mind as I Read Simon Chan’s book, Grassroots Asian Theology: Thinking the Faith From Ground Up. Chan’s work provides a great introduction to Asian Christianity. He highlights the importance of taking grassroots Christianity seriously to develop a contextual and local theology. We know that grassroots ecclesia experience change as their cultural context changes, which requires the church to update their approach in light of new situations that finds itself. For instance, in my home church, our elders opposed the use of drum in worship for so many years because the people who introduced Christianity told them to burn down any cultural objects they used to worship spirits. However, in recent years, the church allowed the use of drums in the church. After so many years of blindly rejecting, our church elders decided to examine their changing ministry context and reclaim necessary cultural identities to foster authentic worship experience.
Therefore I agree with Chan, the contextualizer of the gospel therefore must have “a metacultural framework that enables him or her to translate the biblical message into the cognitive, affective, and evaluative dimensions of another culture” (Loc. 109). This is important not only to grasp the message as intended originally but also not to destroy the local culture which we would use to effectively communicate the Gospel message. In my experience, it is not common to engage the local faith community to have a voice in the process of developing contextual theology. However, as Chan states, doing theology “ is ecclesial endeavor requiring cooperation between the people of God and the theologian”(Loc. 210). Furthermore, Chan adds, “the task of the professional theologian is not to tell the church what is good for it but to listen carefully what the Spirit of truth who indwells the church is saying through the people of God.” I found the practice of listening to be beneficial in my work with churches. About three years ago, one of the community leaders who came to know Jesus through my ministry, asked us to help him build a worship place in his village. He gave a portion of his land and needed help with building materials. Being the only Christian family in his village, he wanted to build a church which looks like a mosque. He thought that would make his friends and community comfortable to come to his worship place. We knew that it was not easy for him to become a Christians in the culture where ones religion also is part of the communally shared experience. After a thoughtful discussion, we agreed to build a church that neither looks like the traditional church building nor a mosque. This incident reminded me the importance of listening to God and others in the developing local theologies. Also as a leader the key is knowing that there is more than one way to do church or ministry. So we have to allow ourselves think differently or do things a different way.