I have grown up in Maine for the majority of my life. I grew up a pastor’s kid and have lived with the church as a major part of my life. Because of this I have a deep love for the church. I see the beauty of what the church can be and how Jesus is using the church to build His kingdom here in Maine.
Five years ago I started feeling the call to plant a church. I did what anyone in my position would do; I started talking to other planters, pastors and people who were part of different church leadership. I didn’t stop there; I also started to listen to those who were not part of the church. It was in those conversations that I learned what might have been the most valuable lesson. A lesson that surprisingly I didn’t hear much about from those who were already in the church. I learned the simple, yet profound truth; each person is very different. I know, deep huh!
Here is what I mean; my context, my community and my neighborhood is different than the people in another context, your community or someone else’s neighborhood. I know you might be thinking, “Well, duh! Of course there is a difference in people and communities.” Yes, I knew this also, but here is the question that I couldn’t get out of my mind; “Was my church plant going to look the same as every other church in the community? Or was I willing to intentionally go after those who looked, acted and were different than the people who sat in the pews of a church in the community?” Was I willing to hold firmly to the truth of the gospel while contextualizing to the audience I was attempting to share this life giving hope, or would I simply read the manual all the experts had put together and plant the way they said I should plant?
For you see, I planted a church in a town where there were already good, godly, gospel proclaiming churches. I planted in a community where I had friends who were pastors, people who I knew well and I knew their hearts for the lost. I planted in a context where people were being saved, churches were growing, and the lost were finding the life giving message of Jesus. All this was good, but what I couldn’t shake from my mind was that in the midst of this success, the vast majority of the people in my community would not darken the door of those same churches. I quickly knew that these people needed a different kind of a church. In listening to them, I saw that what they needed was something that met them in a way they were not being met. They needed a church that was going to contextualize to them, their needs and meet them where they are with the message of grace.
Their deepest need was the gospel. The gospel is the message of hope for a hopeless world; a message of grace for people who are judged; and a message of healing for the broken. Yet, even though the message was the same, the method by which this message was shared needed to be changed because of the context of the people.
Here is the thing that is beautiful about the church of Christ. Throughout the New Testament there are some very clear things a church is to be and do; however, when you really start to look to shape the small details of what a church should look like, the Bible is surprisingly silent. We don’t know how many elders there should be, how we are to order our Sunday gathering, or how the apostles taught the word (was it book by book, topical, systematic or big picture). We don’t know how many hours they studied for their weekly address. We aren’t really sure if they had children’s church, how much they gave to missions, if they had ‘special elements’, or if they meet for 60 minutes or three hours. What we do know is that the early church looked different than the culture, yet it engaged the culture in their context with the message of hope.
This was my goal. Engage the culture where they are with the hope of Jesus. So this meant that we wouldn’t have a big band, use sweet videos for our announcements, or throw big outreach parties. None of those things are wrong, because there is a segment of people who will hear the gospel through those means, but there is also a large segment of people who need the gospel, and to hear it we might have to think differently. That is the beauty of church planting. We can take the same message into a community that other churches are already faithfully proclaiming and contextualize it for those who have yet to encounter with the living Jesus.
Maine needs hundreds of churches, church planters, and families to do just this. We must take the life-giving message of Jesus to the unique culture of “hipsterville” Portland, potato fields of ‘The County’, and everything in between. This is how the gospel will saturate Maine and God’s kingdom will be experienced here and now by every man, woman and child.
Mission Different Context by Josh Cousineau, Church Plant Leader in Lewiston, Maine. Josh can be reached at joshcousineau.com or by twitter @joshcousinea or on facebook: /josh.cousineau