Why a Pastor Needs to Learn His Context

To the North Dakotans, Become as a North Dakotan

To faithfully pastor those who are culturally different from you, the first thing you should do is learn as much as you can about your context. Start by getting to know the people in your church. If possible visit them in their homes and places of work. But also learn who your neighbors are. Talk to local business owners. See if the local library has any information on your community. Ask lots of questions. In general, people take pride in their heritage and are more than willing to talk about it. Ask a long-time community member in the church to show you around and introduce you to others.

It is important for us to pursue pastoral ministry as missionaries.

Learn as much as you can about your context by getting involved. During my first couple years in North Dakota, I rode a combine with a farmer, fixed a fence with one rancher, inoculated and weighed cattle with another, and went fishing with many. This enabled me to build discipling relationships with them, show my love for them, and gain a hands-on experience about the community’s values where God’s called me to serve. By spending time with them on their turf, and by serving their families in times of need (such as the death of a loved one) it earned me capital in their eyes, and then they were willing to trust me in leading the church.

Bridging Cultural Gaps

Once you have an idea of the cultural makeup of your community, research those cultures. Cultural differences often relate to a variety of ethnic backgrounds. For example, our area of North Dakota is made up largely of Germans and Scandinavians who tend to be hard-working and unwilling to ask for help.

While hard work is a good thing, self-sufficiency and an unwillingness to open up your life to others hinders personal maturity and Christians being able to serve one other. One way this had taken root in the church I serve was in prayer requests. They tended to seek prayer for physical needs like health issues for themselves or others, but not for their own spiritual needs. My wife and I set out to model being open about our spiritual needs and struggles. Over time, long-time church members began seeking prayer for their spiritual needs.

Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 9:22, “I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.” He modeled understanding the cultural differences of his context, for example, by having Timothy circumcised for the sake of ministry among the Jews (Acts 16:3) and appealing to the Athenians’ own religion as a bridge to sharing the gospel (Acts 17:22–23). Likewise, it is important for us to pursue pastoral ministry as missionaries. We should desire to learn all we can about our context so God can use us most effectively in it.

This article is adapted from 15 Things Seminary Couldn’t Teach Me edited by Collin Hansen and Jeff Robinson Sr..

Related Articles

Related Resources

Crossway is a not-for-profit Christian ministry that exists solely for the purpose of proclaiming the gospel through publishing gospel-centered, Bible-centered content. Learn more or donate today at crossway.org/about.