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Contextual Preaching

By Ed Stetzer | Director of LifeWay Research, author of Breaking the Missional Code; Comeback Churches; and Planting Missional Churches

At the heart of effective preaching is a solid missiological perspective. Are you communicating in such a way that your words actually convey biblical truth to your audience? Or does your preaching float right past your hearers because it’s not delivered “on a frequency” that they listen to? In this respect, we can probably learn as much about good preaching from Hudson Taylor as we can from Haddon Robinson.


Jesus left His comfortable dwelling in heaven and took on the appearance of those He sought to reach. He wore their clothes, ate their food, spoke their language and understood their culture at its deepest level. He fully identified with His hearers.

The idea behind indigenization for us today is that a church should spring forth out of the soil in which it is planted. It is indigenous in that its leadership, expressions, forms and functions reflect a biblical expression in a certain context.

What we have found is that when the pastoral leadership, core of the church and community all line up, the potential for the church to take on an indigenous or contextual form is significant. This combination seems to provide a greenhouse for explosive growth. Preaching is a central part of that process.


If the church is to become an indigenous expression of its context, then contextualization comes into play. When it comes to contextualization, reality suggests that the eternal, universal truth of God’s Word is understood and appropriated by people through a cultural grid or framework.

Though we understand and appropriate the truth as conditioned by culture, biblical truth is eternal. However, we, and our hearers, are not!

The Way the Message Is Communicated

By far, the most controversial point of this whole discussion is the way the message is communicated. Many in the Christian church suggest that the only way to communicate the gospel is through verse-by-verse expository preaching. Others like Rick Warren have adopted what he calls a topical exposition approach. Still others like Dan Kimball, in The Emerging Church, talk about a theotopical approach. I’ve written more about types of preaching elsewhere. But, the issue here is not whether you approach Scripture from an expository perspective or a topical one; it has more to do with your starting point so you can be understood by your hearers.

Most Christians prefer to begin at the point of biblical revelation—“Thus saith the Word of God!” For us, a simple reference to John 3 or Psalm 32 means that we are about to hear something important and relevant to our lives. From biblical revelation, we move toward application or relevance. Based on what God’s Word says, here is how we need to apply it to our lives. For those who are disconnected from Christ and the church or even new believers, their beginning point can be very different. They are often ignorant regarding any expression of Scripture and, at the very least, neutral toward it if not hostile.

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