Make sure you have a vision before you start planting. (Pixabay)

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I once wrote an article that cautioned against planting or pastoring a church in your head, which has come up in the contextualization series I'm posting here.

What I mean is there's a danger of adopting a model of church without giving proper consideration to the people and culture God is sending you to plant or pastor. In short, we need a vision for the people before we develop a vision for a particular model of church.

Here are a few excerpts from my article to fill in some of the gaps.

When we adopt a pre-packaged church formula or simply steal another church's identity, we often import the vision God has given someone else for a certain time and place and make it ours–we import a model rather than engaging in God's mission. ...

When we formulate our mission and ministry strategies, it's important we do so for our own community, not someone else's. It's so easy to hear an incredible speaker at a conference and say, "I'm going to be just like that pastor!" But that is not what God is calling you to be. Too often, we get so excited by someone else's church that we get a vision for their church before we get a vision for our people.

My challenge is don't plant or pastor a church in your head. Plant or pastor a church in your community. That's where the gospel transforms real people who are living real lives. Know and live in your culture, not someone else's. Don't just bring a model, bring the gospel. Lead a church; don't lead a plan. ...

Paul's example reminds us that the way we do outreach differs from location to location. Outreach often has a different starting point but evangelism comes to the same conclusion–proclaiming a bloody cross and an empty tomb.

Furthermore, churches themselves look different from context-to-context. There are marks of a biblical church that should and must be present in every culture, but biblically faithful church looks different from culture-to-culture. A biblically faithful church in Singapore, Senegal and Seattle share the same gospel, worship the same God and teach the same Scriptures, but they should (even must) look different.

When it comes to the kingdom of God, uniformity is not a value. Simply cloning other successful models is unlikely to work. Dig into your community, get to know the religious climate, what they think about the church and what their objections are. Then respond accordingly; not by changing your message, but clearly articulating and demonstrating the relevance of the truth. And you must continue to do this the rest of your ministry. If we stop being students of our surrounding culture, then our own church will become an isolated, ineffective culture unto itself. ...

Ultimately, your objective is to bring a clear presentation of Christ and the gospel to your culture, not just a church or a particular way of doing church. Sometimes, we get too excited about the fact that we're leading a church. That's great, as long as we remember that the goal of our church is to proclaim the gospel, make disciples and be about kingdom work.

Ed Stetzer, Ph.D., holds the Billy Graham Chair of Church, Mission and Evangelism at Wheaton College and serves as executive director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism. He has planted, revitalized and pastored churches, trained pastors and church planters on six continents, holds two master's degrees and two doctorates and has written dozens of articles and books. Read more about Ed at

This article originally appeared at


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