Church Planting

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This is our Church Planting newsletter! Check out past issues HERE.

Informative #6  |  May 2023

Thank You, Tim Keller, For Helping Me With Cultural Exegesis
One of the things I’ve learned with Tim Keller, who passed away last week, is the importance of cultural exegesis. I was taught about biblical exegesis in seminary, but only when I was planting a church and reading Tim Keller did I really learn about cultural exegesis. Both are important and needed. Without the first, we fail to understand God’s word; without the second, we fail to communicate God’s word. In order to do biblical exegesis, we need to spend time with and go deep into the Scriptures. In order to do cultural exegesis, we need to spend time with and go deep into relationships. Using John Stott’s concept of “double listening,” we need to listen to both the Word and the world — either way, before speaking, the messenger needs to listen.

The goal of cultural exegesis is contextualization — we listen in order to understand, and we understand in order to communicate. It was Tim Keller that taught me this concept. He says, “Contextualization is not — as is often argued — giving people what they want to hear. Rather, it is giving people the Bible’s answers, which they may not at all want to hear, to questions about life that people in their particular time and place are asking, in language and forms they can comprehend, and through appeals and arguments with force they can feel, even if they reject them. Sound contextualization means translating and adapting the communication and ministry of the gospel to a particular culture without compromising the essence and particulars of the gospel itself. […] A contextualized gospel is marked by clarity and attractiveness, and yet it still challenges sinners’ self-sufficiency and calls them to repentance. It adapts and connects to the culture, yet at the same time challenges and confronts it. If we fail to adapt to the culture or if we fail to challenge the culture — if we under- or overcontextualize — our ministry will be unfruitful because we have failed to contextualize well.” (Center Church, p.89) 

This definition was one of the most important and helpful truths when I was planting a church in Rio, Brazil, between 2007 and 2016. As a pastor’s kid, raised in the church, I was very familiar with the Bible and had a reasonable knowledge of theology. But when I started planting a church, I came to realize that I had been trained to preach mainly to believers with the same Christian background I had. It was necessary to “have the same mindset as Christ Jesus, who though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:5-7). If Jesus, in order to accomplish his mission, “emptied himself,” I also had to empty myself and step out of my religious comfort zone.

In practical terms, I needed to reflect on some questions: Am I wise and humble to start listening instead of speaking? Do I spend a considerable part of my time with “outsiders?” Before preaching to the Ethiopian Eunuch, “Philip ran to him and heard him… and asked…” (Acts 8:30). He walked with him, listened to him, and asked him questions… all this before speaking anything about the gospel.

Am I using accessible and well-explained vocabulary when preaching the Word? In other words, am I “translating” well the biblical and theological terms for the sake of people unfamiliar with the Scriptures? 

Am I willing to break down all external barriers we create to the flow of the gospel so the only barrier that remains is the gospel itself?

Am I willing to read and use secular authors in order to understand the cultural narratives, find common ground, create connections, and resonate with secular people?

Do I have the same boldness as the apostle Paul who, preaching in Athens, was not afraid to quote their Greek poets (Acts 17:28)?

Am I humble enough to hear, comprehend, and sympathize with doubts and objections that secular people have towards God and the Bible without judging and condemning them?

Am I familiar with the cultural gaps and vulnerable spaces where the gospel can penetrate and transform? Am I able to discern between what can be affirmed and what needs to be confronted in my cultural context? Can I discern the areas where common grace and original sin are present in the culture where we live?

Do I really believe in the message of the gospel? Do I really understand it? Am I able to explain it in a convincing way, with passion, clarity and faithfulness? 

As I was planting a new church while reading and listening to Tim Keller’s sermons at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York, these questions became a permanent reminder in my pastoral ministry. Cultural exegesis helped me to understand the gospel better, and I could see that the biggest example of contextualization came from Jesus himself, “the Word that became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). Are you willing to develop cultural exegesis in your ministry too?  

Clinton Cesar
Prairie District Church Plant Catalyst
Associate Pastor at First Evangelical Free Church of Calgary

Quote of the Month

Ten Things Pastors Wish They Knew Before They Became Pastors
By Thomas S. RainerIn an informal survey of pastors, I asked a simple question:

What do you wish you had been told before you became a pastor?

Some of the responses were obvious. For me, a few were surprises.

I note them in order of frequency of response, not necessarily in order of importance. After each item, I offer a representative quote from a pastor.

I wish someone had taught me basic leadership skills. “I was well-grounded in theology and Bible exegesis, but seminary did not prepare me for the real world of real people. It would have been great to have someone walk alongside me before my first church.”

I needed to know a lot more about personal financial issues. “No one ever told me about minister’s housing, social security, automobile reimbursement, and the difference between a package and a salary. I got burned in my first church.”

I wish I had been given advice on how to deal with power groups and power people in the church. “I got it all wrong in my first two churches. I was fired outright from the first one and pressured out in the second one. Someone finally and courageously pointed out how I was messing things up almost from the moment I began in a new church. I am so thankful that I am in the ninth year of a happy pastorate in my third church.”

Don’t give up your time in prayer and the Word. “I really don’t ever remember anyone pointing me in that direction. The busier I became at the church, the more I neglected my primary calling. It was a subtle process; I wish I had been forewarned.”

I wish someone had told me I needed some business training. “I felt inadequate and embarrassed in the first budget meetings. And it really hit home when we looked at a building program that involved fundraising and debt. I had no clue what the bankers were saying.”

Someone should have told me that there are mean people in the church. “Look, I was prepared to deal with critics. That’s the reality of any leadership position. But I never expected a few of the members to be so mean and cruel. One church member wrote something really cruel on my Facebook wall. Both my wife and children cried when they read it.”

Show me how to help my kids grow up like normal kids. “I really worry about the glasshouse syndrome with my wife and kids. I’m particularly worried that my children will see so much of the negative that they will grow up hating the church. I’ve seen it happen too many times.”

I wish I had been told to continue to date my wife. “I was diligent in dating my wife before I became a pastor. I then got so busy helping others with their needs that I neglected her. I almost lost my marriage. She felt so alone as I tried to meet everyone’s needs but hers.”

Someone needed to tell me about the expectation of being omnipresent. “I had no idea that people would expect me to be at so many meetings, so many church socials, and so many sports and civic functions. It is impossible to meet all those expectations, so I left some folks disappointed or mad.”

I really needed help knowing how to minister to dying people. “Some of those who have terminal illnesses have such a strong faith that they minister to me. But many of them are scared and have questions I never anticipated. I was totally unprepared for these pastoral care issues when I first became a pastor.”

How do you respond to this list? What would you add?

Thom Rainer

Prayer RequestsPray for a church planter for NE Calgary, and for the monthly meetings we’ve started there.
Pray for a church planter for EFC Regina.
Pray for the National Theology Conference in Okotoks (Jun 8-9).
Pray for the churches looking for pastors in our PD.
Pray for our PD Pastors, so they stay encouraged in ministry.
Pray for a genuine revival and missionary awakening in our PD churches.Pray for the revitalization of PD churches in decline. 
Pray for God to raise up church planters in our PD.
Pray for unity and peace in our churches.

Disciple-Making Peer Coach Group: If you want to be part of it, please, send me a message ( We meet on Zoom every other Wednesday, from 8:30 to 9:30 am.

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