Contextualization Goes Both Ways
You’re at a conference for young, urban pastors. Most of the men in attendance are dressed to fit the part. No suits and ties in sight. Stylish jeans and untucked shirts are the norm.
In comes an older pastor who has been invited to address the gathering. He is dressed to the nines. A flashy suit with gold cuff links that most of the younger guys wouldn’t even know how to put on.
So here we are in a crowd of young pastors – all dressed a certain way, and one man shows up looking completely out of place. And the sad truth is… he knew he would be out of place. But he still decided to dress that way.
The crowd begins whispering about the older pastor’s apparel. He’s trying to make a statement. He is out of touch. He doesn’t know how to contextualize. He probably wears a suit when he washes the car!
Now let me reverse the scenario.
A young pastor is called to address a gathering of pastors, most of whom are over 50. Most of the pastors are dressed in suits and ties, or at least business casual. Into this sea of polyester comes one young guy – hair tousled like he just got out of bed, shirt untucked, holes in his jeans.
Here we are in a crowd of older pastors – all dressed a certain way, and one man shows up looking completely out of place. And the truth is… he knew he would stand out.
What do you say about the young guy? I say the same thing I would about the older pastor mentioned above. He’s trying to make a statement. And even more… he doesn’t know how to contextualize.
Contextualization goes both ways.
My generation likes to talk about contextualizing to the urban, hip postmodern culture. But who will dress the part of the country parson in a rural setting? Who will be respectful enough to dress one way for one crowd and another way for another?
I know people who brag about the fact that they do not own a suit and tie. I suppose they aren’t preaching many funerals yet.
If you are truly able to contextualize, then you should not look for occasions to stand out and make a statement with your appearance. Let’s be honest. Just like some young guys don’t know if they can take seriously the guy they never see dress down, many older guys don’t know if they can take seriously the guy they never see dress up. They think, If they are so out of touch that they can’t throw on a suit coat when going to a gathering of older pastors, why should I think they are experts at contextualizing to the lost world around them?
Just a thought.