Looking back, looking forward: Cultural Evolution – part 5

This is the fifth, and final, post in a  series written by Egil Elling(@egilelling), from Stavanger, Norway. Elling is a Egil_Elling_picturegood friend of 3dm, a gifted leader, and a man of integrity. In Autumn 2011 Egil Elling took on the role as lead Pastor of IMI Kirken, a large local church, following Martin Cave who had led the church since 1979. He’s married to Hildegunn, and they have two children, Elia (3) and Frida (1). They have lived in Stavanger for six years.

Each of Elling’s posts reflect on the process of taking an existing church culture and foundation, and building on it to further the Kingdom of God. If you haven’t already read the previous posts we recommend reading them herehere,  here, and here before continuing with today’s post.

In Elling’s last post he looked at the need for leaders to engage in good, honest reflection in order for churches to grow. In this final post Elling talks about the importance of embracing the context God has called us to be in.

Embrace Your Context

In this last post I want to end with a very simple message that has been key in my own journey so far. It was a good friend, and part of the 3DM family, Keld Dahlman who first gave me these words as he was praying for me: “Embrace your context.” The words have followed me ever since, as I’ve both been fighting with them and found strength and encouragement in them.

This word is applicable in both a church community, and the wider community within which we live.

Let’s look at the church part first. I’ve been writing quite a bit in these posts about building on what God has already done, honouring the past, and not trying to recreate the church in our own image. If we’re honest, there’s tension in this for most of us. As leaders we have our own ideas of how we would like things to work. Some of us are young and haven’t had many occasions where our ideas have failed (or we’ve just forgotten them) and many of us would love to set all the parameters ourselves.

I love the church I’m a part of, and have a fantastic relationship with the founding pastor who still leads me. He’s given me many opportunities and lots of freedom and yet I’ve still had to fight the thoughts of how it would’ve been to start from the beginning, being able to shape everything out of my own ideas. Sometimes this has been just a fleeting thought and other times it has been a much harder battle. To lead IMI is an extreme privilege that I’m deeply grateful for, and at the same time this tension is real. And if you’re leading within existing contexts you probably have fought similar battles yourself.

In this tension, the word about embracing my context has been extremely helpful. I’ve just decided to identify myself fully with this community, letting go of behaviour and thinking that keeps me at a distance. This means not making excuses when we’re not fully in touch with the latest writings, whether that’s in the missional conversation or anything else. Instead, we choose to practice thankfulness for the fantastic people and community we are called to be part of.

As I said, this is not just about church, but the wider community we’re part of. This has meant making decisions to start making our community our home, rather than thinking we’re the new-comers. So rather than waiting for others to act, we act and speak like it’s our home. On a practical level, that looks like how I choose to interact with neighbours, parents in kindergarten, paying attention to what’s going in the city, taking late-night walks in the area, just looking, praying, and enjoying what I see.

Last summer I spoke at a summer conference, and my message was this: “embrace the context God has given you.” See the opportunities to meet Him, the people to share life with, and the people you can bless in your everyday life. As I ended, I invited people who needed God to break their heart for the context they live in to come for prayer. After the meeting, a young woman came and shared:

“I live in a very small place. We have tried to invite several friends to come and live with us here, but no one has wanted to. And as you were speaking, I was thinking: ‘Who would live in my town? No one would live there.’ So I came for prayer, because obviously God needed to do something in my heart. As I received prayer, I started thinking: ‘I want to live there!’ And I started to see the people there, and getting ideas for the first small steps I could do to move closer to them.”

I really believe God can break our heart for the context that He has given us, so that we can embrace it and see the opportunities He’s put right in front of us.

And to state what might seem obvious: these two of course should relate to each other. Embracing our local context helps us embrace our church context – as we are church wherever we belong. And embracing our church context opens our eyes and heart for the area we live in as well.

And with this simple message, our series ends:  Embrace your context… and discover the unique calling God has for the place that you have been sent to serve and lead.

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