Be Missional: Intentionally Exegete Your Culture (Part 1)

Exegeting the culture is the work of every missionalist—a Christian who is aligned with the redemptive mission of Jesus. Ray Bakke asks the question, “How do you interpret a neighborhood?” He then suggests that it is similar to interpreting Scripture:

Most of us have been taught to look at a text in context. The single verse or passage may communicate powerfully and immediately by itself, but it usually helps us to relate it to the chapter and the book, to know what kind of literature we are reading, to know something about who wrote it and when and why. We need to apply the same principle to our neighborhood. We can regard it as a specific text, or we can work to find out what makes the city tick and how that affects our community. (1)

“The Principle of Cultural Exegesis” is identified by Aubrey Malphurs as an important aspect for the Church in maintaining cultural relevance. He explains,

A vital aspect of communicating divine truth is the application of truth to life. This can’t take place, however, unless we understand what’s taking place in people’s lives, both lost and saved To study what’s taking place in the “world out there” and to address it in terms of God’s truth will help add authenticity to sermons—whether they’re directed to lost or saved people. (2)

A good illustration of this principle is found in 1 Chronicles 12:32. The writer describes the men of Issachar as those “who understood the times and knew what Israel should do.” Apparently, they had an awareness of what was going on around them. But not only did they understand the times, they also knew what should be done.

The best way to learn a language is to immerse oneself into the culture. Christians cannot communicate the gospel in culturally relevant ways until they learn the language of the culture.

Dr. Ralph Winter, General Director of the Frontier Mission Fellowship, presented a paper entitled “From Mission to Evangelism to Mission” at the Singapore 2002 consultation on unreached peoples. He contends that missionaries “settled too soon for a cessation of mission in Japan and went to evangelism from a highly Westernized base, and that we need to begin again in pioneer-mission thinking if we are every going to win Japan.” (3)

Recognition of the post-Christendom era in the United States in the twenty-first century requires a similar need to begin again in “pioneer-mission thinking” if we are ever going to win America. A Missiological approach to reaching lost people in the diverse cultural context of America is critically necessary for people movements to emerge.

If you are going to embrace a missional mindset – start by exegeting the neighborhood and culture where you live. Be a missionary on your street and in your community


  1. Bakke, The Urban Christian, InterVarsity Press, 1987,108–109.
  2. Malphurs, Planting Growing Churches for the 21st Century, Baker Books, 1998, 174.
  3. Ralph Winter, “Reviewing the September–October Mission Frontiers,” Mission Frontiers, Jan–Feb 2006, 18–19.

Author

Dave DeVries

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Dr. Dave DeVries is a coach, trainer, author and founder of Missional Challenge. He is passionate about coaching and training church planters and missional leaders. With 30+ years of church planting and leadership development experience, Dave brings his passion and encouragement to those he trains and coaches.
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