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November 24, 2016

Understanding Before Being Understood

By Daniel Im

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Understanding before Being Understood 

With young children there’s not many moments I would consider dull, especially when they are awake. In fact, many times my wife and I feel as though we referee our children—making sure there’s no illegal hands to the face, calling fouls, and issuing penalties. When those moments happen, our goal has been to target the reason behind the behavior. In other words, instead of just dealing with the negative action, we are targeting the heart—the “why” behind the “what”.

Here’s why my wife and I think this is important. We don’t want to modify our children’s behavior; rather, we want to shepherd their heart. Shepherding our children’s hearts is much different than altering their behavior. But in order to do this, we have to first seek to understand (them) rather than seeking to be understood.

In a recent Q&A Webinar, Dhati Lewis, Founding and Leader Pastor at Blueprint Church in Atlanta, GA, talked about a similar principle. But rather than applying it to parenting, he applied it to the realm of contextualization and mission.

This principle, applied to contextualization and mission, can be found in at least two places, 1 Corinthians 9 and Acts 17. Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians, writes, “I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some” (1 Cor 9:22b). Luke, writing about Paul’s mission among the Athenians, describes Paul’s spirit being provoked as he saw that the city was full of idols (Acts 17:16). Later when Paul speaks in the Areopagus, he states, “I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you” (Acts 17:22–23).

In each passage mentioned above, Paul sought to understand his context prior to unloading gospel content. Thus it seems that Paul believed understanding people’s context—the heart of who they were as people—aided his ability to communicate the gospel in a way that was meaningful to the host culture. As Dhati noted, “there’s no such thing as an uncontextualized gospel.”

If this principle is true, how can we be people that seek to understand before being understood? Dhati provides at least two practical ways that we can seek understanding.

First, Dhati encourages believers to practice hospitality. In light of Jesus’ derogatory title, “Friend of Sinners,” it’s helpful to think of hospitality as friendship with strangers and outsiders. I like how Tony Merida in his book, Ordinary, describes hospitality. He writes, 

Hospitality doesn’t mean entertaining people. “Entertaining” is often about impressing others; hospitality is about serving others. Entertaining is often about the host; hospitality is about the guests. Entertaining is often shallow and superficial; hospitality is about depth and authenticity. Not only should we distinguish hospitality from entertaining, but we should also distinguish it from fellowship. Generally speaking, fellowship happens among believers in biblical community. But hospitality literally means, “love for strangers.” Hospitality is what we extend to outsiders, strangers, and those in physical and spiritual need. (Ordinary, 49)

If believers are going to understand their context, they are going to have to spend time with their context. Biblical and effective hospitality uses both homes and hands. Opening up one’s home and serving others with their hands help to break down relational barriers that would otherwise prevent believers from knowing those in their community. Dhati calls this a neighborhood missiology.

Click here for the full video, and to read the final point of how believers can seek understanding before being understood.

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  • Paul sought to understand his context prior to unloading gospel content.
  • “There’s no such thing as an uncontextualized gospel.” @dhati
  • In light of Jesus’ derogatory title, “Friend of Sinners,” it’s helpful to think of hospitality as friendship with strangers & outsiders.
  • If believers are going to understand their context they are going to have to spend time with their context.
  • “We must move from an ethnic missiology to a neighborhood missiology.” @dhati
  • As believers engrain their lives into the rhythm of the community, they better understand the idols & needs of the community.
  • The goal of contextualization—seeking to understand one’s context—is reconciliation. @dhati


Daniel Im

Daniel Im (@danielsangi) is the Senior Associate Pastor of Beulah Alliance Church, a multiplying multisite church focused on reaching 1% of Edmonton for Christ. His latest book is You Are What You Do: And Six Other Lies about Work, Life, and Love. He is also the author of No Silver Bullets and co-author of Planting Missional Churches. He co-hosts the New Churches Q&A Podcast, as well as the IMbetween Podcast. He has an M.A. in Global Leadership and has served and pastored in church plants and multisite churches ranging from 100 people to 50,000 people in Vancouver, Ottawa, Montreal, Korea, Edmonton, and Nashville. Because of their love for the local church, after pioneering and leading the church multiplication initiative for LifeWay, Daniel and his wife, Christina, moved back to Canada with their three children. For more information, visit danielim.com and follow him on social media @danielsangi.


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