In a similar way, we need to do exegetical work to understand our starting point. We need to become aware of our reality. Only then can we develop an understanding of what is going on and what it will take to move forward. We must develop a deep understanding of three domains:
- The church
- The life of the people in the church
- The local context
Exegesis of the Church
When I work with a church, one of the first things I do is listen. Through a series of interviews and surveys, I gather their stories. I want to hear where they've been, what led them to this point in the journey, and how they feel about it. How can we understand where God is leading a church if we don't understand how God has been leading it? How can we see where we might be off right now, if we don't understand how we have been off in the past?
One of the hardest things for church leaders to do is have an accurate view of their own journey. I find that they either think they are far ahead of reality or they think they're much worse off than reality. This is the reason you need to ask questions about the church that you would not normally ask. For instance:
- What are the highs and lows of the church's life?
- Where have the main transitions occurred?
- What are the unique strengths?
- What are the weaknesses?
- What has occurred within the last three years that we should celebrate?
- What has occurred within the last three years that we should mourn?
- Where are the places that people are expressing a sense of urgency?
- Where are the places that people are stuck in complacency?
From a strategic point of view, the last two questions are especially crucial. Without a sense of urgency, at least within a pocket of people, it's hard to move a church into a new reality. People don't change because you have a great new idea. Change is an emotional issue and people refuse to change not because they don't want your new idea, but because they don't want to give up what they have. Therefore, exegeting the church is a way to help people develop a sense of urgency about what God is already doing and what God wants to do in your church. (Note: It's often helpful to get someone from the outside to help you see this reality accurately. As leaders of the church, we have blindspots, and others can help us gain a more accurate picture.)
Exegesis of the Life of the People in the Church
The deep understanding that comes as a result of this work is not directly about how churched people relate to the church vision or programming. Nor is it about moral issues. This is about understanding how people do life in your context. Questions here might include:
- What is the standard of living? Blue collar? White Collar?
- What is the ethnic makeup?
- What is the average commute to work?
- Describe work patterns of individuals.
- How do people spend their free time?
- Describe the involvement of kids in extracurricular activities?
- Where do people live in relationship to the church building? How has this changed in the last two decades?
- Identify how people relate to others, describing things like established friendships vs. transitory connections, and consistent contact vs. limited interaction.
- Outline the nature of the relationships and connectivity within the membership of the church, asking questions like: To what degree are friendships dependent upon church programming? To what level do people feel connected to others in the church?
Exegesis of the Context
Awareness of what is going on in the local context is something missionaries have done for generations, but it's not something that comes to mind when we think of developing groups in our own context. But it's crucial for two reasons. First, the church is called to be salt and light in our local context, and that requires that we understand our context. Second, it's helpful to understand how the relationship patterns of those within the church compare to the relationship patterns of those outside the church.