In many ways my ministry style is almost a logical progression. I believe that God’s church is to be missional and in order to carry that impulse out it has to be incarnational. When we examine the incarnation, we find that it in itself is highly relational. Once that divine-human relationship is restored there must be a re-ordering of life and this happens by employing our liturgical natures. This re-ordering of affections naturally leads to transformation.
To be missional is both a mentality and a strategy. As a missional church, we believe we are called to be missionaries in this culture and time. Missional Church finds it’s identity in the Missio Dei (Mission of God). I believe that I (we) receive our missional impulse and perspective from God himself who is ‘on mission’. Beginning in Genesis 3 God is on mission to redeem his creation. This is clear from God’s first promise to send The One who would crush the head of the serpent. This promise finds fulfillment in Christ who is sent ‘on mission’ through the incarnation by God into this world. To be missional is to live into the Imago Dei (image of God). I believe that God is still on mission through His church. Is should be stated that to be missional is to be more than ‘mission minded’.
Mission Minded churches see mission as something they DO. Mission is activity. Mission minded churches support mission trips, missionaries, and mission conferences (all of which are good things). On the other hand, missional churches see mission as something they ARE. Mission is identity. Missional churches believe that the church is the continued presence of Christ in the world. The church is sent on mission just as the Son was. As part of the Body of Christ, the Church, Christians should understand themselves to be ‘sent’ ones because the body of Christ is the sent one. This is where my missional impulse comes from.
My Missional Impulse
I am an outward facing person. When I walk into a room full of people, I instantly recognize the ones who are feeling uncomfortable, who are hurting, who are lonely. When I am in a church setting, I often have the person who doesn’t go to church in mind. I wonder what they would be thinking if they walked into the church at the moment we were worshipping. This outward facing posture drives my thinking. This missional impulse also leads me to assume that those who are far from the Kingdom are not going to show up in church on Sunday morning. This assumption also drives me to envision new entry points for those outside of the Kingdom of God. Lately I’ve been calling those entry points the front porch.
Missional Ministry = Front Porch Ministry
Traditionally the front porch has been the part of the house where we can have lots of conversations with people passing by on the street. Front porch conversations don’t require a lot of relationship or commitment. One-time meetings happen on the front porch but sometimes-deep relationships are also formed on the front porch. The front porch allows for both invitation and differentiation. Lots of people visit us on the front porch but not all of them come into our home. This allows for the church to have an internal home and a place for people inquiring about The Faith.
I believe Missional communities (which I will talk about soon) are the front porch of the church and because of my missional impulse these missional communities will have play a part in any church I have the opportunity to shape or plant.
I don’t want to stretch this word so far that it fails to hold the unique qualities that Christ gave it. Alan Hirsch points out four ways that the incarnation can impact our ministry: presence, proximity, powerlessness, and proclamation.
Jesus did not engage us with ideas alone. He engaged us with his life. What makes the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount most powerful is that the teacher perfectly embodies his teaching. Jesus IS the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus’ presence was a model of the Kingdom of God, a template of what redeemed humanity will be like. Incarnational ministry assumes that we not only have ideas to share but our lives as well. The Sermon also teaches that we ARE (not should be) the light and the salt. Our presence illuminates evil in the world and our life and practices push back (preserve) communities from quicker corruption. A modern day case study of Christians fleeing urban centers can be a testimony to this reality.
The incarnation is literally about the God who came near (proximity). God was made flesh in a specific geographical region. The historical Jesus was born in Bethlehem, called Jesus of Nazareth. He ministered in Judea, Samaria, and Jerusalem. His ministry was limited to one geographical location in the Middle East. He ministered to those within his area, those he could touch (Woman at the well, the paralytic, the woman with the issue of blood, etc.). Though the body of Christ is now spread across the globe through the ‘catholic’ church, there are still local expressions of the body located in specific geographical locations.
This idea of proximity is what drives our conviction to live in the area in which the church is located. Our personal ministry and the Church’s ministry are about the continual bringing of God’s presence to a community. Our hope for the church is that it would be a constant reminder to the neighborhood that God has indeed drawn near and He continues to do so in the life of the Church.
Incarnation brings with it a posture of powerlessness. Philippians 2: 7 says that Christ emptied himself taking the form of a servant. We desire for our ministry to display this humble submissive approach to people. We desire our ministry to come from a posture of service and not power.
Finally, Christ came near for the specific purpose of proclamation: “The Kingdom of God is at hand, repent and be baptized”. Our presence, proximity, and powerlessness all work to serve the purpose of proclamation. This is the primary aspect of the incarnation, the proclamation of God’s story coming to a climax in the life, death, resurrection and ascension of His Son, and the need for us to turn our hearts to Him.
Christ is our example and we too need to be present to the people in the specific neighborhood of Riverwest in order to humbly proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
What Christ gave us in the incarnation was a great gift; he gave himself. In the same way, people need more than the information in our head or the formulas that we have which will move them into the ‘saved’ category. They need people who are willing to give their whole person in the form of relationship. Ministry is the act of giving oneself to another. That does not disclude what we know but it should include so much more.
James K.A. Smith says it so well in his book Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation when he says that humans are ‘liturgical beings’. All of our lives are being formed by something and often that something is not Biblical. We are engaged in a life-long practice of being ‘re-formed’ into the image of the son. Liturgy is our work in this world and we are to be constantly creating formative habits and patterns that are working to re-order our affections.
True ministry requires change. Being missional requires the church to become incarnate itself in the ways of the culture it is ministering to but then it calls people to Christ and to different ways of living. The church is calling people out and challenging, leading, and forming people into the image of Christ. As Paul states: we are calling people to behold the glory of God knowing that this will lead them from one degree of glory to another (2 Cor. 3:18).