In my last post on ministry style, I talked about my missional impulse. Part of being missional and a living as a sent one requires that a person be sent somewhere. Being sent to a location requires incarnation. So it is natural that the next descriptor of my ministry style would be Incarnation. I don’t want to stretch this word so far that it fails to hold the unique qualities that Christ gave it but I think it is a necessary piece in missional ministry. Alan Hirsch lists four characteristics of incarnation: 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 should be a testimony to the reality of what happens when there is a failure to incarnate the Gospel.
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 (the 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 which makes up 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 compliment the work 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. As a church incarnated in the community, we will also be a church that is announcing the reign of Christ now.
It is these four qualities that will shape how I (we) hope to incarnate the Gospel of Christ in a neighborhood.