Incarnationational ministry is all about immersing yourself among a group of people, acting as Jesus would in order to embed the gospel. This is a beautiful thing – a powerful thing. Seeing mission and ministry in these terms sets followers of Jesus free to serve him in their everyday life. Alan Hirsch writes the following:
‘Mission becomes something that fits seamlessly into the ordinary rhythms of life, friendships, and community. Incarnational ministry essentially means taking the church to people rather than bringing people to church.’
This is an awesome way to do ministry. I am captured by the phrase ‘taking the church to people.’ This is a powerful statement. Some people think that to be a follower of Jesus, or go to church, you first have to act a certain way or be a particular type of person. Incarnational ministry says that it is God who comes to us. It embodies Jesus’ own coming to earth and reminds us that God doesn’t love from a distance but draws close to people.
Incarnational ministry helps us to look beyond the walls of our church. I’ve been in church my whole life and I know how difficult it can be keep looking out. We’re comfortable with certain people. There’s programs to run, and meetings to go to. I get all this. The problem is following Jesus is personal, but not private. Incarnational living puts mission on the forefront because it incorporates joining God’s mission with what you do everyday.
Invitation to Relationship
Relationship is the core of the gospel. We need Jesus. We need his death and resurrection but not because God is unloving. He wants to make us his own, bring us into his family, make us adopted children. What Jesus did removes what is impossible for me (sin) and invites me into the loving embrace of God. He is relational.
If we are to reach people in the way Jesus did, that is, if we are to follow him, it must be relational. The relational God implores his followers to engage with those around them from the parent on the school run to the child in the canteen line. Isn’t this what Jesus did when he invited himself to afternoon tea with Zaccaeus? Or prevented a mob stoning an adulterous woman?
In every situation Jesus valued people. He didn’t just see them as people to be saved but became present with them. This can be challenging because we are often driven by numbers when it comes to mission. We see people as potential notches in our belts. But this wasn’t the way of the relational Jesus.
Surely, as Jesus followers, we need to rediscover his ways. Don’t we need to see how his life shapes the way we do ministry as his disciples? Rather than missional programs aren’t we called to missional lives which are shaped by the relational Jesus? Here’s some more thoughts from Alan Hirsch:
‘If we’re going to impact our world in the name of Jesus, it will be because people like you and me took action in the power of the Spirit. Ever since the mission and ministry of Jesus, God has never stopped calling for a movement of “Little Jesuses” to follow him into the world and unleash the remarkable redemptive genius that lies in the very message we carry.’
Jesus is already at work in people’s lives, calling them to himself. “Little Jesuses” help people see Jesus. Followers of Jesus are his body – his hands and feet. We are being made increasingly more like Jesus. As “Little Jesuses” we point to Jesus. We don’t die on a cross but are signposts pointing to Jesus. Here’s what Jeff Vanderstedlt writes:
‘I was trying to be Jesus and I was asking them to be Jesus. But we can’t be Jesus. Only Jesus can be Jesus.
Our job is not to be Jesus. Our job is to believe Jesus, depend on Jesus, and submit to Jesus working in and through us to accomplish his work. We are not meant to carry the weight of the world or the mission of Jesus on our shoulders. Jesus came to seek and save. He doesn’t expect us to become the saviors.
Have you ever done this? Have you ever tried to be a savior, to save someone? Are you carrying a heavy burden that only Jesus is meant to carry?
As you consider being the church on mission where Jesus has you, as you think through how to bring the gospel in word and deed to the everyday stuff of life, please know that you cannot do this alone. You need to do it with a community but above all else, you need Jesus. All of us do.
Jesus is better than any strategy. He is more faithful than your promises. He is more able to bring real, lasting, heart-level change. He is the greatest missionary ever.
Jesus is better. He’s better than you. He’s better than your small group. He’s better than your pastor. He’s better than anyone or anything else.’
Incarnational Ministry keeps us focussed on being on mission, serving people and being Jesus’ representative in their midst. Let’s emphasise ‘Emmanuel’ – God with us. We are agents of Jesus’ grace. We are bearers of God’s presence in our communities through the Holy Spirit.