So here they are:
Incarnational, Missional Communities.
Lets explore them somewhat for their true value. I suspect many of the pastors who fit into the "I want to be hip, read the latest books, go to the coolest conferences, be connected to the grooviest speakers", are trying to make sense of these words. They are vulnerable to try the latest programs in order to be current and see how all of this can help them grow in numbers and influence. I sat with a "missional communities pastor" of a mega church recently. When he had given us his missional speech I asked him what his theological matrix was for this conversation. He sat and looked at me with big eyes somewhat bewildered, then acknowledged that they had not really processed that.
"And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full grace and truth." John 1:14. At its most essential basis, being incarnational means that we 'embed our selves in the community / city'. Jesus left the safety and sanctity of His holy abode with His heavenly Father, and robed Himself with our humanity. "And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom and the grace of God was upon him" Luke 2:40. These are the 'hard yard' times. Believing that the Father "determines the times set before them and the exact places where they should live" Acts 17:26 we engage our world with the courage, beauty, love, service, kindness, grace, that Jesus had in those years. It is an honor to be chosen by the Father to work where we work, to live where we live, to serve where we serve so we empower our message with lives that match this great gospel. We intentionally enter the shadowlands of our world to bring the beauty, wonder, mystery of our gospel to a world who despair of life. An examination of the life of Christ will bring this story to us readily - meals with tax collectors and prostitutes, fishermen and women alone at the well. It is a glorious honor to walk alongside the limping and love the fragile, to influence the politicians and give a voice for the disenfranchised.
However, it is not sufficient to be there for them. The gospel does not afford us the luxury of only being "nice people". That does not drag the doubter to heaven. It is fun and it does have a high feel good factor, but it does not 'get the job done'.
"For the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost." Luke 19:10. We cannot afford to mix these two essential Jesus ingredients up. Nor can we choose which we are to be. To be one Biblically, is to be the other also. Being missional is basically to be a 'missionary in our world.' Actually to say it more biblically, is to see ourselves as gospel bearers in our world. We are the ambassadors of the King, heralds of this great truth - each one of us strategically placed to speak this glorious gospel in our world.
"Those who were scattered preached the word wherever they went. Philip [deacon, businessman according to church history] went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Christ there." Acts 8:4 - 5. May I suggest, we cannot talk about being missional if the preaching of the Gospel does not take place - being incarnational is to serve our world. Being missional means that we know our core calling is to tell the Jesus story wherever we go, to bring folks to a conviction of sin, repentance and a new creation journey of faith.
"Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus,[incarnational] called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God [missional]" Rom 1:1 This wondrous tension is seen in the understanding of Paul's journey. As a tent maker business man, he was both incarnational as well as missional. He embedded himself in new cities around the marketplace. However, it was not only to live a Jesus life among the Gentiles. It was also matched by a serious sense of divine intentionality, to preach the Christ salvation on every occasion even if it was in direct conflict with the idols and worldview of the day. I suspect many a believer has been intimidated into silence for fear of losing street cred. Actually they may hate us but the non-believer does not want us to be spineless nice people who offer a pleasant life without a clear voice of challenge.
"By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you love another." John 13:35. We will consider this conversation more in a future blog. However, may I suggest, we can become such lovers of ourselves and of each other that we do not engage in the joy of telling our salvation story to others. Acts 2 is a chapter one can read and study over and over. From this convo, what is most glaring is that everything points to the gospel - from the speaking in tongues, which was really a gospel proclaiming moment for everyone to hear it in their own language. From Peter standing up with the 11 to tell the redemptive narrative. From the new community, who are so convincing in their faith oneness, that people were added to their "number daily".
I am persuaded if we are truly incarnational missional communities, the gospel will be central and salvations will follow continuously. "Every believer is a missionary in their shadowlands" is a battle cry we all need to heed. It is not a program we can import, nor is it a vocabulary that we can all learn. It is a revelation we all need to embrace. Programs come and go, vocabulary changes as do the tides, but true bible revelation will transform us fully. The net result will be that our 150 somethings will be captivated by the notion of "I live for the benefit of others, by serving them with my love and gifts; I share with them the wonder of my Jesus and the weight of my own story; then I draw them into the joy of our Jesus loving community". That is what the scripture has in mind.