The Forgotten Ways, Part 5

Part five is upon us! The Missional Incarnational Impulse. What the heck does that mean? This is another chapter where Hirsch makes it pretty clear that he must define his term in the negative, what I mean is that, a positive declaration of “missional-incarnational impulse” is difficult in and of itself to define, therefore, you have to state what it is not to bring clarity to what it is!

Missional-incarnational impulse is basically the opposite of the attractional model of the church. What is the attractional model, you ask? Well, it is the idea that we are to draw people into the church building by providing the best, most exciting, and most relevant programming that we can possibly fathom. I think the best way to illustrate the attractional model of the church is from Field of Dreams, “If you build it, they will come.”

The opposite of this is the concept of mission. What do you think of when you consider the word “missionary”? Mostly you think of Wycliffe or New Tribes or the Jesus Film or some ministry that send white folks to places where “no man has gone before”. They live in huts and try to bring Christianity to a people far, far away. However, this is not the heart of “mission”. Hirsch, I think rightly, argues that when you think about being a “missionary” the person in the mirror ought to come to mind.

To that end he provides the theological backdrop for the fact that the people of God are on mission and not to be cloistered in a church building. He argues from John 20:21, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you (cf, 5:36-37, 6:44, 8:16-18, 17:18; I also think you could back to Genesis and the Abrahamic covenant in Gen 12 and 15 and you see the sending heart of God there, in the beginning).” So, from the beginning of the Jesus movement the focus was on sending as opposed to attracting. Hirsch calls this the “sneeze effect.” The movement of the gospel is to be like a sneeze sending germs out! It is a web of multiplication as opposed to a straight line of addition.

That defines “mission” but what is incarnation? John 1:1-18. The word became flesh. Jesus is the God-man. The perfect embodiment of God and man. Two natures. One person. Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us. This is incarnation. It is a mystery. In light of this Hirsch points out four dimensions of the incarnation (here I will quote extensively from page 132):

  1. Presence: In Jesus the eternal God is fully present to us; he was God in the flesh (Jn 1:1-15; Col. 2:9).
  2. Proximity: God in Christ approached us not only in a way we can understand but in a way we can access. He not only called people to repentance and proclaimed the direct presence of God but befriended outcast people and lived life in proximity with the broken and “the lost” (Luke 19:10).
  3. Powerlessness: In becoming “one of us”, God takes the form of a servant and that of someone who rules over us (Phil 2:6ff; Luke 22:25-27). In acting in this way he shuns all notions of coercive power and demonstrates for us how love and humility (powerlessness) reflect the true nature of God and are the key means to transform human society.
  4. Proclamation: Not only did the Presence of God directly dignify all that is human, but he heralded the reign of God and called people to respond in repentance and faith. In this he initiates the gospel invitation, which is active to this very day.

The issue then is that we must apply these four dimensions to our own lifestyles. So consider my own reflections about how this looks:

  1. Presence: We must be “in” our neighborhoods and communities. That means that we play a role in the life and rhythm of our neighborhoods. Go to an association meeting. Join in cleaning up the neighborhood greenspace. Coach baseball. Be a part of the PTA. Volunteer somewhere. A friend of mine once said that 99% of ministry is just “showing up”. We need to show up.
  2. Proximity:We must make ourselves available to relationship. This means that we make time for chatting at the mailbox with the neighbor. This means that we invite someone over to watch the big game. This means that we go when invited to watch the big game! This means that we havet to be willing to open our lives and invite people in. But, the same goes for our churches. It’s awful tough to invite someone to worship when it’s 25 miles away. Proximity is also the physical closeness of the gathering of worshipers.
  3. Powerlessness: We must be servants. Shovel your neighbors walk. Watch their kids so they can go on a date to work on their marriage. Actually listen and care about what is going on in their lives and not waiting for an opportunity to “share the gospel”. Powerlessness means in the church envrionment that leaders are working at raising up more leaders and discipling themselves out of a job.
  4. Proclamation: Recognizing that we are part of a “message tribe”. This means that in our opening our lives we are faithfully communicating the story of Jesus in our lives (actions) and in words. This means that we UNASHAMEDLY communicate the need to know Jesus and that he is the center of who we are. We need to be bold and clear. Believe it or not if we hide this about ourselves and then “spring” it on people they will actually be more offended.

This living will require us to know what is going on around us. We will have to study our communities like a missionary going to a foreign land. We will have to know with certainty the language they speak (are they Losties or into McDreamy? And if you don’t know what I am talking about then it’s time to get our from under your rock).

Ultimately this missional-incarnational impulse means that we take church to the people.

Think about what would happen if we were to actually take the gospel to people. It would spread. It would spread everywhere. We would be living locally and caring deeply for people. Our communitites would change. But, something else would happen. The gospel would spread out to their webs of relationships. Soon, the gospel will go all over the world.

This spreading creates the necessity for new churches. New local communities of worshippers (isn’t this what we see in Acts?). These new communities continue to spread and send. The gospel takes root in new cultures and communities and then gets passed on again.

Finally, how do we get all this in order. Simple. Christology determines Missiology determines Ecclesiology. What does that mean? Our understanding of who Jesus is determines what we believe our mission is and what we believe our mission is determines “how” we are the church!

If we believe that Jesus is sending us out then we must go and be incarnational, like him. If this is our mission, then the church building becomes less of a central place for programming and becomes a gathering place for the discipleship and sending of missionaries!

I am beginning to think that this is huge! One thing that Hirsch has not really addressed in this idea of incarnational is that the Holy Spirit lives in us. Think about the reality of this! The third person of the Trinity of God lives inside me, you, and any person who follows Jesus. We ARE incarnational. This “transition” from attractional to “incarnational” is one that actually WANT to make but simply fear it. Because if we do, then something messy results. We become powerless and have to relinquish ourselves to the Holy Spirit.

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