Promoting Incarnational Ministry
I wrote about this earlier in the week so I am not going to repeat myself too much. According to Stetzer:
‘Postmoderns are looking for people who are genuine and transparent. Their questions isn’t, is it true? But, is it real? They want to see Christ through people who’ve earned their respect and trust.’ (p137)
Now, when I read that I feel a couple of emotions: (1) it sounds perfectly reasonable, let’s get on with being genuine and transparent and (2) am I living in a ‘modernist’ time warp of some description? Most of the people around here don’t care whether it’s ‘real’ but whether it’s ‘true’ and, more importantly for them, ‘Does it work’ ? Or, better yet, ‘Is there anything in it for me’? (the last one may appear cynical and jaded but I assure you it is not).
Now, it’s true that most people find the cultural jump from their dominant ‘culture’ to that of the Christian faith, huge. We hold our Sunday meetings in the gym of our building and to get to the gym we have to pass through our cafe area. Many in the community sit in the cafe Monday-Saturday and happily (some not so much) talk about spiritual things. But, the courage needed to get them to walk the two metres through the gym door on a Sunday is often more than most can bear. Oftentimes, I will be preaching and people will be peering through the gym doors to get a look at the weird people sat in a semi-circle and standing up and down from time to time to sing some random songs! The cultural gap between those doors is enormous. That’s why for Niddrie the real gospel work is done Monday-Saturday in the nitty gritty of everyday life within the community.
I see promoting incarnational ministry as encouraging my congregation to get out into the culture around them and try to actively engage with it, even if that is only in a small, low level way to start with. For example, buy your paper from the same shop or come and spend some time in the cafe. Just be visible. This works, largely, for those of my congregation who live in the area but not so much for those who do not and have no contact whatsoever day-to-day with anybody from Niddrie outside of an hour on Sunday. If we are to make evangelism ‘a way of life’, what will this look like for these people?
Recently, my plan has been to encourage all of my members to think of themselves as missionaries to those around them. For example, we don’t have a ‘missionary board’ in our building because I believe ‘every member is a missionary’. So, in the workplace particularly, they should be looking for opportunities to engage with colleagues in meaningful ways. This doesn’t go down well with some:
Me: ‘Let’s remember that we are all missionaries and we should treat our work colleagues and unbelieving friends and family in the same way we would treat any unreached people group. Let’s live for Jesus everyday and look for opportunities to understand their world-views and engage with them in meaningful ways. ‘
Generic Respondee (GR): ‘What?’
Me: ‘Let’s engage in a truly missional and incarnational lifestyle.”
GR: (Blinks a lot) ‘What?’
Me: ‘Let’s try and love people for Jesus and actively engage with them’.
GR: ‘But I’ve got work to do. I haven’t got time for all that. The Bible says we must be repsonsible citizens in the workplace and use our time wisely, not running around trying to convert people.’
Me: ‘I’m not asking you to ticker tape the office with Bible verses or wear a ‘kiss me, cos Jesus loves you’ tee-shirt. I am just saying take a genuine interest in people and seek to engage with them’.
GR: (looking exasperated) ‘I do engage with them. I work with them’.
Me: (feeling exasperated) ‘Look for ways to serve them or enter into their culture. Maybe go for a drink after work to get to know them a bit’.
GR: (shocked) ‘Firstly, I don’t drink, well maybe a crushed tomato juice with a sprig of coriander on special occasions, and, secondly, I like to catch up on my Dr. Who episodes after work. I’ve got a convention next month.’
Me: (inwardly plucking out one of my own eyeballs and chewing on it) ‘Brilliant! Who don’t you use that time as an opportunity to look for ways to share your faith or, not even that, cement a friendship with somebody from outside the church.’
GR: (sweating) ‘Well, I don’t really have any friends. I just like to sit in the corner dressed as an ‘ood’ and enjoy the pageantry of it all’.
Me: (grasping at straws) ‘Well, what about serving in the cafe once a month then to try to get to know people from Niddrie, then?‘ (realising that in my distress I have used the word ‘then’ too many times in that sentence)
GR: (trying to get into their car) ‘weeeeelllll, I don’t really like the smell of bacon’.
Me: (hand on door handle, sure of the winning line coming up): ‘Ah, yes, but what would Jesus do?
GR: (engine started with triumphant look spreading on face) ‘Well, he wouldn’t have eaten bacon for a start would he? He was a Jew (thinking, ‘This bloke’s my pastor?’)
Me: (thinking, do I really have to love this person, Lord? A small jab to his ‘Solar Plexus’ would bring me great joy about now) ‘Good point.’ (lost, now) ‘What was this discussion about again’.
GR: (gunning the engine) ‘Dunno. I think you were on one of your ‘being missional’ rants and telling me to be more relational with the everyday people the Lord has put into my life. Not to treat them as projects or to make friends solely to bash them with the gospel, but to take a genuine interest in them and try and connect with them at their point of need and naturally bring Christ to bear as I seek to genuinely live out my faith’. (wheel spins out of the car park, small nodding Dalek laughing at me on the dashboard)
Me: (trudge off to the local McDonalds to look for another job)
Seriously, working out what incarnational means to a member who lives 5 miles away, works really hard all week, has a secret guilt complex about not living in Niddrie anyway, is privately bitter about the ministries that go on around them (of which they play no part), who has a full social diary, is only able to spare a couple of hours a week for a kids club at a push and yet gives generously on a Sunday – that is the hardest part of all. It’s a slow and painful process engaging with worldviews unknowingly (and often willingly) entrenched and getting people to buy into incarnational ministry as a biblical concept rather than some new age sounding, soppy, touchy feely approach to evangelism.
It is sometimes just as hard for those who have moved into the area and see every person as ‘evangelistic meat’. Any and every invite is seen as an opportunity to go and ‘look Christian’ by wearing Amish dresses or a nice fleece, rather than just relaxing and loving people and engaging with them at face value. (shouting now) Relax people, the opportunities will come. Just be yourselves (hmm…on second thoughts some of you don’t) and enjoy the fact that we love Jesus and when we love people they will see it clear as day.
We work on. We pray on. We just keep loving Jesus baby!