Monday, December 5, 2011

How To Be Incarnational

My thoughts on The Tangible Kingdom by Hugh Halter and Matt Smay.

We know that God wants us to have a relationship with other people. We know that God wants us to participate in his kingdom, not to just “do church.” Lack of conversions is only a symptom of the larger problem. The problem is that we are hiding behind the walls of the church, and we WANT to be relevant to the outside world, but we are afraid that we will compromise the gospel message. We have something valuable here in Jesus Christ, and we don't want it to be corrupted, but we know we need to share it with the world. The answer is missional, and I don't mean becoming a missionary on the traditional level (traveling to poor countries and digging wells is not for everyone) but to be incarnational, which is a missional state of life, no matter where we are. Here are some tips on how to do this:

1. Have Jesus' Heart. Jesus attracted people. His personality, his charisma, his “being” attracted people. His message, however, repelled people. Today we soft-peddle the gospel message in order to attract people, but then the way we live our lives repel those people. This is essentially the opposite of what Christ did. Jesus had a heart for people. As it says in Matthew 9:36, “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” We need to have a heart for people, too, and when we are AROUND the people we are serving, we begin to have a heart for them. Studying about people groups does not give us a heart for them. Being around them does. When we have hearts for different people, we begin to bring in the kingdom of God on this earth.

2. Share the gospel first through behavior. What is being incarnational? First, it is about supplying a place for discovery, where people can see the truth in action before they hear about it. It's about creating an inclusive community and modeling the life of the kingdom in contagious ways. It's not about conversion as much as modeling Christ. Everyone transforms together. By living the kingdom life, people are drawn to us. When we verbally share the gospel with someone, we are pursuing them, and its easier to be rejected. This is not to say that the gospel isn't important. However, it is the MYSTERY of the gospel that prompts curiosity and not a direct, stripped-down attack of the gospel on a stranger. Instead, we bring heaven to earth and our behavior becomes the gospel. If we live the gospel first, then we will have plenty of opportunity to share the gospel in words.

3. Let God do the converting. By creating a belonging community, the believing members of the community will influence the unchurched of that community, creating new believers. The belonging has to come first, which is the model of the early church. God does the “converting” thing. He is God, after all, and he is perfectly capable. Community then becomes the human part of the missional/incarnational approach.

4. Don't try this alone. When attempted alone, the goal becomes getting people into church. Any great relationships we foster alone, no matter how wonderful, will dead end, because we haven't created a community of belonging. Alone, we are trying to attract them into our churches. The attractional way of doing church (come participate in our programs!) does not have communication nor discipleship nor belonging. However, when we reach the unchurched in missional groups, the unchurched will eventually convert into missional people. This is not an instant conversion but gradual. The end result is a deeper faith than the kind that comes with instant conversion. Creating a Third Space, or a discovery zone, will allow both unchurched and missional people to be together in a place, where the missional people will wear off on the unchurched, and eventually the unchurched will become missional people. When having a “discovery” event, make sure to invite missional people as well as the unchurched, so this blending of natures can take place.

5. Belong to other people's circle of friends as well as your own. You don't have the be the “leader” of your circle of friends. You can be part of another's circle. Jesus lived life for 30 years before announcing his message and becoming a leader. We, too, can belong to another's exclusive group. If they trust us and consider us “one of them,” then it will be easier for our friends and their friends to connect.

6. Adopt the habit of “leaving.” Leaving is another word for being “out there,” as opposed to squirreling ourselves away in our study. Have regular dinners with the unchurched. When you are doing what you love, try to include others. Go out of your way to build relationships. Look for chances to talk to others. Holiness is not the same thing as avoiding the world. We need to be IN the world, even if we should not be OF the world.

7. Be a listener. This essentially means being sensitive in our responses to others. Be sincere. We listen with our eyes, not our ears! Sitting in a coffee shop with someone and talking about their needs is better than performing a cold, demographic survey. Each individual is different and has different needs.

8. Bless people without strings attached. Love others, expecting nothing in return. Invite people INTO things. This is another way of serving.

9. Share your spontaneous life. God works in the interruptions. Share just being with another, even if you never talk. Even if you are just praying on your own or reading on your own or studying on your own, share the space with someone else. Monks in a monastery don't talk with each other, but they are constantly together. Provide a place for spontaneous connections.

And finally, to make this list ten items long...

10. Model your community after the Trinity. Each community should contain three equal aspects of life together: a) it should engage in social activity and fun “life” growth, b) it should engage in outreach and mission to the outside community, and c) it should worship, read the scriptures, and pray together. These three elements comprise a balanced, healthy life for the individual, so it should also apply to community—the body of Christ.