Incarnational Ministry In 2023

Written by Bill Whitt
December 19, 2022

When Paul taught the Philippian church about the incarnation, he said they should "have the same mindset as Christ Jesus."

Every Christmas, we celebrate the miracle of the incarnation. During this season, we preach about how Jesus humbly became human so that we could know who God is and so that he could pay the penalty for our sin. “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14a).

Jesus’ incarnation is also a pattern God has given us for ministry. When Paul taught the Philippian church about the incarnation, he said they should “have the same mindset as Christ Jesus.”

How can we have the same mindset as Jesus in church renewal ministry? Here are five ideas.

Five Ways to Pursue Incarnational Ministry 

1. Incarnational Outreach. When a church closes its doors, I hear one explanation far more often than any other: “The community around us changed, but the church didn’t.” A commitment to incarnational outreach can prevent that from happening!

  • What does your community look like demographically? What type of jobs do people have? What are their families like? What is happening in the school system? What does the community need? What are people’s hopes and dreams?
  • Great outreach ministry connects with people where they are. That starts with a commitment to know and to love people who may be very different than you. It also requires the bravery to create totally new ministries to reach them and to let outdated ministries go.

2. Incarnational Worship. For whom is your ministry contextualized?

  • You would hopefully not go on a mission to Nigeria and force the people there to dress like you, play your musical instruments, speak in your idioms, or sing in your preferred style. Incarnational ministry demands that you bring the gospel to their culture in their context.
  • Why is it, then, that when we bring the gospel to our neighbors, we cannot bring ourselves to do the same thing? What radio station do they listen to? What musical style is their “heart language.” Can we contextualize ministry for their culture rather than forcing them to endure our own?

3. Incarnational Preaching. Preaching is an art and a science. The “science” is properly interpreting the Scriptures by understanding what the original author intended to communicate. The “art” is conveying that truth to people today in a way that they can understand, remember, and apply.

  • I grew up in a little country church where it seemed like every sermon illustration was about fertilizer or a tractor. When I went to college, I began attending a church where the sermon illustrations were about technology and pop culture. Both were perfectly contextualized to their neighborhoods.
  • There truly is a church for everyone! The problem arises when you have been called to disciple a community of farmers but refuse to talk about anything other than cryptocurrency or semiconductors. How can you share God’s timeless truth in a way that your community will understand? Look no further than the book of Acts for a masterclass in preaching to different cultures well.

4. Incarnational Discipleship. In some churches, discipleship is a synonym for education. However, it is so much more!

  • One approach to “discipleship” is to crack my head open, download all the bits of knowledge, and then upload the data into someone else’s brain. While passing on information has value, biblical discipleship is far richer and deeper.
  • The best discipleship takes its cues from Jesus’ ministry. He was “up close and personal” with his disciples. He was part of their lives. He cared about his followers deeply and was there for them when they had a need. They knew he cared about them deeply. They knew they were not just a project to him. They knew they were loved. This is incarnational ministry!

5. Incarnational Leadership. Finally, all aspects of our role as church leaders can benefit from an infusion of incarnational ministry’s values.

  • In Philippians 2, Paul asks us to have the same mindset as Christ Jesus. What is that mindset? Humility. Rather than exercise his power for his own benefit, Jesus made himself nothing. He put others first, taking on the very nature of a servant. We are called to the same attitude.
  • I am convinced that humility is the superpower 21st century church leaders need more than anything else. It unlocks everything we’ve talked about in this newsletter. How else will you make the time and space in your life to get up close and personal with your disciples? How else will you have the bravery to leave behind outdated discipleship models and explore new ways of doing ministry? How else will you be able to reach people who are not like you at all?
  • Let’s remember the power of humility this Christmas and every Christmas!

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