The role of community in becoming incarnational (a series of staff reflections)

Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 1 Corinthians 12:27

The other image Paul uses is the Church as the body of Christ. The phrase has lost some of its significance due to its familiarity. But Paul was very intentional about using this phrase. The body of Paul is a very real body, present in this world. When the body of Paul dies it is no more. To speak of the body of Paul being manifested through another person or a group of people is not something that we think of. The body of Christ was also a very real presence in the world. As 1 John states, “We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us—we declare to you what we have seen and heard. (1:1-3)” When Christ died, we should normally think that his body is no more. Though he was raised, he then ascended and so we think he is not physically present. Not according to Paul and the writers of the New Testament! For them, we are that body, a very real and physical manifestation of Jesus in the world, no less real than the actual physical body of Christ Himself.

In this way, the Church is the incarnation of Christ, God who becomes flesh. God became flesh through the physical body of Christ. Now God becomes flesh through the people who are followers of Christ. We are God dwelling among us! This in itself is an amazing demonstration of the grace of God.

This reality is important to the Church’s manifestation of the incarnation, its participation in the incarnation. We cannot negate this reality. We are indeed his body. He is miraculously manifesting Himself to the world through us, the Church. I don’t think we can speak of one ministry as being incarnational and another not. The Church can’t be more incarnational, because the reality of the Church’s existence is because it is incarnational. Saying a Church is not incarnational is probably like saying I do not have skin. I could not exist without skin and I would not be without skin. There is no manifestation of Paul in the world without skin. In the same way, there is no Church without the present incarnation of God. This is a manifestation of the grace of God that we can be the physical BODY of Christ.

I am not sure that it is correct to think of the incarnation as a practice of ministry. I think it may be a misunderstanding of the reality of our existence at all. The Church exists because of the present incarnation of God. We cannot practice incarnation because we are incarnation.

The community of Good Works is this body of Christ, this temple of the Holy Spirit, this incarnation of God made flesh. By His grace this is the reality of who we are. Our very presence in the surrounding community is a manifestation of God. It sounds and feels arrogant to say this, but to say otherwise is to deny the reality. Each of the initiatives of Good Works is a manifestation of God in this community.

But the Church has a part in this. God’s part is the reality of His incarnational presence in the world through these people called the Church. As followers of Christ we also have a part to play to manifest the incarnation clearly. We can obscure the incarnation, putting a veil over the incarnational presence of God and so hide it from the world.

The most significant thing Jesus did to manifest the incarnational presence of God was to form relationships with the people he came in contact with. This is at the heart of what it means to manifest the incarnational presence of God in its present form – the Church. We must evaluate all that we do through the quality and character of the relationships being formed between the Church and the world in which the church has its existence.

— Paul Ricahrd

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The role of Community in becoming incarnational (a series of staff reflections)

What then is incarnational ministry?
The working definition of incarnational ministry as popularly expressed is any form of relational ministry focused on showing nonbelievers what it means to be Christian in a manner where the tool of conveying characteristics of God and Christianity becomes alive through daily living instead of books, sermons, tracts and other forms of starting a conversation. Simply put, incarnational ministry relies on developing friendships that may become a tool for spreading the gospel, not with fancy words or debate, but through daily living. It is through sharing life together, such as being there when a neighbor is discouraged, that the traits of Christian living move from parts of conversation into reality.

One factor that makes incarnational ministry very difficult in America is our focus on individual and personal relationships with Jesus. We may attend a church service and Bible study together, but we are resistant to letting another person into our daily life as a Christian (i.e. we’d much rather tell God we are mad at a friend than actually tell the friend we are mad at them and explain why). Incarnational ministry does not thrive but struggles to take root (let alone bear fruit) in such an individualistic environment. With all of our preconditioned defenses guarding against someone finding out how very vulnerable and broken we actually are, we undermine any effort of walking through life with anyone in a manner that shows them they matter to both God and us. That doesn’t mean incarnational ministry is only a concept or ideological discussion rather what it means is that we need to ask the Holy Spirit to break down the barriers in our lives that keep us from opening up to the few people we trust or are interested in learning more about. I am not simply talking about opening up and sharing our complaints about work or a sports team or about how our neighbors bother us; rather, I am talking about being genuinely open in the sense of sharing concerns about daily life (i.e. feeling like a disappointment because of all the goals we never met).

Incarnational ministry is living out the answer to prayer that we, the church (universal), be the body, hands and feet of God. If we truly desire for the church to be the body of Christ, we are seeking for each encounter we have with someone (spouse, loved one, stranger, coworker, etc.) to be marked by characteristics of God that flow through us so the other person comes away thinking they just encountered God instead of thinking about the person that God just used.

— Chip Guyton

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The role of Community in becoming Holy (a series of staff reflections)

In the Good Works community we have things that we practice and conversations that remind us to make a habit of the Spiritual Disciplines. For instance, the way we continuously ask questions like “Are we doing the most loving thing.” We are always reading the Bible and always praying and always praising and always worshiping. These are examples of the way we sharpen one another.

Those hungry for God come to the church (the body) looking for truth. I believe God reveals truth to those who are earnestly seeking it. However, since God’s wisdom and knowledge is foolishness to a dark mind that has not been redeemed, we have to be concerned that we are imitating Jesus. Otherwise, when we speak God’s Word to people they will not be able to receive it. Our speech, actions and our lives must line up with what we say. We can either be true witnesses of who God is and of His Kingdom Advancing on earth, or we can corrupt the witness of who God is and His Kingdom coming on earth.

God continuously tells us to seek Him. Our sinful condition leaves us vulnerable and God is the only one who can cover/protect our vulnerability. To live Holy we must seek God. As we seek God the Holy Spirit reveals truth to us. We cannot know truth on our own. This is one reason why Jesus told the disciples to wait for the Holy Spirit before they went out.

People are hungering and thirsting – but they often don’t know that it is for God. God changes us when we seek Him and live a holy life and that change becomes evident to all. It is not perfection they are seeing- but like the descriptions of the men and women of God in the Bible – those around them knew they had been in God’s presence. We want to be this type of community.
How do we genuinely become such a community?

— Terri Woodson

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The role of community in incarnation: a series of staff reflections

The more we understand the fullness of God’s humanness in Christ, I believe the more I can see how much He loves me. He faithfully endured the cross and was forsaken by God for me even though he must have known that being forsaken by God would be excruciatingly painful.
Also, Jesus modeled faith for us. He showed us what perfect faith with perfect love for the Father looks like. We can believe Jesus Christ is the Author and Finisher of our faith made human and still learn what our faith should look like by Christ’s example of faith in his Father.

It amazes me even more that not only did He become human and restrict his divine powers; he did not stop at simply being human. He became a humble human. In his humility he understood the preparation of being changed and changeable. He did not begin what we know as his official ministry until it was time; he was 30 years old! I must mention here that Luke 24:49 may be as good of a Great Commission as the Matthew passage we normally claim. Jesus is quoted in Luke, “I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” This is after he tells them about repentance and forgiveness of sins being preached in his name to all the nations. Not to diminish what is quoted in Matthew at all, this should be taken into consideration as well. Jesus tells them to wait and get prepared. How does this relate to us?

Certainly we are to make sure we are prepared in saying or acting in the name of Christ as we go about our daily lives. When we do so, we are to view others not just as highly as we view ourselves, but ‘better than ourselves’? Yes, better than ourselves. This could be the most difficult area when I ‘know’ I have better information than someone else on a certain matter. It seems to me we ought to consider the thick lenses each of us looks and thinks through as we perceive reality. We must understand there is always something to be learned from anyone else no matter how screwy or messed up we may think they are. We all have unique experiences and point of views that have their own unique qualities. My soccer coaching mentor told me he has learned how to learn from not only the best coaches he knows, but also the worst. One of the best lessons I learned during seminary is not only how much I do not know but how much humankind does not know about God. There is a process of recognizing and replacing our arrogance with humility. I must confess I still struggle with thinking I am better, or know better because of my age, position, or experiences.

— Seth Lundeen

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The role of community in becoming holy: a series of staff reflections

Why do we pray for others? Why do we go out into Athens County or invite Athens County to come to us? Are we doing it for ourselves, or are we acting in faith? These seem like simple questions, but they can be more complicated than they appear, for it is easy to put on the airs of holiness and fool those who are not discerning or those who want to be fooled. If you pray because you think you are supposed to, you are doing it for the wrong reason. If you serve others because you think that is what you are supposed to, your heart is misplaced. Make no mistake: We are supposed to do these things. But it is not passionless paint-by-numbers living. We are not following a formula set by God. These actions are only holy if we accept the Great Commandment and live it.

We often interact with people who are not citizens of God’s Kingdom. Many of these people come to us or invite us with some trepidation. When they tell us that we have acted in a way that changes their view on Christianity, it is because of our holiness. Through us, God found an opening to enter. When we show them the true nature of the Kingdom and not an image perverted by politicians, opportunists, and false prophets, we are able to do so because of our holiness. We show them not judgment or a sense of superiority but outreach, acceptance, and love. In so doing, we fulfill that greatest Commandment.

Often, our greatest challenge is not those who deny the existence of God but those who do harm in His name.They distort what the Kingdom looks like to those who live outside of it. But in the end, truth conquers deceit and light defeats shadow. If we are a true holy community, it radiates from us. People can tell from the first moment they meet us or come onto our land. We tear off countenances of falsehood and shatter illusions. Jesus walks in our woods. We bring the Truth- with a capital “T”- to people who know it and people who seek it. We could not hide it if we tried. The very air feels different in a holy community.

–Jeffrey Fitzwater

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