Monthly Archives: August 2012

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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Filed under Food for thought, Wrestling with issues of perspective

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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Filed under Food for thought, Wrestling with issues of perspective