In my last blog, “The Mission of the Church” I discussed how the mission of the universal church is to make disciples. Now every church has its own unique identity and DNA in which it goes about this mission, which is informed by its theology, philosophy of ministry, and cultural landscape. At the Hill Church, we believe that an incarnational and missional model is the best way to reach the lost and build disciples, both because of the Biblical example that Christ left us, and the increasingly post-Christian culture here in the west.
The focal point of the missio Dei is the Incarnation of Christ. Without God the Son putting on flesh and entering into our world there would be no salvation. If Christ did not die on the cross there would be no restoration of shalom and this world would be left in its brokenness and decay. The Incarnation was the love of God for fallen humanity on full display as Christ entered into our neighborhood, lived among us, so that he could save us. Naturally the theological necessity and implications of the Incarnation is too vast for us to deal with adequately in this blog. However, it is beneficial to discuss how the incarnation has influenced The Hill Church to become incarnational in our communities.
First, the church has always been intrinsically incarnational. Peter warns believers that they are “elect exiles” (1 Pet. 1:1) and “aliens and strangers” in the land (1 Pet. 2:11). This imagery illustrates that Christian culture is not and cannot be identical with the culture of the world. Just like how foreigners bring different customs and traditions with them to another land, we do not have similar conducts and behaviors as our host culture. So if the church is to engage the lost around us, we naturally have to live incarnationally, engaging with them where they live and in their surroundings. The goal of an incarnational church is not to create a Christian culture inside a secular one, but it’s to live our Christian identity within the culture. This is why “relevance models” can cause so much damage because we strip ourselves of our cultural distinctiveness in order to look like a lost culture. The mission of an incarnational church is not to conform to the culture but to contradict it and to challenge it. It is important to stress that this ministry only works if the church engages with their neighborhoods and city. If a church is to be salt and light in a community, then it needs to be actively involved in the community. A church that only engages on Sunday mornings inside the walls of their own building will never participate in cultural renewal. At best it helps mature and sanctify believers, but it does little to restoring the brokenness of the city.
Second, an incarnational ministry seeks a complete restoration of shalom in the city. Just like how Christ came to restore all things unto Himself, so does an incarnational ministry seek to restore all that is broken within their city walls. This absolutely includes gospel declaration to those hostile to the church, but the church also alerts people to the reign of God through demonstrating the full implications of the gospel; the restoring of shalom in all things with the full installment of the kingdom. The church, therefore, feeds the hungry so that there is no such thing as starvation in the city. The church takes care and heals the sick so that there is no disease. If we are declarers of the gospel, then we seek to demonstrate the full implications of the gospel. A church for their city seeks the flourishing and restoration of their communities for the purpose of giving a foretaste of the kingdom of God. There are some who argue that a missional model deemphasizes the purpose of the church to glorify and worship God. This cannot be further from the truth. Sunday’s are important for corporate worship, the corporate study of the Word of God, the remembrance of the gospel, and encouraging and shepherding the flock. However, a missional church sees that the Church worships God everyday of the week and brings glory to him as they engage in the brokenness of the city. If they purpose of the missio Dei is the glory of God, then the churches participation in the missio Dei brings glory to God. Worship goes beyond a building on one day a week, but it permeates the life of the church as they offer their lives as living sacrifices unto the Lord (Rom. 12:1).
Lastly, the incarnational church is a “go to them” model and not a “come and hear” model. In the attractional model, the church continually bids for the attention of those outside of its walls by enticing people to come in. Church pastors and elders continually dream and think of new gimmicks and programs that would interest non-believers and the unchurched to attend their Sunday morning services. However the major problem with this is that those in a Post-Christian culture will not wonder inside of their buildings. They are suspect of the church and not even a free pizza lunch after the service will bring them through the doors. However, the startling reality is that the church was never called to be a stationary movement. The mission of the church is a “go and tell” commission, and to engage the lost where the lost live. An incarnational church sees ministry in all that they do and ministry is a community effort. It emphasizes that the best strategy is for a group of Christians to permeate within a neighborhood and group. Just as salt and light absorbs and engulfs what it touches and surrounds, so the church builds real relationships with people of their community so that gospel testimony occurs naturally. Proponents of the Attractional church model need to ask themselves why would they settle for the only place where a lost person can be engaged with the gospel is inside their church walls? Why wouldn’t we want to have a number of missional communities permeating throughout the city so that when one goes to Starbucks for coffee, a grocery store for food, a sporting event, or a movie theatre that they will be confronted by believers who see their whole lives as a mission field and give them a contrasting focus on life centered on the gospel of Jesus Christ? Instead of investing time and money determining how to better attract those outside the church walls, the incarnational church invests in people and organic relationships to infiltrate the lost culture for the purpose of gospel engagement.