Friday, July 07, 2006

Incarnational Ministry Concerns

Yesterday Josh Malone, Pastor of Young Adults at Parkview posted some very interesting thoughts on Church culture. I really resonate with his thoughts. It did pull the trigger for me on one issue that I have been struggling about as I read the literature and follow discussions on what some say the Church of tomorrow must do to reach a postmodern culture. My main concerns and questions are about the term incarnational ministry. I am cautions about what this term means within emerging movements and hope my questions and comments will lead to me becoming more informed and effective in ministry. You can read all my thoughts below.

May God enlighten us all!


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Josh, I really appreciate your four-fold classification that categorizes today’s church culture. I have wanted to gain more clarity on these issues for some time. I am thankful that your post is opening up this dialogue at Parkview.

I am in agreement with you that the #2 traditionalist-relevants classification is definitely where Parkview and other churches interested in winning people to Christ needs to reside. As you implied, the brush stroke within the traditionalist-relevants classification is huge, so let me boil it down and lead into a few comments and questions.

I want to start by admitting that I don’t have a lot of first hand experience with communities that are supposedly living out the incarnational/emerging philosophy, maintaining orthodoxy, and reaching postmodern’s effectively. I have read several books, read articles/blogs, and have listened to and watched various media resources. With this limited exposure I would like to make a few likely discombobulated observations.


In the book “The Shaping of Things to Come” the “incarnational” church borders being devoid of Biblical distinctive. The book strongly encourages people serious about winning the postmodern culture to abandon “institutional” church models and start churches among lost friends at the pub or in the local motorcycle gang. I totally agree that Christians, particularly in our nation, need to become more incarnational in their outreach by getting more vitally involved in the lives of lost people; however, to define these communities as churches risks being non-Biblical because it denies the scriptural means of grace necessary to be a church and ultimately to win the lost (Preaching & Sacraments… No sacraments don’t save, they are confirming means of faith).


One of the poster-children of Pastors effectively winning post-moderns is Mark Driscoll. Mark is ministering in a church of thousands in Seattle and, from watching his Vodcasts, seems to be quite conventional with one distinction, he is very hip. In essence, he is winning people like himself and that’s it. This makes me wonder, is the problem really the mega-church model, or how it is expressed? I also think of churches like Bethlehem Baptist in Minneapolis. Piper’s church of 4,000 is filled with post-moderns who are living out a missional faith by going around the world to share the gospel. If I could think of a classification for churches likes these it would be reformed and missional. Though some would argue that the "reformed" (as in Calvinism) bent in these churches has nothing to do with their success, I am not so sure (discussion on this is for another post, another time).


The idea that we replace our relevant-paradigm with an incarnational-paradigm is good for the following reasons.
  • The relevancy concept in church risks being consumer/marketing driven (as you pointed out in your post)
  • The relevancy movement feels artificial and trendy, especially to post-moderns
  • Incarnational ministry gives us a more Biblical paradigm for being missional
  • The incarnational term centers our church philosophy on mission in Christ
What I am concerned about is this; the incarnation (in and of itself) is not an evangelism strategy. Wayne Grudem says of the incarnation in his Bible Doctrine book (P. 246) that,
It is by far the most amazing miracle of the entire Bible – far more amazing than the resurrection and more amazing even than the creation of the universe. The fact that the infinite, omnipotent, eternal Son of God could become man and join himself to a human nature forever, so that infinite God become one person with finite man, will remain for eternity the most profound miracle and the most profound mystery in all the universe.
When I ponder the incarnation I am overwhelmed by the creativity, economy, and mercy of our great God! My first and primary reaction is awe in regard to the God-to-man nature of the transaction. My second reaction is humility and brokenness over the man-to-God result of the incarnation (e.g. we now have access to God through the imputation of our sin upon the Son of God). If “incarnational” ministry becomes a strategy, what does this do to the true doctrinal meaning behind the incarnation, which is not a strategy but a profound mystery of God?

In conclusion, I think we’ve got to wake-up in the church and address some of the non-Biblical paradigms that are rendering us ineffective in today’s emerging culture. If that mean’s we must radically shift the forms that define our ministries, then so be it. Let’s just take care to not do it at the risk of cheapening orthodoxy with the latest trend or fad.

OK, now it’s your turn. Am I out to lunch? Does any of this make sense?

1 comment:

Julie said...

#1, I just have to say AMEN!!!

Along those lines, a concern I've had over the last year about abandoning the "institutional" church model is that these "churches" out in the world can also be too homogeonous - groups of incredibly similar age, with incredibly similar challanges, sin struggles, and blind spots. Tons of wisdom is lost when you only interact with people who are exactly like you! God's vision of the church seems to be a picture of diversity - every tribe tongue and nation being united as one church.