Many of you know that I debated for awhile whether I should go to grad school or take on a 2 year missions position after I finished at Berea. After much prayer and counsel, I decided to go for graduate school for a number of reasons that I won't articulate here now. However, the decision not to go into full-time ministry forced me to reconsider how I minister in the situations that I find myself. My desire is to live a life fully submitted to Christ. This requires laying everything on the line, including my pride, self-suffciency and my need for the approval of those around me. It has not been easy, especially the last part, but I am encouraged that God is not finished with me yet.
A major part of living my life fully for Christ is a greater understanding of what it means to live a life of incarnational witness. It is almost harder to reach out to your neighbors and your friends than it is to go half way around the world and minister in a different culture and language. While emailing a friend recently, I was compelled again to try to articulate what incarnational ministry means to me. I can't say that I really managed it too well, but I am pasting part of the email here.
With the emphasis on outreach on a personal level, there is less pressure for the church to refashion itself to reach unreached peoples in their own community. An organization is much less successful in connecting personally than a flesh-and-blood individual who can know your name and hold your hand or give you a hug. The trouble is, most Christians live in the ghetto, so separated from the lost that there is little opportunity for the love of Christ to be exhibited to a hurting world. Relationships are always a risk, and most people would rather stay where it is comfortable and let people that are paid to “minister” take all the risks. I just can’t live with that! My roommate and I spent the last two years of our time in school welcoming people into our home and our lives who might never have a real relationship with a Christian. It is hard to make yourself vulnerable, but I don’t see any other way around it. We have had very frank, honest conversations about Christianity and the call of Christ with people who have said that they do not have Christian friends or that we are their only Christian friends. That just breaks my heart!
This really is an inadequate expression, but I read an article recently that lays out the importance of this issue. A few quotes follow:
“The incarnation gives us the pattern for [Jesus’]/our mission -- incarnate witness. That means I am to be in the midst of the world AND I am to live distinct from the world.
Jesus was in the midst of the world -- he walked and ate and slept in a world of sinners. Imagine what we looked like through the eyes of the Holy One! Yet, he was a friend of sinners. He was part of their lives -- overheard their foul language -- observed their pride and their sin -- saw their hypocrisy and pretense -- attended their weddings, wept at their graves, sat at their dinner parties. His was not a life of isolation.
His was also a life of distinction. They killed him because he refused to dance to their song. He marched to a different rhythm. He was holy, harmless, undefiled, and separated from sinners -- at the same time he was a friend of sinners.
That is our pattern. He is sufficient for it.”
"Na: What are the implications you see of the incarnation to our mission as Christians? (what you call "incarnate witness")
Mark: I think Jesus shows the pattern for engagement with people -- that he was holy and a friend of sinners -- he was not remote -- he loved and related to folks in many circumstances -- he went to them and did not wait for them to come to him. I am always amazed that the holy Son of God, who saw us all more clearly than we can imagine (and that means he saw our sin clearly) -- was also among us, patient, truthful, focused on the soul and eternity, and people wanted to be with him."
I am still wrestling with how this should work out in my life... Where do you speak and where do you listen? Where do you wait and where do you move forward? And most of all, how do you show love and grace without compromising the truth?
If you would like to read more of this interesting article, complete with links to other, more complete articles, the link is here.