on the nature of incarnational ministry

as I understand it.  (warning: somewhat long post)

Someone in our congregation is new to this idea of incarnational ministry as a way of living the Christian life as followers of Jesus Christ.  He had some questions since he had never heard of it before so I gave him a couple of books I have to see if they could help and then he shared with me via email that the books were helpful and that he is learning more about it.  He also shared a link with me that expresses concern at the use of the term incarnational ministry in a way that empites its theological meaning.  He also shared with me a quote from E.M Bounds on prayer (I put the quote in the commets section to save space). 

My response is as follows:

Thanks for the note and the link.  Glad you found the books somewhat helpful. 

Please know that it is not our intent nor our desire to promote incarnational ministry in a manner that undermines the gospel message or in a way that creates an either or situation of sharing the gospel or being incarnational.  I believe the Lord calls us to be incarnational for the sake of the gospel (evangelism is the goal, incarnational ministry is the vehicle) – or that we may have opportunity to tell people about the story of Jesus and the freedom and new life they can have in him. 

While I understand the cautious nature of the link you sent me, and the concerns it has with regards to how it sees incarnational ministry being promoted in some circles, my main concern would be that while not all believers promote incarnational ministry in the same manner – at the heart of promoting such Christianity is provided the opportunity to promote and share the gospel with people newer and more creative ways, in particular through social engagement and the concept of community and relationships.  The days of Josh McDowell’ “evidence that demands a verdict” style evangelism is past – people want relationships.  McDowell’s materials are still very useful and needed, but they have to be utilized through personal relationships (i.e., incarnational ministry).  Most people don’t get saved because of convincing intellectual or logical arguments, they get saved because of relationships.  Does that make sense?

This can lead to one area I might disagree with E.M. Bounds.  While Bounds provides good devotional material, his writings reveal his social and cultural context, primarily his background in the Holiness movement of the early 20th century (which is where we Pentecostals come from) and the things going on at that time (increase in industrialism (thus use of the term factory and that he’s for it but then against it; and possible concerns with the social gospel message of that time – thus the argument to not focus much on performing deeds of charity or acts of mercy). 

I think we do need to perform acts of mercy and deeds of charity for the sake of the gospel – or for the opportunity to share the gospel (the goal is evangelism; deeds of mercy the vehicle to that sharing of the gospel).  Instead of worrying about a social gospel issue, I tend to follow Aimee Semple McPherson’s idea of emphasizing the social implications of the gospel – the gospel itself has social, cultural, and ethical implications (she spearheaded the largest and most influential food bank and commissary during the Great Depression – she become the go to person during that time).  It should affect how we live in the world and influence it toward gospel understanding. 

This leads to the other area I might differ with Bounds, is that I don’t think the church is a factory for producing righteous people.  Only the Holy Spirit makes people righteous and that by the blood of Jesus and through the effecting of sanctification.  Instead, I tend to see the church like a hospital where broken and hurting people are able to come to the cross and find healing and redemption though Christ.   

Then, as born again Christians they are able to love incarnational lives with the unchurched to point them to Christ.  So the Church then is a lighthouse, a hospital, a garbage dump of sorts instead of a factory.

Here is something Jerry (my father-in-law, a retired chaplain) said:  If we are only seen as a factory we have done a poor job  in producing the type of righteous person who can go out into the world with an incarnational ministry.  The problem as I see it; the “righteous people“ we produce are either hypocrites or unequipped to impact our modern day culture with incarnational ministry.

So, I hope that helps some in understanding basically where we are coming from in our approach to ministry (still growing and developing obviously as we’ve only been at this two years so far).