If you are interested in thinking about the ongoing mission of the Church in this century, you really have to read The Forgotten Ways by Alan Hirsch. This is a book that I will almost certainly read twice, which is something I almost never do. It is really causing me to rethink, in a positive constructive (heck, even Wesleyan) way, many of the assumptions I have about the way we go about mission and ministry within the United Methodist Church.
At the center of what Hirsch calls the “Apostolic Genius” is the central affirmation that Jesus is Lord. Surrounding that center element are five aspects of mDNA (missional DNA): Disciple Making (which is what my last post was about), Missional-Incarnational Impulse, Apostolic Environment, Communitas, Not Community, and Organic Systems.
In chapter 5, he discusses the Missional-Incarnational Impulse, the second aspect of mDNA. Patterned on the “missionary God” (as described by Darrell Guder), he suggests that “a genuine missional impulse is a sending rather than an attractional one (p. 129).” Like the Incarnation of God in Jesus, we’re called to move into the neighborhoods around us in mission rather than operating from the “outreach and in-drag” model that the Church operating from a Christendom model is built for (p. 61).
Hirsch describes at least four dimensions that frame our understanding of the incarnation, and he believes these should profoundly shape our response to the ongoing mission of God:
- Presence: In Jesus, God is fully present to us. Jesus is no substitute or intermediary, but God in the flesh.
- Proximity: God approached us in Christ in a way we can understand and access, befriending the outcast and living close proximity to the broken and lost.
- Powerlessness: In the incarnation, God took the form of a servant. Hirsch writes, “He does not stun us with sound and laser shows, but instead he lives as a humble carpenter in backwater Galilee for thirty years before activating his messianic destiny,” showing us how love and humility reflect the true nature of God.
- Proclamation: He initiated the gospel invitation, heralded the reign of God, and called people to respond in repentance and faith.
In these four aspects of the incarnation, we find the following calls for our work together with God in mission (these are just snippets of what Hirsch describes):
- Being present in the fabric of a community, engaging in the humanity of it all. All ministry is relational and based in our particular local presence. “…Jesus actually liks to hang out with the people we hang out with. They get the implied message that God actually likes them (p. 134).”
- Like Jesus we’re called to be in proximity to folks from every level of society. This involves genuine avaliability, spontaneity, and regular friendships and community.
- We too are called to powerlessness: humility and servanthood to each other and with the world. This is an integral aspect of church, leadership, and mission.
- Genuine incarnational approaches to mission will result in our proclamation of the gospel story with the people we engage. “We are essentially a ‘message tribe,’ and that means we must ensure the faithful transmission of the message we carry through proclamation”
He goes on to provide specific examples in faith communities of the missional-incarnational impulse.
I have a lot of questions for my fellow United Methodists. Every now and then I get messages saying, “Do you want to have a knock-down, bang-up method form mission and discipleship? Come to this or that conference. This will work in churches of any size, shape, or fashion!” Are we kidding ourselves to think any method is one size fits all (OK, I know you know where I stand on this, so it’s a leading question. haha)?
How can we encourage our congregations to moving from “outreach and drag-in” to incarnational gospel presence within communities sharing the message of Christ relationally?
What kind of influence do our largest UM Churches have on our plans for carrying out God’s mission? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti-megachurch, but should churches in communities of 1,000 or even 5,000 base their approach to mission on something happening in a large urban or suburban congregation?
How do we, like Christ, move into the neighborhood? I did hear of a pastor and his congregation who held a block-party in their small-town community among a group of unchurched people. I think this embodies a lot of what Hirsch is saying. What do you think?