3 Aspects of Incarnational Ministry
by Brian White

June 8, 2021

Church PlantingContextual Application

3 Aspects of Incarnational Ministry

By Brian White

June 8, 2021

To be faithful ministers in our context, we must practice incarnational ministry which is all about in-person contextualization. We can see incarnational ministry this exemplified with Paul in how he seeks to reach the Thessalonians. Paul came to Thessalonica to proclaim the gospel. But he gave attention to the way he lived the gospel with them. In 1 Thessalonians Paul speaks of the power of example. He tells them that he came to them and cared for them like a mother (1 Thessalonians 2:7–8) and exhorted them like a father (1 Thessalonians 2:11–12). That type of example cannot happen apart from being there with the people you are trying to reach.

According to Brad Brisco,

Incarnational ministry must involve living in close proximity to others. We cannot love and serve those God has sent to us from a distance. Just as Jesus put on flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood we must do likewise. This may require us moving geographically to be closer to those to whom God has sent us. At the very least, it will demand creating time and space to be directly and actively involved in the lives of people that we’re trying to reach.

In-person, incarnational ministry gives you the platform for encouragement, exhortation, and equipping. God has called us to be there physically with those we are trying to reach. With that in mind, there are three aspects that must be present in our incarnational ministry.

Be purposely present

Are you part of the community? Are you thinking about the place and the people? Have you prayer walked it? Have you considered this on-the-ground, intimate knowledge of the community as part of your contextualization? Do you see your life as being invested that context? Can the people you are trying to reach see your life and walk with Christ?

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I think this is what Hebrews 13:7 has in mind when it says that elders live their lives as an example to the flock. The people should be able to observe the outcome of their leaders’ lives and imitate their faith. Pastors and church planters need to be right in the middle of the context to tell the gospel story. And we tell the gospel story not only with our words, but also through our lives. Being purposely present means you share with you not only the gospel, but also your life as well.

Be humbly transparent

We happen to live in a part of the country where there’s a significant focus on family. Some of the greatest ministry we’ve had is through being humbly transparent about what God is doing in our family, both the good and really hard things. That’s what it means to live in the context and to live for Christ in the context.

Find a restaurant you can frequent to be around non-believers. Decide which people in town that you’re regularly going to write a note to and encourage. Just live your life for Christ in front of the context. Let them see you, the real you, as you seek to walk with Jesus. Be purposeful in your engagement and be personal in your living out the gospel.

Be faithful in your preaching

Contextualization and incarnational ministry are pointless without our faithfully preaching the gospel. That is the reason for our contextualization—that we can clearly present Christ to those in our context. After Paul has ministered in Thessalonica, later in Acts 17 he travels to Athens where he uses contextualization to achieve his ultimate goal of delivering the gospel.

As he walked through the city, he gained the knowledge necessary to proclaim Jesus. Through the numerous statues to idols, he recognizes the people value spirituality, so he uses that as a diving board into his argument. You know what he’s doing? He’s contextualizing. You know what he’s not doing? He’s not taking away the primacy of the gospel. He’s not in any way being unfaithful to who God is.

Throughout his entire message in the Areopagus, he preaches the truth about God. He preaches the truth about Jesus Christ and he points his listeners to repentance. In whatever context you find yourself, have the boldness to preach Christ, regardless of how they might interpret it or how you think they might accept it. Yes, use illustrations and applications to connect things in their mind, but preach Christ. Illustrations and applications are bridges over which the gospel travels. It goes back to what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 2, “I decided to know and preach nothing among you except Christ.” In every context, know how your audience is going to hear you. Think about the way they have begun to process truth. Consider their worldview. Consider their moral objections. Consider their heart idols. But always make a beeline to the cross.

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