Being “incarnational” is an important concept in the discussion of being “missional.” A missional church is incarnational. But what does that mean? In many of the blog discussions I read, incarnational simply seems to mean “sent” (as opposed to “attract”). In other words, a missional church is incarnational in that it views itself as sent into the world rather than trying to attract the world into its programs and meetings.
However, I think this is a truncated and perhaps even a distorted view of incarnational. To incarnate means to embody. Jesus was the incarnation of Yahweh, the fullness of Yahweh in a real human life. If you want to know what Yahweh would look like if he were human, then you have to look at Jesus. He embodied Yahweh.
I agree that an essential facet to missional is incarnational. God is a missional God. He moves constantly toward the good of his creation. The Church’s missional nature is an expression of the Missio Dei. But from the opening chapters of God’s Story in Genesis and especially in the climactic revelation of Jesus, participating in God’s mission requires doing so in his character. God’s mission is carried forward by his stewards as we embody his character.
In my opinion, any discussion of missional and incarnational without dealing with spiritual formation into Christ’s likeness completely misses the point. We cannot bear God’s salvation to the world if we are not working out God’s salvation in our lives (Phil 2:12-13). (And please, when you read “salvation”, don’t misinterpret that as God’s forgiveness of sins so we can go to heaven.) Growing into the likeness of Christ is the core of our participation in God’s mission. Without that, missional activity is simply activity — certainly good activity, but without the proper character, it is ultimately misplaced activity. And in many cases, that good activity becomes a distraction from what is truly needed, concentrated focus on spiritual formation.
We are created in God’s image to be the caring stewards over his creation. But in order to adequately implement that vocation, we are to be formed into God’s likeness inwardly. As Adam and Eve learned, attempting a shortcut only brings about crisis and brokenness to who we are as people and to our vocation as God’s image-bearers.
Jesus corrects and clarifies our vocation, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” We cannot miss the first word. Yes, we are sent. But we are sent AS Jesus was sent — to embody the fullness of Yahweh. That is what incarnational means and again, it is the core of being missional.