This last year, my wife Leslie and I moved to Austin, Texas to plant an incarnational church using the missional community model. We want to experiment with new ways of doing church and discipleship in order to reach young people. We’ve had some early progress making friends and sharing our vision, but we are a long way away from knowing if we’ve succeeded. We’re investing a lot of time and energy and – as I’m sure you can imagine – we really want it to work out.
My favorite functional definition for incarnational living is “doing the same things Jesus did for the same reasons.” The best part about this definition is that it doesn’t say anything about results. Sometimes our desire to be good disciples can get the better of us. When we trust Jesus’ method of humility, listening to the Holy Spirit, and compassion, we are set free from our own agendas – from our need to “prove” our faith or salvation.
It’s pretty easy to get lost down theological rabbit trails when talking about being Jesus for people, but at its core, living incarnationally is simple. We are Christ’s body. Therefore, we act like him. Jesus has compassion for us and became one of us; we get to have compassion for the world and become one of the world. Of course, Jesus did it on a completely different level – and that’s the whole point. Because Jesus has proven his power and victory over sin and death on the cross, we can trust that obedience to his example in the everyday challenges of life is always going to be better than any strategy we could cook up on our own.
The Christmas season is full of performance landmines. Will we get the perfect gift for our spouse or child or friend? Will our Christmas party or decorations or potluck dish turn out the way we hope? How will our Christmas Eve service attendance or end of year giving numbers compare to last year? Don’t get me wrong – responsibilities like these are important and they can be ways for us to love people in Jesus’ name. But it is far from automatic!
Living incarnationally, or “doing the same things Jesus did for the same reasons,” takes creativity and careful strategy. If we want to respond to people as Jesus did, then we need to seed our imagination with his examples by spending time in the Word. If we want to draw closer to our neighbors the same way that “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood,” then we need to reevaluate how we spend all of our time – our Sunday mornings, our family time, our free time, our workout time, our time with friends, everything. And most importantly, if we want to have the same heart for the world that Jesus does, then we need the Holy Spirit.
As we begin our new church plant, we don’t know if we will succeed in making new disciples or forming new missional communities. I wish I knew the exact way that the message of God’s grace would speak to the hearts of the people with whom I’m meeting right now. But that’s the Holy Spirit’s job, not mine. We have to trust that when we try to live in the world the same way that Jesus did – and with the same heart – people will recognize the power for salvation at work within us.