Having recently come out of the season of Holy Week and Easter, many of us have been subsequently working through the implications of the bodily resurrection with our congregations. When thinking about the fact that Jesus came bodily, died bodily, rose bodily, and reigns bodily at the right hand of the Father, we are starkly reminded of the significance of the incarnation- the fact that God did not decree a plan of redemption that centered around a giant billboard in the sky or an electronic messaging system that instantly notified the uttermost parts of the earth about the Good News of salvation. But that God sent a Man, born of woman, one-hundred percent human, deity-in-flesh.
This key theological reality presents a myriad of implications for the way we live our lives, battle sin, endure hardship, and formulate our faith. But I wonder how often we deeply consider the implication this truth has for our part of the mission of reconciliation? In the most succinct, but perhaps most profound permutation of the “Great Commission,” Jesus instructs His disciples, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you” (Jn 20:21). We can all (hopefully) agree that disciples of Jesus are sent out to make more disciples of Jesus. But have we adequately accounted for the reality that it is the disciples who are sent, just as Jesus was sent?
Here is my fear- the increasing evangelical reverence for “personality” has resulted in at least one small step away from truly incarnational ministry. Think about the attributes we tend to reward/extol in leaders we observe from afar: books, blogs, Twitter followers, and (if you’ve made the “big time”) conference speaking slots. We will reproduce what we celebrate, and with these being lauded qualities, it is no wonder our bookshelves are constantly flooded with new titles from the evangelical equivalent of Paris Hilton- guys who have yet to prove themselves in any ministry, but have nonetheless sought out a platform for the sake of a platform. It’s no wonder RSS feeds brim with new blogs (I know, “speck, plank,” noted) and our church buildings are being restructured to include the equivalent of (if not explicitly labeled) “green-rooms.”
But which of these, if we’re honest, has anything to do with disciple-making in an incarnational sense? Which of these involves the real life-on-life impact that Jesus models in the gospels? Don’t misunderstand, I’m not throwing rocks at authors, bloggers, conference speakers, and/or green rooms (well, maybe green rooms). I know many guys who have broader platforms (via social media, etc.) beyond their local church who are nonetheless stellar disciple-makers on a one-to-one level. But what I want to point out is our tendency as “nobodies” to see “personality” as the quality to be lauded and to think that this is what we must seek to emulate, to the neglect of relationships with the real people God has placed in our vicinity and stewardship. We must get over thinking that books, blogs, and headshots equal influence. They don’t, not by a long shot.
Paul writes in 2 Cor. 5:20, “we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us.” God intends to save the world by sending people. The Eternal Word (John 1:1) was not delivered in paperback. The Wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:24) was not hyperlinked in a Tweet. God intended redemption to be accomplished by that Logos becoming flesh, and dwelling among us. Likewise, Jesus sends us. This is not to say writing, speaking, podcasting, etc. don’t have their place in the mission. But we must know these are to be at the periphery, not the center. Who are you actually calling to drop nets and follow you as you follow Christ? Who are you “becoming flesh and dwelling amongst”?
The incarnation is a critical doctrine when it comes to orthodoxy, but beware lest you fail to give it sufficient voice in orthopraxy. Jesus’ method of engaging the mission was not to simply refer people to Jesus.com for more audio/video content or to electronically broadcast his sermons to locations throughout the Judean countryside. He showed up in person, healed their sick, ministered to their hurting, and sat down with them to eat their food. One of the classic books (and still one of my favorites) on disciple-making in the model of Jesus is Robert Coleman’s The Master Plan of Evangelism. I commend this resource to you as you contemplate the incarnation and its impact on your mission and as you stand in front of your congregation to preach the hope found in a Man who was crucified, raised, and now calls them to follow from the right hand of the Father. And remember, His calling isn’t coming from a green room, so don’t let yours be either.