This series is based on excerpts from the Hirsch/Frost groundbreaking collaborative, The Shaping of Things to Come.
If the Christian church is to be incarnational and missional, as we believe the New Testament anticipates, and if it’s to abandon an us-and-them mentality, it will need to rediscover the biblical mode of impacting the world around it. The traditional-attractional church thinks about evangelism as sending out church members to share their faith with others and to bring them into the church. But the New Testament writers saw it much more organically. While recognizing the gift of the evangelist, the New Testament seems to see the engagement of the church with its world as two-tiered. That is, there is a place for gospel proclamation and the role of the gifted evangelist (though he/she need not necessarily be a pulpit-based preacher), but there is a second tier, the incarnational infiltration of society by all Christians. This infiltration, in order for it to be missional (and not just social), must be marked by the following commitments.
Jesus said, “Let your light shine before [everyone] that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:16). Built into the very fabric of New Testament teaching on the extension of the kingdom is the assumption that when the Christian community embraces a godly, holy lifestyle, it will so tantalize the wider community that they will seek after God. And yet so much of what typifies the so-called holiness movement in the fundamentalist-evangelical churches has had the opposite effect. When the wonders of life in Christ are boiled down to teetotalling, it’s hardly likely to arouse great interest in the community about us. If by holiness we simply mean no drinking, no smoking, and no dancing, we have a very limited view of the concept. In his letter to Titus, Paul encouraged him to teach his congregation to be respectful, self-controlled, kind, loving, and faithful. He told him to discourage drunkenness, slander, gossip, and disrespect. To Titus himself, he commended integrity, seriousness, and soundness. Why? “So that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive” (Titus 2:1–10). The missional-incarnational church will make Christian teaching attractive by living it under the very noses of those who have not yet embraced it. What impact can a church that has withdrawn from society have on that society? The traditional-attractional church often quotes, “Come ye out and be ye separate,” a reversal of Jesus’ command to be salt and light in the world. Rather, our lives, which must be marked by commitments to acting justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God (Mic. 6:8), must be lived in close proximity to those we are seeking to reach. It might be all very good to choose to abstain from the consumption of alcohol as an act of devotion to God, but if our lives are marked by greed, self-centeredness, arrogance, and fear, in what way is our light shining forth? To impact a post-Christendom culture, the church must jettison its wealth, side with the poor, speak up for the wronged, and live as a kind, loving community. Moltmann calls this a “new kind of living together” that affirms:
- That no one is alone with his or her problems,
- That no one has to conceal his or her disabilities,
- That there are not some who have the say and others who have nothing to say,
- That neither the old nor the little ones are isolated,
- That one bears the other even when it is unpleasant and there is no agreement, and
- That, finally, the one can also at times leave the other in peace when the other needs it.
While living holy lives, the church is also commanded to pray. When it comes to praying for those not-yet-Christians in their nets, the New Testament is pretty clear on what we are to pray for. First, we are to pray that God would gift the church with more evangelists. We believe there is the spiritual gifting of the office of the evangelist. Interestingly the Bible doesn’t speak about the gift of evangelism (as it does with faith, healing, teaching, and so forth), only that there is a gift (to the church) of the evangelist. The evangelist, he or she, is the gift. We will speak more fully about the role of the evangelist in an incarnational church in our section on leadership later in the book. Suffice to say here that we cannot ignore the biblical role of the evangelist. God has gifted our churches with them, and it is incumbent upon us to pray that God will raise up more. (Fuller Theological Seminary church growth studies indicate about 10 percent of any congregation believe they are evangelists.) In Matthew 9:36–38, Jesus invites his disciples to pray that God will unleash more harvesters (evangelists, proclaimers). This text is typically only quoted in church by returned overseas missionaries who are trying to recruit more missionaries. And it’s quite appropriate for them to do so, but it can also be equally applied to a local congregation. Each church should ask God to give them more gifts of evangelists.
Next, we are to pray for God’s blessing on the evangelists’ ministries. You might be quite surprised who God gives your congregation when you pray for more proclaimers, but the injunction on a local congregation is to pray for the success of their ministries. Paul, writing to the church at Ephesus, asked, “Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel” (Eph. 6:19). Perhaps you may find it easier to pray for an extraordinarily gifted apostle like Paul, than for the less extraordinary evangelists in your church. But bear in mind that Paul himself was an unusual character in his time too, occasionally in conflict with other Christians, regularly criticized for his lack of preaching ability and his unimpressive presence. Incarnational churches are committed to praying for more evangelists and for their success.
Last, the church is expected to pray for the salvation of their not-yet-Christian friends and neighbors. Paul, writing this time to Timothy, urged him to pray for everyone, including kings and those in authority, that they might come to know that Jesus is the only mediator between God and humankind (1 Tim. 2:1–6).
The third commitment to incarnational evangelism will appear in the next post in this series.