Moving into the Neighborhood: The Missional-Incarnational Impulse

As I indicated last week, Alan Hirsch identifies five characteristics of genuinely missional churches, the mDNA that constitute Apostolic Genius:

  • Disciple-making
  • Missional-incarnational impulse
  • Apostolic environment
  • Organic systems
  • Communitas, not community

My (Kent) intention it to take up each of these in the following weeks and show how the catechumenate embodies these characteristics.  I am going to begin with the Missional-incarnational impulse (simply because we haven’t given attention to it elsewhere). It is important to frame this characteristic as Hirsch does. He contrasts this with the primary impulse toward mission that holds in most first world settings: the evangelistic-attractional impulse. This impulse is missionally-oriented toward attracting people to become part of a church/community/institution in order to grow the church (increase its numbers) and strengthen the life of the institution. Its fundamental impulse is attraction, not sending, as is the case in the missional-incarnational impulse.

So what does it mean to be missional-incarnational as opposed to evangelistic-attractional? As Hirsch says, it is “the practical outworking of the mission of God (the Missio Dei) and of the Incarnation. It is thus rooted in the very way that God has redeemed the world, and in how God revealed himself to us” (128). Being missional, which is a mark of the church, means being incarnational. In other words, God instantiates his mission to renew his creation when his Son becomes incarnate, takes on human flesh, and moves into our human neighborhood (John 1:14; Hirsch, 132). As Hirsch points out, through the incarnation God in his Son identifies with all that it means to be his human creatures and reveals the true human image of God, what it means to be a human creature of God.

This means that the church in its mission must live incarnationally. As Hirsch observes,

“The Incarnation not only qualifies God’s acts in the world, but must also qualify ours. If God’s central way of reaching his world was to incarnate himself in Jesus, then our way of reaching the world should likewise be incarnational. To act incarnationally therefore will mean in part that in our mission to those outside of the faith we will need to exercise a genuine identification and affinity with those we are attempting to reach. At the very least, it will probably mean moving into common geography/space and so set up a real and abiding presence among the group. But the basic motive of incarnational ministry is also revelatory—that they may come to know God through Jesus” (133).

This missional-incarnational impulse was instantiated in the congregations we studied. They were deeply embedded in their contexts and understood their life as a witness to those around them. As Hirsch indicates, the missional-incarnational impulse is a sending impulse (as opposed to attractional). The church as the people of God are sent into the world as seeds of God’s renewing work in Jesus. The catechumenate shaped that self-understanding of being sent in the congregations. The picture at the head of today’s blog makes that apparent. It is Redeemer Lutheran Church in the Bronx processing through their community waving palm branches on Palm Sunday. This ritual act embedded bodily in them this self-understanding of being a people sent into the world immediately around them. They understand themselves as sent as God’s missionaries into the places they live, where they work, where they play, and where they serve. As Hirsch says, “By living incarnationally we not only model the pattern of humanity set up in the Incarnation but also create space for mission to take place in organic ways. In this way mission becomes something that ‘fits’ seamlessly into the ordinary rhythms of life, friendships, and community and is thus thoroughly contextualized” (135). God has moved into the neighborhood to love among his people. The catechumenate creates the opportunity for the church to see itself as a sent people.