One of the most profound things about Jesus which is often overlooked is that He hung around for 30 years without planting a church or starting a small group. He was just there living a regular life. Though He was labelled a friend of sinners during His normal period of ministry for hanging out with certain groups of people, the truth is that Jesus spent His entire life becoming friends with sinners. He knew His cultural and societal context by name and face. This is what it means to be incarnational.
Being missional is about our sentness – it represents the directional impulse of every church and every Christian into the world. Being incarnational is not so much about our direction – it is more about how we go, what we do as we go, and how we are postured in the culture God calls us to engage. Incarnation is the personality of our proclamation. This is what Jesus did in His life and then in His ministry. We are to do the same.
Why is relating to our culture and becoming friends so important? Why not just take a survey, find out the statistics, and then get on with proclaiming the gospel? Well, think about your normal relationships with your spouse, your closest friends, or your own children. Is it not true that the more you get to know someone, the more you are able to relate with him or her the way you should? This is important because before you answer people’s questions you have to build a trust and mutual respect with them so that they feel safe enough to ask their questions. Often we, as Christians, simply answer questions no one is asking. So, we need to take the time to get to know our neighbors so we can speak honestly into their lives and share the Gospel while answering their honest and real questions.
Here’s a reality check. Context takes time to develop and unpack. And that’s why you must learn to engage the culture with the primary motivation of becoming friends, weaving a web of relationships across a region of your neighborhood and your city. This is incarnational. This must be connected with our sentness so that we then do as Jesus did. When we do, we will reap the same results the early church did and see many come to repentance and salvation through Jesus Christ.
For anyne who wishes to see a substantial level of relartional and spiritual movement, the place to begin is by engaging the culture. This only happens over time and so you will need to first make a commitment to be there for the long term. It will take about two years to become good friends with 10 to 12 people before you then have an opportunity to tell them about Jesus and bring them into the Kingdom and into the Church. Aroiund the world people when asked how long they think it takes to be incarnational all answer about two years. People intuitively know that friendships and being “street-wise” in a culture takes time, and there seems to be a general rule that a couple of years are needed before you will belong with people and they’ll belong with you.