Africa and Incarnational Ministry

In a few days, I’m heading to the Horn of Africa with a team from Harris Creek to visit one of our missionary families. The question I’ve been asked by a number of people is, “What are you going to do while you’re there?” Let me start by saying I acknowledge that this is a completely natural and valid question to ask. It’s also a question that has very tangible answers, even though I can’t outline them on this blog.[1] However, what few probably realize is this is a question driven by our culture. We, as Americans, find much of our value and sense of self worth in what we accomplish. Maximum production is typically the goal for us no matter if we’re talking about work, volunteering, or even our recreational activities. While work is something that is a gift from God, and creating goods is certainly a divine activity, there’s also something to simply “being” with people.

One thing we highly value and strive for at Harris Creek is to take an “incarnational approach” to ministry every opportunity we can. In a few short weeks, we will begin celebrating the season of Advent. Advent literally means “coming,” and it is the season where we reflect on the fact that God took of flesh and became one of us through His Son, Jesus. The incarnation of God through Jesus is a fundamental belief Christians cling to. As C.S. Lewis says, “The central miracle asserted by Christians is the Incarnation. They say God became Man. Every other miracle prepares for this, or exhibits this, or results from this. It was the central event in the history of the Earth—the very thing the whole story has been about.”[2] Not only is the incarnation a central belief in Christianity, but it should also a model for how we are called to approach ministry whenever it’s possible. So, one reason I drive between campuses to preach live most Sundays is because we believe it’s important to be “in the flesh” as much as we possibly can. Technology is amazing and should be utilized and maximized. However, at Harris Creek we believe technology can never replace flesh and blood. This is driven by our firm belief in the incarnation.[3]

I think the Apostle Paul understood the importance of the incarnation in how he approached ministry. For instance, when the Church at Corinth was struggling and he couldn’t get to them in person, Paul certainly used the best available technology at the time to address this issue from afar. He did this by personally writing them a letter (speaking specifically of 1 Corinthians). In 1 Corinthians 4:16, Paul commands the Christians at Corinth to imitate how he lived his life. But he knew if real transformation was going to happen, a letter was going to be insufficient. This is why Paul goes on to say, “For this reason I am sending to you Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord. He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church.1 Corinthians 4:17[4] Paul obviously understood the importance of having someone there in the flesh with the people of Corinth. I believe this is because Paul understood the importance of the incarnation and how it should shape our entire lives.

So, with this in mind, the main reason we are going to Africa is to spend time in the flesh with part of our church family that happens to live halfway around the world. While Skype and email are incredible tools, they cannot compare to being with someone in person. While I am praying that our time is productive and that much is accomplished, but this is not the ultimate purpose of the trip. The purpose of the trip is to be there in the flesh with part of our family. And I’m sure, because we’re going there in the flesh, both sides will be mutually encouraged by our time together. That’s what happens when we take the incarnation seriously. God shows up in our midst and changes us in the process.

[1] We’ve been asked to not outline where we are going specifically and to keep things general in anything that goes on the Internet so that we don’t interrupt the long-term work of our missionaries on the ground.
[2] C.S. Lewis, The Joyful Christian, Pg. 52-53
[3] I’m not dogging churches that use video venue or saying they aren’t as incarnational as we are. In fact, many of our mentor churches use video for certain campuses and venues. We have explored and will continue to explore this as an option ourselves. This approach can still be incarnational in that these campuses have pastoral staff present to shepherd the flock at these video sites.
[4] From the New International Version

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