Every once in awhile you hear some advice or receive a challenge that has the potential to change the world. I feel that Oscar Muriu’s challenge from this year’s Urbana missions conference yet again gives a prophetic challenge to those of us serving cross-culturally. Even if you’re not serving in such a context it is a powerful reminder on what type of attitudes and lifestyles we should have if we are to be on mission with Jesus.
Oscar uses Philippians 2 as an anchor for us in doing incarnational ministry. I’ve observed that in a lot of church and missions circles that this phrase “incarnational ministry” has been buzzing around for the last several years. Jesus came from heaven to earth and made his dwelling with us here on the earth, not just identifying with us in every way, but eventually giving his life for us. It is this that we look to when we think of incarnational ministry. But somehow, incarnational ministry often gets reduced to mere geographical relocation when it comes to actually doing the mission of Jesus. How can this be?
I say this with a large measure of guilt as I have been a proponent of geographical relational, often times at the expense of everything else in missions. It drives me nuts that score of missionaries don’t live amongst the people they serve. Often times their lifestyles don’t even attempt to identify with the people they serve. Missions budgets can often be astronomical in comparison to the local people. When their family gets sick they trust it their big mission budget and get health care elsewhere. Many don’t learn language and try to do mission in English-only based ministries. All of that is geographic relocation stuff of which is close to my heart. But as Muriu brings out in his message, it is just a small portion of what it means to be sent people in the world.
I’ve never looked at Philippians 2 as being a missiological passage. For me it often served as a good reminder to have a better attitude and to become like Christ, fully knowing that I would fall short. But the context of the chapter points squarely to the mission of Christ. His death, burial, and resurrection were fueled by an attitude of surrender, servanthood, and humility. It is so intriguing to me that I’ve never made the connection for Christ’s attitude, his death/resurrection, and to his seat at the right hand of God waiting for people to bow their knee in worship. For me, too often remain stuck in the phase of working on my attitude. I do massive soul searching, evaluating my motives, but fail to connect humility with the mission of Christ to see people bow in worship.
Muriu presents 4 doors to Real and Radical Incarnation and I’ve shared a couple thoughts:
- Pride to humility (the incarnation of our attitude
Before we go: don’t expect equality. Leave your answers, education, qualifications, innovation – I’m nothing. Do I shut up long enough for the poor to speak? Do I really think I have something to learn?
I find this one hard to swallow. I’m so arrogant and think I’ve accomplished something in my short career. Maybe I have, maybe I haven’t but that isn’t at all the point. If God can be humble, I should try it to.
- Power to powerlessness
The more we depend on human power and money to drive our mission, the less effective it actually becomes. This is the upside down nature of the Kingdom. For too long I have fretted over finances, higher ups not understanding me, having the right connection. This too is not at all the point. It is only when we become powerless that we begin to realize our utter dependence on God. I’m afraid too many of my decisions in missions have come out of power and privilege than dependence on the Lord.
- Privilege to poverty
Jesus left heaven and was born into a refugee family. Privilege to poverty. When we go, God never instructs us to go with our wealth to his mission. He instructs us contrarily to sell everything, give it to the poor, and follow him. Remember the whole thing about “don’t even take a bag with you on the journey?” What if we went to the people we were serving and actually became dependent on them?
Most of our current mission models ensure independence and privilege. What if more of our mission structures required less outside resources and more of us working alongside those we serve with an average wage? I don’t know that tent-making is always the answer but there is something God centering about taking the attitude of poverty of spirit and following that with a lifestyle of sacrifice. I need to meditate on this point a lot more.
- Geographical Relocation
Jesus came from heaven to earth, so must we relocate to whatever field God calls us. Jesus spends 30 years of learning culture, listening, living amongst the people he was called to. No ministry, no organizations – a powerful lesson.
I echo Oscar’s thoughts that we try to move too quickly. I try to move way too fast. I can easily sacrifice relationships for results. Just yesterday I watched a missionary passing through completely butcher time for relationships with a task he had to do. I was dragged into that. Gross. It is so beautiful when we live amongst the people we serve being the very best outsiders we can possibly be.
There is so much to think about in all this. But this is in fact the nature and responsibility of following Christ. It is costly and difficult. BUT, we are the right people and we have the right message. My entire missionary self-image probably needs some major counseling sessions. Check out the message link above. It’s worth your time.