Learning from Who Christ is and what He has done to be a Church in Love
Ephesians 3 and Hebrews 13
What is your church up to this Christmas season?
We, as followers of Christ who worship, fellowship, and serve in His local church must realize we are the containers of His grace, both as individuals and as a communal assembly. This means we are also the display cases of His presence, love, and principles for one another in the church as well as to others outside of the church. This comes about from our faithfulness and fruitfulness; we must do a better job at this. When we do live in and for and through Christ, something extraordinary happens. Our churches become beacons of His grace, lighthouses of collective abundance by our love and care, and we even go to people in need. People feel loved and part of something real, impacting, and effectual. Unfortunately, we tend to miss the mark on what Christ would have us do concerning how we relate to and treat one another in His Body, His Church. And, many who come to our places of worship see little evidence of this abundance of faith and fruit in action; neither do they see us coming to them (Mark 3:1-6; 1 Cor. 15:20; 2 Cor. 5:20; Gal. 5:19-23; Heb. 10:38; James 2:12-13; 2 John 1:6; Rev 2:1-3:22).
Incarnational Churches First and Foremost Display Christ
How well is Christ displayed and deployed in you and your church?
Our call is to live for Christ, and we do this when we live in Christ, reaching for others through Christ,. But first, we have to take a serious, self-introspective examination to see how well we display Christ. If not, we will get it wrong and misrepresent Christ and His call. Yet, pastors and Christian leaders think they are doing well by their efforts, pointing to the mega church stars, programs, and/or resources. Yet, in reality we are not; our people are not being connected, not growing, and not being fed and led in a deep, more impacting relationship with Christ as Lord. And thus, they do not see others as important and rarely will go to them. We forget that we have a heritage, call, and purpose, that our Head is Christ, and our model and template for who and what we are and do is found in Him; this is found in the incarnation (Phil. 4:10-23).
What is being incarnational? It is found in the truth of how Christ came, lived, and how He lives in us. Christ came to us, and in so doing, we are to go to others in His Name. He is the cause of our being a Christian; collectively as a Church, He is our Redeemer Who, for necessity, had to come save us. Jesus Christ is God, Who was one of us, living in this world and in its sin. Yet, He remained sinless. He did not concede to worldly ways or the temptations at hand; thereby, He enabled us to be saved so that we would not be lost forever. This all comes down to what the Church is to do, which is the cause for which we celebrate, and that is Worship and discipleship that is a place to go to and as a movement on the go to others. This is what we celebrate this holiday season as the Christmas miracle. The incarnation is the miracle that truly happened for our salvation. The incarnation must also be to us an application in how we relate to God and to others as well.
The incarnation simply means God came to be one of us, as a man. He was fully man while at the same time remained fully God. This is why He could identify with our plight in life and also take our place in punishment. He lived a normal human existence for over 30 years; He experienced all that we experienced, including all the emotions, relationships, and temptations. He was and is amongst us.
Christ's incarnation means we become what He will have us be so we are living out the Gospel as our lives are touching other's lives, even at church. We are transformed by being rooted in the life of our Lord! Therefore as He takes us, we take Him with us to others.
Yet, from our research and experience, this is rarely practiced effectively. We forget His sacrifice and replace it with our pride, agenda, and trends, thinking we are doing the right thing. It is ironic that a lot of churches will do a lot with marketing and promotion but little to build one's faith and the marketing of one's self to display the goods of our lives in Him. What our label is as a local Christian church can be totally different from what is inside of us personally and on our campus.
Being an "incarnational church" means we have a grasp on who Christ is and who we are in Him. This is the foundation of being a Christian. Who is He? What did He do for me? What is my role and purpose? How do I relate and treat my fellow believer and neighbor? These themes stand out as we celebrate Christmas, because Christmas is the celebration of what the incarnation is, that is, that Christ, being fully God Who created the universe and Who always existed, chose to come down to us, to be one of us. In so knowing, we can be doing by practicing the incarnation in the lives and places of others. Therefore, we as a church are the people of God living out the Gospel in other's and our cultural climate just as Jesus, who dwelled and moved among us, did.
Incarnational Churches are Impacted by Christ
Christ's Incarnation was about His building a crossing for us by His cross, so the unsaved may become Christians, and then we are to build a crossing for others so they can know Him too. We do this in our personal lives; as leaders, we bring our growing, impacted relationship with Him into leadership as a servant, which is what "servant leadership" is all about. Then we model this so it becomes a contagious practice collectively for the body of believers with a since of deep and profound love and gratitude for our Lord, and then seeing others as His children too. Thus, as we practice church, we bring Christ to others as Christ was brought to us in birth (Eph. 3:14-21).
This is an aspect of servant leadership, where God calls us to a higher level of excellence, one of love-so that our call, vision, ability, and integrity are all translated into functionality for a healthy, vibrant, triumphant church. In "Incarnational Leadership," we will lead the way Christ led; in the incarnation is at church, we treat and go to others the way Christ did. Then we commit to lead, but not in the ways of the world, or in the way of others who are biblically ignorant who may manage our churches, or of those whose eyes are on worldly wants. So, we are the influencers and not partakers of our neighbourhoods and world.
What does this look like? The Epistle to the Hebrews' closing chapter shows us this call with an exhortation to be incarnational in our love. The word "incarnational" is not there, but the concept is. In fact, love is one of the main themes of Hebrews as well as many of Paul's Epistles and of course, was the pinnacle of Christ's work and teachings. We are to love fueled from our hope and faith, all of which make a triad of primary virtues from which all Fruit and character flow. This is what being "impacted" means. We are in full contact in and by Christ, fully engaged in Him so we can build our faith that helps us bridge our interpersonal relationships. We do this as people who love the Lord and, as a collective of Christians, show others that we are true and genuine followers. We show others our love, caring for people because we are being dependent upon Christ and His precepts in order to be real and effectual in Kingdom values and the modelling of His ways to the world (Phil. 2:6-8).
Incarnational Churches Go to People
Following Christ means just that: we follow His character and teachings. We also follow Him so He takes us where the people and needs are and where we can meet Him there. This may require the deliberate rearrangement of our traditional thinking, so our lives apprehend the application He has for us. This may mean planting a church where it needs to be, making ministry and relationship happen where the people and needs are. I learned many years ago from the founder of Young Life, Jim Rayburn (who was a Calvinist and a Presbyterian pastor) that we must go and not wait until they show up. Because our thinking in the Reformed Church as well as many Evangelical churches tends to be to wait for them to come to us, which is seen also as the template for the mainline churches. Well, people will not come; we have to go to them and live our lives well enough that they will want to come to us to meet Christ and worship Him. We have to see people as separated from God, who can't or won't see Him because of the clouds of hurt and culture, and of course, sin. They need an example more than they need answers; they need hope and love more than they need a tract or a onetime program, and they need to see it as consistent. Because in God's sight, every person is important; everyone is a gift, made in His image, and we are to display that image of what each one can be.
The question is: are you willing to rearrange your life so that you can be with people who matter to Jesus? And who are they? Jesus says they are our neighbors!
Incarnational churches do not have programs that only cater to those who come; they go to others too. We can't be a "come and see" organization; we have to be a movement that also "goes and tells." We can have the goal, hope, and mindset to make our church totally focused on Christ and His Way. It is how we lead, how we treat others, and how and where we go that represent the ways of Christ. People see the church by how they see Christians in action. How they see God is how He is displayed and deployed in the life of believers. Thus, our template, vision, and goal as a local church are by the teaching and example of Christ. Period. We are called to love and to continue to do so to build our church for Christ's glory no matter what the circumstances or oppositions. In so doing, we show hospitality to both those we know and those we do not know.
Incarnational Churches show Brotherly Love and it is Real
In what ways does brotherly love define you? How should it? Francis Schaeffer and others have told us over the centuries; men from Augustine, Kempis, and Aquinas as well as the Reformers have warned that the attitude and trends of the church tend to be the attitudes of the culture. We must heed this warning; for if we do not, this will be a very wrong outcome! We are called higher, to be incarnational so we can listen and put into practice what Christ teaches and gives to the lives of others. We are to be good, fruitful, and faithful as followers, first and foremost, before we can be so as followers and as leaders. We are to care for our souls and watch over and care for others too. This is Christian community and effective leadership in action-the practice and application of our faith in our lives first and then letting it pour over others. For we lead by venturing forward with our eyes upon Christ as Sovereign Lord. This is a responsibility; as we follow our Shepherd, we shepherd others. We do not dictate or lead from behind nor do we connive or manipulate out of our pride; rather, we are in front, forging ahead on His path, being the example, encourager, and teacher, cutting the way of His Way for others to see and follow. We make Him real and visible as we all come to the throne of grace. Let us be fruitful, practical, real, and faithful. If we are not, we will have enormous problems and strife instead of the love of Christ in and through our churches and us.
As Christians who are receivers and partakers of the incarnation, we are to be in a tighter community together in Christ as Christ-followers. We are to be deep friends who are bonded as family, and take this practice unto others around us.
The purpose of our doctrine and the study of His Word is not just for the knowledge, (which is very important), but our supreme goal should be what we do with that knowledge. This is the relationship that is growing in Christ, then outward to others around us. Remember: His shed blood paid for us! You have truly dedicated your right to yourself and church to Christ! We give Him our all! It is easy to die for a cause, but are you willing to live for Him in perfect obedience so your life is poured out, your strength is gone, and you must rely on His? Hebrews, chapter thirteen, reveals what happens when we follow the incarnation, placing it into application. This is about keeping our personal and mutual faith real and growing, which means the encouragement, support, and using of spiritual gifts, and everyone working as a team. This is the strength and prime purpose of the Church that comes from our growth and worship; without them, we will fail. Our relationship with the Lord must be transparent and not secretive (unless you live in a closed Muslim country) (Psalm 34:8; Rom. 1:8-17; Eph. 4:15-16)!
Incarnational Churches are not led Astray
Scripture in Hebrews, 2 Peter, and many other places clearly tell us do not be carried away, as in do not be led astray by false ideas, trends, or other things just because they are new. Lusting for something we may think is better, from a bad food to being charmed by a clever preacher, or teaching false doctrines and thinking, hey, that is their interpretation and it is OK, we will fail at being an effective church. We are just as responsible in listening to bad or false or junk teaching as the false teacher who speaks ill of God's Word is for spreading them. False doctrines are rooted in speculative thinking and whims and not upon God's clear Word; they kill our growing relationship with Christ and others and dissolve the incarnational approach to church life because they will leave us complacent so we do not reach forward and outward with the Gospel of Truth. What we will have is the emptiness of false ideas, meaningless rituals, and traditions that serve no purpose and do nothing to grow one's communion with Christ or fellowship with one another. For it is by grace we are saved and we respond to God in and by faith.
If we get too carried away with our ideas we will miss Christ, so we must be in His Word, be reflective, be in prayer to see what we are really doing and who are we serving (Psalm 31:16)?
We must go to God's Word-not to whims; the Bible means what it says and you can know who is false because false teachers will never use discernment or context or real word meanings. They will deceive, and not receive His Truth, thus your church will be resting on a crumbling foundation rather than the strength of Christ's true Truth. He is our Altar and help; our truth for daily living comes from Him and nothing else-no ceremonies or special practices, for such things do no good and may even hurt us. Only by God's special favor will we excel spirituality, in life, and in Church. For Christ suffered and paid our debt of sin so we can all live in Him and be there for one another (Lev. 7:11-18; 1 Cor. 10:18; Eph. 2:8-9; 2 Peter 2).
Incarnational Churches live as a response to what Christ has done for us.
If you love Jesus, then you are to love others too. Hebrews is almost written as a letter of recommendation to encourage the hearers to continue in the faith and not give up, and to obey their leaders, because if they do not, they will face dire problems. What they were going through then was nothing like what would come later. The author, inspired by God, advised them (and us) to "shape up" so we could grow through it with joy and not melt in bitterness. Our living faith, that God gives and builds on along with our efforts, has more of a purpose than most of us will ever see or realize. Take God's warning about negating your spiritual development or neglecting what He gives or where He calls. If we refuse to allow His work, then our faith and the future He has for us will not be received. We will limit our sanctification and cut ourselves off from God's reward for being faithful and fruitful; we may even fall to bad or natural consequences for refusing His guidance or the fellowship of others. Just think about how many churches in the U.S. close each year-over four thousand. Thus, we have to see our call to be responsible for one another so each can encourage and equip others, helping them when they slip or are about to slip (Psalm 137: 5-6; 147:2; Isa 62:5; Rom. 12-14; Gal. 4-5; 6:24; Eph. 4-5; Heb. 10:10; Rev. 21: 2-4, 9-27).
With responsibility comes obedience and listening-a call to obey your leaders. This may not be popular in a day when we are conditioned to challenge and even disrespect authority, but here we are called to respect authority and to care for and keep careful watch over the people as shepherds, because leaders will be held to account. So, to make our church incarnational, make a group effort with some top down leadership, so we can heed the call and submit to those in authority with value and respect. In this way, we can thrive, enjoy orderliness, and learn from others. In contrast, a person with a lack of faith will not respect others because the emptiness where faith is supposed to be is filled with pride and even self-destruction, worry, and stress that lead a person nowhere good. This, of course, does not mean we submit to dictatorial or dysfunctional leadership (Isa. 21:8; Jer, 23:4; Ezek. 3:17; 33:6; 35:7; Hab. 2:1; Acts 20:28; Heb. 13:7; 1 Pet. 5:2-4; 3 John 9-10).
Christianity is community; we are all mutually dependent upon one another and must act accordingly with goodness to one another so we can show Him effectively.
As Christians, we are all priests to one another as we collectively rely on Christ and minster to one another. In the desire to pursue Christ and His precepts, we must be careful that we honor Him and not cause others to stray from Him. This must include our devotion and surrender to Christ, for only in Him-by Word and Prayer-and being held accountable by others will our conscience be clear. Even in the face of struggles and hardships, we can live honorably, by our mutual respect and focus on God as comfort! In contrast, if we just live our lives with the attitude of how things affect "me" and not "others," then we are living with the devil, and not with God (Rom. 15: 33: 16:20; 2 Cor. 1:12; 13:11; Phil. 4:9, 18; 1 Thess. 5:23; 2 Thess. 3:16; Heb. 4:16; James 1:27)!
Incarnational Churches are aware of their Eternal Covenant
Because of Christ's incarnation, work, and sacrifice, He takes the place of our debt of sin and fulfills the old covenant and the blood sacrifice, which was temporary and flawed, to atone for our sin. Now, we can go directly to God, person-to-Person. God renews His relationship with us, His people, and gives us an age of grace in Christ by faith alone (Ex. 24:8; Deut. 30:11-14; Psalm 37:31; 40:8; 119:11; Isa. 51:7; 55:3; 61:8; Jer. 31:31; 32:40; Ezek. 37:26; Rom. 6:9; Heb. 8:8-13; 9:11-22).
A Name for Jesus in the Hebrews text is our Great Shepherd, meaning He is the One who leads, equips, and guides us-as we all desperately need. It is our call to hear His voice and obey as a good sheep does in order to be fed and not be eaten by predators. And who and what are our predators? Our wayward ways of all infighting by our pride, and the fact that when the sheep go unfed, they bite each other. For us to be in the safety of faith, we not only need to be in Christ, we have to obey Him. This is a result of our intimate relationship with Him that is synergistically touching all those who come into His Home. We know Him, He knows us, and we do what He says. We are concerned with what concerns Him, and we act accordingly. Like sheep, we can't lead others or ourselves without being forever lost and unfed (Psalm 23; Isa. 63:11; Jer. 23:1; 31:34; Ezek. 34:6-16, 31; Hos. 6:6; John 10:1-8; 16:13-15; Rom. 10:7).
For our church to work well, we need to be taught and encouraged to grow so we can be our best, to reach out and to worship and function in humility and encouragement.
In so doing, we support and remind one another to remain in Christ and not fall away. We do this as we honor the superiority of Christ and hear God's call so we can venture into Christian maturity. The bottom line of an Incarnational Church is that we are not just the means of the communication of the Message of God; we are also the message to those who do not know Him. Because we are His work, we are His Gospel in action as an example that communicates far more than any book, program, or speaker or evangelist. We present and demonstrate not just the Jesus who lived, but also the Jesus who lives in us (Col. 1; Phil. 2:13; 2 Pet. 1:3).
The Incarnational Church produces a fellowship filled with real purpose and inspiration because we are rooted in the life of our Lord. As a result, people are treated in the parameters of Fruit and by people of character, as maturity is sought so everyone feels loved, appreciated, treasured, and encouraged because they are so-discipled and involved by mentoring before they are deployed in ministry. This is what a "Christ life" looks like before "Church life" is fully engaged. Thus, the leadership top down is producing a church authentic in spiritual maturity by its involvement in Christ so that the people are inspired to be devoted, as in caught up in Christ and with one another to be more worthy in and for the faith. In so doing, we are all making Him known in the world too. The key to making this happen is how people are cared for before they are deployed; the equipping and encouraging must always continue. The antagonist to this is our pride, apathy, or manipulation, seeking to connive, posturing ones agenda over others, and/or absent from God's precepts, call, or love. The Incarnational Church shows the kind of direction that sees Christ glorified as our tempers and temperaments come in line with His guidelines. So our church-your church-is a collection of imitators of Christ so we go in the direction of the possibilities of His lead. And, we can indeed do this if we dare stretch beyond what we think we can do or where we can go, and seek where and what Christ has for us, even with our limitations and frailty (John 14:21-22; 1 Corinthians 12:7; Colossians 4:2-5; 1 John 1:2).
Pray and live honorably so God may produce even more in you. Remember your fellow Christian workers and pray for and support them. May the God of peace who saved you continue to equip you. May you produce effectual fruit for the glory of Christ, our Great Shepherd. To God be the glory!
© 2008, Richard J. Krejcir, Ph.D., Francis A. Schaeffer Institute of Church Leadership Development www.churchleadership.org/