“To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews … to those who are without law, as without law … to the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men …” (1 Corinthians 9:20-22)
The typical profile of a Christian is a upper-middle-class English-speaking person. And this is true not just in Western countries, but worldwide — I’ve traveled to India, Malaysia, and other places, and all the Christians I met typically fit this profile. Why is that? Are we missing something?
There’s a similar yet different concept in missions called “contextualization.” It refers to how we communicate the gospel in the context of the culture of the people we’re trying to reach, so that those people can better understand and accept the gospel based on their cultural background and their particular needs. Contextualization is a good thing, but, as a methodology, it is not enough. Moreover, contextualization’s focus is on the message, while incarnational mission’s focus is on the person; the success of contextualization relies on the intellectual ability of the missionary, while incarnational mission is based on the person’s willingness to lay down his life.
One of the most important aspects of being incarnational is that we are to take the initiative to offer up ourselves and our lives, and our missional lives illustrate the gospel message. Catholic missionary Vincent Donovan, in the book “Christianity Rediscovered,” decided to leave the comfort of the mission compound and, armed with just his life and the gospel, went and talked to the Masai people of East Africa, a nomadic tribe. Later on a Masai tribesman told him: “We did not search you out, … we did not even want you to come to us. You searched us out. You followed us away from your house into the bush, into the plains, into the steppes where our cattle are, into the hills where we take our cattle for water, into our villages, into our homes. You told us of the High God, how we must search for Him, even leave our land and our people to find him. But we have not done that. We have not left our land. We have not searched for him. He has searched for us. He has searched us out and found us.” This led Vincent Donovan to define “evangelization” as “a process of bringing the gospel to people where they are, not where you would like them to be.”
The house church movement is a kind of incarnational mission, because their focus is to reach people where they are. Instead of setting up programs to “attract” people to come to church, they seek out a community hungry for the gospel, visiting slum areas of the city, vistiing drug dealers and the outcasts of the society, and then they form a Christianity community right where they are.
This concludes my reflections on being missional… comments welcome, as I think I still have much more to learn on this! I will be writing some new, provocative topics starting next week!