What do “Missional” and “Incarnational” Mean?
“What did y’all talk about tonight?,” someone asks me after a study I’m co-leading about The Tangible Kingdom.
“You know, the usual. Missional and incarnational stuff.”
“The squiggly red line appearing under the word ‘missional’ in Microsoft Word is proof that it's not yet a real word,” one blogger reminds me. And “incarnational,” if used at all, usually refers to Jesus’s coming at Christmas.
Both of these unfortunately unclear words, though, point toward great fresh ideas in what it might mean for a Christ-follower or a new church to share their faith with those around them.
Missional - "missionary-ish"; acting like a missionary; that is, not just supporting missions through giving or special events. Missionaries spend significant thought, prayer and energy in living and communicating the Gospel in everyday ways that those around them understand and find meaningful.
Incarnational - "En carne," are Spanish words for "in flesh/meat." "The Word [Jesus] became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood" (John 1:14) so that we could see what God is like. Just like God lived in Jesus's body on earth, He now lives in all who believe in and follow Christ. And we show our neighbors, coworkers and friends what Jesus is like in our setting.
While the terms might be hard, hopefully they point to a process that should be natural. Here’s a simple outline of how this might go:
- Christ is doing good things inside of me that are changing the way I think and feel about almost everything. (internal change)
- Those changes are so profound that they are changing the ways I act, what I do, what I enjoy, how I spend my time, how I parent, how I perform my job, my spare time, my lifestyle, how I spend my money, etc. (external change)
- God living in me is naturally seen by others I’m around. He affects the things I talk about and do with the people around me. (incarnational living)
- Because God and this life are so good, I now seek to be more open about my life and faith with the people I’m naturally around (at work, in the neighborhood, my friends and family), so that we can have natural conversations about and demonstrate this new way of life. (missional living)
Or, maybe for those like me who aren’t as naturally around non-Christ-followers because we have "church jobs": Because God and this life are so good, I now look for opportunities to purposely be around people who might be interested in what Jesus has to offer them, so that we can have natural conversations about and demonstrate this new way of life. (missional living)
Or the hyper-simple version:
- Christ is doing good things inside me.
- These internal changes are changing the ways I act outwardly.
- This God-living-in-me is naturally seen by others I’m around.
- To share this, I now seek to be more open about my life and faith.
What do you think? Have you found the ideas of missional and incarnational helpful in your life or church?