Incarnational missionary ministry refers to an approach to engaging with people in another cultue in ways mirroring the concept of the Incarnation in Christian theology -- the belief that God became flesh in the person of Jesus Christ.
A missionary ministering incarnationally should seek to embody the example and teachings of Christ in cross-cultural interactions. Incarnational ministry means that missionaries will immerse themselves in the lives of those they serve, sharing in their joys and struggles, and actively participating in the realities of the human experience. This approach prioritizes relational, compassionate, and hands-on involvement, seeking to bring the transformative love and message of Christ into the very fabric of people's daily lives. Being a Christian missionary means going beyond proclaiming beliefs verbally to living them out tangibly. Incarnational ministry will lead to fostering a genuine connection and an understanding of people in other cultures that transcends mere words.
Gina Pottenger, editor of Engage magazine, asked me to write a series of brief essays on the characteristics of Christ's earthly ministry that should be reflected in the way we do world evangelism. Some would say "We can never be like Jesus. He was perfect in every way; we are not." Nonetheless, there is Paul's in Philippians 2:5, "Have the same mindset as Christ Jesus." Colossians 1:27 also has that wonderful phrase "Christ in you."
My wife Barbara, who is a mental health counselor, likes to talk to her clients about God's declaration in Genesis 1:26, "Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness." It is a thought that Paul uses in 2 Corinthians 3:18 where he says we "are being transformed into His image." It was this concept that led John Allan Knight in 1976 to write a book titled In His Likeness: God's Plan for a Holy People
So, the question then is, what of God's image should shine through in cross-cultural missionary activity? What image of God should people see in a missionary from another country who has come to serve them? What should being a God-called missionary of the Gospel look like? Shouldn't qualities of that person include compassion, humility, mercy, forgiveness, discernment, servanthood, being proactive and intentional, vision casting, holistic ministry, a desire to empower others, and a primary focus on transformation?
-- Howard Culbertson,
With thanks to my friend Brendon Weaver whose questioning led me to come up with the list of characteristics that evolved into this series of mini-essays.
In terms of the Kingdom, Jesus set a model pattern: Go, proclaiming the Kingdom. That's what Matthew said that Jesus himself did (Matthew 4:23 and 9:35). It's also what Jesus said in Matthew 10:7: "As you go, proclaim this message: 'The kingdom of heaven has come near.'"
These mini-essays on Christlike attitudes and actions that need to be present in cross-cultural missionary service were published in Engage, a monthly online magazine.