Three Keys to Mission Part 2: Incarnation

In the March/April edition of Theology Journal I wrote about the Three Keys to Mission used in the planting and establishment of Glo Church. Here is the second part of the article; the whole text is available at

Three keys to mission: Kingdom, incarnation and discipleship


Graham Tomlin writes in The Provocative Church, ‘the kingdom of God…was a truth embodied in [Jesus’] person and life and it was to be embodied in the life of the communities of the kingdom that followed’.(19) Claiborne writes, ‘the incarnation . . . of Jesus [means] he reveals to us what God is like with flesh on’.(20) This is the challenge of incarnation: to demonstrate the love of God, embodied as a community, while recognizing that Jesus was the Incarnation, while we carry our own weakness and brokenness.

Jesus preached the kingdom of God in word and deed, but incarnated in a specific time and place: first-century Judea: ‘God takes seriously not only culture In general but also each particular culture.’(21) It follows that incarnation demands contextualization, or inculturation, a topic linked to the discussion above about worship, and considered in the Mission-shaped Church report.(22) This is why the team was asked to relocate to Offerton; for ‘it is important for the church in each time and place to embody and communicate the life of Christ exactly where it is’. (23)

We learned much from The Message Trust’s ‘Eden’ projects, ‘a movement known for its emphasis on being incarnational’.(24) Quoting Eugene Peterson, Wilson notes that ‘‘‘our Scriptures that bring us the story of salvation ground us unrelentingly in place’’’.(25) As it is the church community which is the embodiment of Christ, however, alongside incarnation comes institution. Within Glo we have come to consider two different forms of mission: incarnational and institutional, following Murray, ‘the church is both a community and a missionary organisation, an institution and a movement’.(26) By relocating, team members have built relationships with local residents and share the gospel of Jesus through interacting with them: ‘incarnational’ mission, the loving offer of help, the touch of a praying hand, the compassionate listening ear. Through these we seek to introduce our neighbours to a God who loves them far more than we ever could.

This goes hand in hand with institutional mission, represented by the formal structure of Glo Church – its name, its reputation, its activity. Bonhoeffer says, ‘[T]he empirical church is the organized ‘‘institution’’ of salvation’,(27) and a community can achieve things impossible for an individual alone. We connect with a number of young people incarnationally – simply by living in the neighbourhood – but running our youth cafe ́, for example, is achieved by the institution of Glo Church mobilizing individuals to have an impact in the community together. Institutional mission offers the establishment of relationships so that the gospel is communicated incarnationally.

In this way, both as a community and as individuals, Glo Church is engaged in mission and evangelism. As Newbigin writes, however, our primary mission begins with our own relationship with God: ‘where the Church is faithful to its Lord, there the powers of the kingdom are present and people begin to ask the question to which the gospel is the answer’.(28) Barth notes that church is ‘communio sanctorum, the communion of the saints, because it is congregatio fidelium, the gathering of the faithful. As such, it is the coniuratio testium, the confederation of the witnesses who may and must speak because they believe’.(29) This witness and faithfulness is developed on our journey of discipleship, the final framework to which we now turn.

19. Graham Tomlin, The Provocative Church, 3rd edn (London: SPCK, 2002), p. 69.
20. Shane Claiborne, ‘Marks of New Monasticism’, in Cray, Mobsby and Kennedy (eds), New Monasticism as Fresh Expression of Church, pp. 19–36 (31).
21. George R. Hunsberger and Craig Van Gelder (eds), The Church between Gospel and Culture: The Emerging Mission in North America (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996), p. 53.
22. See, e.g., Mission-Shaped Church: Church Planting and Fresh Expressions of Church in a Changing Context (London: Church House Publishing, 2004), p. xii.
23. Rodney Clapp, A Peculiar People: The Church as Culture in a Post-Christian Society (Downer’s Grove: IVP, 1996), p. 188.
24. Matt Wilson, Concrete Faith: The Inside Story of the Eden Network (Manchester: The Message Trust, 2012), p. 137.
25. ibid., p. 9.
26. Stuart Murray, Church Planting: Laying Foundations (Scottdale: Herald Press, 2001), p.106.
27. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Sanctorum Communio: A Theological Study of the Sociology of the Church, ed. by Clifford Green, trans. Reinhard Krauss and Nancy Lukens (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2009), p. 208.
28. Lesslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society (London: SPCK, 1989), p. 119.
29. Karl Barth, Evangelical Theology: An Introduction, trans. Grover Foley (London: Collins, 1965), p. 40.

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