On ‘moving into the neighbourhood’

I’m reflecting on John 1:14, which Eugene Peterson translates as ‘The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighbourhood’. This is God’s way of doing ministry: not shouting the message long distance from heaven, but coming among us as one of us, sharing our struggles and our joys, modelling true life for us so that we can see it and imitate it. This is sometimes called ‘incarnational ministry’.

Incarnational ministry was easier for me when I lived in a small town. After a few years there, I knew everyone and everyone knew me. There were no strangers in the coffee shops and stores; people watched us live out our marriage, raise our kids, and deal with all the struggles that came our way. I spent lots of time with people, one on one as well as in small groups.

It’s easier to hide in the city. It’s easier to go to the office in the morning, run programs, organize things, connect with the Internet, and (as Peterson describes it) ‘run a church’. but the Kingdom of God is not advanced when pastors run churches (which is not to say that someone doesn’t need to run them). The kingdom of God is advanced when the Word becomes flesh and lives among us. The life of Jesus still needs to be lived out before people’s eyes – by pastors, and by the people of a parish. Ministry is up close and personal; it’s not distant and general.

I need to remember this. I know that it’s still possible to do incarnational ministry in the city, but I need to be more intentional about it. It’s easy for my days to get taken up in the details of ‘running a church’ (and, quite frankly, our church structures encourage this). I have to fight hard for time to do good incarnational ministry. But as I read and reflect on John 1:14, I realize again how important it is for me to win that fight.

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