One of the new buzzwords for ministry models is “incarnation” and various leaders now speak about “incarnational ministry.” But Andrew Root, in Relational Ministry, contends when “incarnation” becomes a strategy, a ministry model, something to be done or enacted, incarnation loses its meaning and ministry becomes a means to accomplishing our own interests. Root’s contention deserves our attention.
What do you think of his reshaping of what “incarnational ministry” means?
Maybe this set of lines illustrates the problem. This is what incarnational ministry looks like as a strategy:
You — Enacted ministry/incarnational ministry –> Other –> Intended aim (salvation, transformation, etc).
In the “incarnational model” You, the ministry, do something to the Other in order to bring about a result. The incarnational moment or act then is done not for the sake of other but for the sake of a designed result.
But this confuses end with act and mistakes what incarnation is all about, so claims Root. Instead of the Person loving the person, instead of You loving the Other, or instead of You indwelling the Other — which is what God did in the Incarnation — incarnational models see through the Other to the result and so focus on the result not the Other.
I (SMcK) appeal here to the distinction made by Martin Buber in I and Thou: “The primary word[pair] I-You can only be spoken with the whole being. The primary word[pair] I-It can never be spoken with the whole being.” To make incarnation a strategy is to make the entirety of the Christian faith an I-It; to make incarnation about mutual indwelling it is to make the entirety of the Christian faith an I-You. Back to Root…
The incarnation was about God’s sharing himself with humans so that humans could enjoy the presence of God and be in union with God. God loves into incarnational indwelling. Incarnation is about the indwelling. [I’m not sure Root says this but Root does not seem to deny results in incarnational indwelling but the results is not the intent, while for incarnational strategies it is.]
“Incarnation in ministry has little to do, then, with cozying up to others to convert their interest; rather it is about sharing in their life as person” (117).
If the incarnation is our “model” then it will lead to indwelling others and loving others and union with others.
This all leads Root to see ministry as a gift, a pure gift, the gift of love and personhood in relationship. To minister is to foster opportunities for others to be indwellt by God by indwelling others.
This reshapes atonement theory: “It then makes little sense to contend that God’s raging justice is what moves God to send Jesus” (128).