Recently (admittedly) I took one of those “challenges” that continually show up on Facebook. This particular one offered to map my use of words and visualize those most used on my personal wall. It was no surprise to me that the word “new” stood out above all others. New churches (church was my second most-used word), new studies, new reports, new housing developments, newly found people groups, and new community-benefit organizations are all things that interest me, and they trigger crazy, happy thoughts in my head.
The New vs. the Incarnational Now
Such is the life of many apostolically gifted people. We love the new, and we tend toward the future tense. Many of us have to be reminded that incarnational living is a call to live well in the present tense. We must truly see the people around us and be responsive to their needs, hopes, fears, trials, and triumphs. It is a Christlike way to live.
Here is a recent example from my own life of how I tend toward the future at the expense of the incarnational now. Refugees come to their new homes with hardly any possessions, money, or English-language skills. Often they come having left behind beloved family members and friends. In connection with all the recent immigration we’ve all read about and seen in the news, I confess that my immediate thoughts encompass the capacity to share Christ with people who perhaps have never been exposed to the gospel in their countries of origin. My imagination immediately delights in the someday story in which every knee will bow and every tongue will confess Jesus as Lord. But what these refugees need are new friends who care about their past hurts and present needs, not just their salvation—and not even the possibilities that their new lives and new places bring them.
An Apostolic Temptation
In 2015 alone, I heard of two church planters who planted churches just a few years ago but were forced to resign. Both, in my opinion, are wonderful, big-picture, future leaders, but they were so attached to a vision that they generally only had time for people who could help them implement that vision in exactly the ways they believed it should unfold. This is a tragic flaw that sometimes shows up in some of the most apostolic planters. They engage the new, leaving everything else behind.
Here are two suggestions for this kind of leader:
1. Be self aware enough to recognize your flaws. Be open to accountability to become more incarnational and more aware. Don’t just learn as I did—from making repeated mistakes.
2. Work with team members who have pastoral gifts. Learn to trust those with pastoral gifts and release them to do the things they do better than you.
Implementing just these two things can save your ministry.
It is a New Year full of hope, opportunity, and promise. It is time for new things. However, in the midst of doing the new let us learn to walk well in every tense. Let us never overlook the incarnational now.
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