My kid’s school is far away from my ministry field. How important is it that I live among the people I’m trying to reach? If I can’t live “on site” how much will that affect my fruitfulness? It is important to consider the significance of what is called incarnational ministry.
Jesus was incarnational. What that means is though He was God, he took on human flesh and became a man. He left heaven, came to earth, lived among us and through that, that helped us to see what God the Father was like. He is our model. How important is it that we do this? This article addresses, not the issue of adapting to culture, but the question of living among the people we serve.
Do We Need To Live Among Them?
This is a real question for both cross-cultural and national missionaries as well. There are often many barriers to living among the people.
Does the principle of incarnational ministry mean that the only way to do missions is to live among those we want to reach? What about loving and providing for our families and their needs? What if the place I’m trying to reach is very remote or I can’t get a visa to stay there?
The Book Of Acts Includes Both Models
In the gospels and book of Acts we see both models. We see examples of living among the people, and of traveling in and out of a place to minister. There isn’t only one model that can work. What is crucial though is the depth and quality of relationships you are able to develop. What level of overall influence upon a community are you able to attain?
It is not easy to develop strong relationships of trust without spending much time among the people you are reaching. It takes many hours of doing life together to earn that place where you can speak strongly into someone’s life. If you are working cross-culturally, and needing to learn a new language and way of thinking, this is even more true.
Difficulties With The In and Out Model
I talked with a church planter in North India who was focusing on an area an hour away from where he lived. Because of the distance and because he didn’t have his own motorbike, he had to take a bus to this location whenever he went. The bus ride took a lot of time and energy and costed money too. He only went twice a week there, stayed a few hours and came home. That was pretty much the total effort he made there- 4 or 5 hours a week on site. He wasn’t seeing much fruit and the people he was trying to disciple were not growing in their faith and obedience very quickly. They certainly weren’t training others yet.
Philippians Chapter Two tells us of humble sacrifice of Jesus when He came and lived among us. It wasn’t easy. He had to leave heaven. He suffered in many ways to provide our salvation.
Reasons We Don’t Live Among Them
Sometimes I wonder if the reason we don’t live among the people we are trying to reach is simply a lack of commitment. I am not saying there is no cost to us or our families. Educational needs of children is a huge factor for many people. But maybe sometimes, we lack the depth of commitment that creative solutions to this issue need.
Other times, there is lack of understanding of what it means to people when we actually become part of their community rather than a visiting outsider. I’m pretty convinced that if we want to see a Disciple Making Movement (DMM), we need to live among the people we are reaching, at least for a time. It might be a month, several months, or a year or two years. We see all these time frames in Paul’s ministry. Some places required him to stay longer than others.
It doesn’t mean we have to stay forever. In fact, sometimes it is good once the person of peace is found, and the first church is started, to move away. We can then visit regularly, continuing to train and invest in the person of peace. They then reach the community.
If we never live among them, though, its doubtful to me that we will ever develop the depth of relationships that Paul had with Timothy, Titus and Philemon or that Jesus had with his disciples.
Are you already using a model where you live apart from those you are reaching? Consider setting aside a time to go and live there. Even if it is just for a month or two, this could dramatically increase your chance of fruit there. Or, consider focusing on an area near your home, a place you can visit daily for at least several hours. Moving into the community, living in the home of the person of peace, was the model Jesus taught in Luke 10.
Think creatively. Your reasons for not living among the people are likely very valid ones. God has answers for you. He can show you creative ways to live among the people you are reaching more, even if you can’t live there permanently. The more we live among them, the more our impact and fruitfulness will increase.