Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Church Planting and "Incarnational" Ministry

In the church planting world there is no shortage of buzzwords, but among the most commonly-used are the terms "contextual" and "incarnational."

Insofar as I understand these words, their meaning appears to be that, in order to reach our communities with the gospel, we must adapt our message and methods to our target audience so that they actually understand what we're trying to tell them.

So far, so good. I mean, if I were to attempt to speak to the unchurched culture of the Northwest by preaching a 32-week sermon series called "The Filioque Clause and its Ramifications for Eastern and Western Ecumenicity," I hardly think we'd run out of chairs.

(If I preached a series called "Biggie, Tupac, and the East Coast / West Coast Feud" I might have more luck.)

But my hesitance concerning the whole "incarnational" approach stems from the fact that it seems to assign to the unbelieving community the task of setting the rules for the game. Contemporary culture (which is assumed to be both autonomous and neutral) gets to decide what is significant in "the real world"--whatever that means--and the Church, ever perilous of slipping into irrelevance, has to fall in line, hat in hand, like a dutiful servant.

Am I the only one who sees this as problematic?