The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost - Luke 19:10
In Luke 19:10, three verbs describe Jesus' initiative. We talk about the last two a lot. He seeks, and he saves. But the first, and it's easy to overlook, he came. The son of Man "came." He left heaven, and he came to earth. And when you think about it, that may have been his most radical step of all.
The theological word that describes his radical step is 'incarnation.' John 1 says that the Word became flesh and dwelled among us. God became a human being like us in Palestine 2000 years ago. He became one of us. You want to talk about radically outward focused! He left the perfection of heaven knowing that the cross was before him.
And then, when he got to earth, Jesus continued an incarnational approach to ministry. He left the establishment of the religious culture of that time. He sought out the crooks and hookers, the race baiters and terrorists, the politicians, and the rough-around-the-edges crowd. He loved them and served them and saved them. Jesus, our savior, was radically others-focused. And he said if any of you want to be great in my kingdom, you're going to put a towel over your arm, and you'll serve those and love those who are nothing like you because you have my love flowing through you.
He left his comfort, he left his convenience, he put flesh on to come to us… of course, we should do the same. He said I'll become like them in every way possible so that I might reach them. And he did.
So what do you have to leave in order to reach more people? What does incarnational ministry look like for the modern church? Well, it used to be that people would come to us. People would seek out Christians to be involved in different community initiatives and to serve on boards. It used to be that the church was the center of the community, and people would come to the church if they had problems. That's not the world we live in anymore. We need to go to them. But this shouldn't be a foreign idea; it's what Jesus did for us first.
To do 'incarnational ministry' means that we take the initiative, we immerse ourselves in the lives of others, we speak the language of the people we're trying to reach, and we discover people's hopes and fears. Why? Because Jesus did that for us. Some church people get nervous when we start talking this way. They ask, "Does this mean we're going to become one of those seeker churches?" And close behind, "We need to be a deep church. We need to have deep preaching. Enough of this shallow practical stuff. If I don't leave church bored and confused, then it wasn't worth coming." OK, I'm exaggerating. A little.
Let me respond in the form of a question, "who was the most spiritually formed, most spiritually deep person that ever lived?" This is not a trick question. Jesus was the most spiritually formed, spiritually deep person who ever lived. He was pure righteousness in the flesh. And at the same time, Jesus was a magnet for seekers. He loved people who were far from God, and they flocked to him. He didn't just love them because it was his job to love them. He liked them. He liked being with them. He sought them out, and they sought him out.
And that was his plan for his followers. It's this simple, if you love Jesus, you'll love the people he died for. And conversely, if you see a church or an individual that claims spiritual depth but gives no evidence of love or passion for people far from God, it's a sham. It's not spiritual depth, it is legalism, and Jesus saved his strongest negative reactions for the legalists. Authentic spiritual depth always leads to great passion and concern for lost people.
So the idea that a church has to choose between spiritual depth vs. loving outsiders is a lie from the devil himself. It was not true of Jesus, and he did not intend for it to be true of his church.