Incarnational Ministry: Living Big in Small Places

On Easter Sunday, as the day wound down I took time to peruse some Facebook posts. Finally it wasn’t all about Trump! On my newsfeed was church after church showing pictures of their Easter gatherings. Most highlighted the pastor behind the pulpit or the worship leaders with mic in hand and light show on full display, and many spoke about how many were in attendance.

Don’t get me wrong. I understand the excitement that surrounds getting God’s people together. I know these gatherings are powerful and important in the life of a church. But a natural question came to mind.

Why don’t we celebrate more pictures of our church becoming a church? Why don’t we ever see pictures of new friends we’re having dinner with for the first or tenth time, or pictures of home gatherings, missional communities or small intimate conversations around the coffee table?

Related: Incarnational Ministry—A Kingdom of Harlots »

Aren’t these the things we loved about the ministry of Jesus—stories of him in homes, eating and drinking, challenging, listening, connecting people together? We love the stories of him in back alleys, having candlelit conversations and spontaneous encounters that happened along the way. Although one of his self-proclaimed titles was the Good Shepherd, he really lived more like a missionary or church planter. His public life was really an outgrowth of his subterranean existence as he lived among people in the margins.

I think this is why I have loved the process of planting two churches and why I feel so proud of those who live in this subterranean, barely visible experience of starting new missional communities or new church plants. These are men and women who often leverage everything they have just to win a few. They can’t afford a pulpit, or a building to put one in, so they have to find creative ways to share Scripture and wisdom while driving down the road with a friend or huddled around a backyard barbecue. These are our missionaries—and in a world where ministry success metrics constantly slap them in the face for not measuring up, they stay the course because of a simple, quiet, but powerful call not just to go to church, but to partner with God as he builds his church.

Whether you are pastoring an existing congregation or starting a missional community or church plant, consider these four insights as you model your ministry after the life of Jesus.

1. Always lead like a church planter.

In other words, even as the congregational structures and demands grow, try not to go where the congregation expects you to go but to where Jesus leads you.

2. Lead now like you hope your church will become later.

If you want your church to someday be a generous, sacrificial, intentional network of missionary communities throughout the neighborhoods around you, start taking the steps now that will get you there, even if your church only consists of a handful of friends. Whatever you do with the first 10 will be what you do with the next 100 and so on. Whatever you don’t do with the first 10 will be what you don’t do with the next 100.

3. What you give your time to will grow.

If you want your church services to be excellent, then do what 80 percent of churches do and give most of your time and money to the Sunday experience. But if you want to grow missionary disciples instead of consumer Christians, you will have to minimize the time you spend on weekend gatherings and refocus your time on modeling missional engagement, missional communities and missionary leadership.

4. Live it because you love it.

Some of my larger church peers joke with me that I can never get a church past 350. They tell me I should learn how to leapfrog over the numerical barriers most leaders struggle with. They could be right, but I’ve also seen the advantages of leading a smaller congregation. Mornings are filled with coffee and prayers of expectation for how God will lead my family in mission. Time is intentionally freed up so that my relational availability is heightened. Meetings are few and more gets done.

Regardless of your role in the church, we all get to live like Jesus if we truly want to.

Read more from Hugh Halter »

Hugh Halter is the U.S. director of Forge America, an apprenticing community committed to training men and women to live as missionaries where they already are. He is the author of a number of books, most recently Flesh: Bringing the Incarnation Down to Earth and Brimstone: The Art and Act of Holy Nonjudgment. For more information:

Hugh Halter
Hugh Halter

Hugh Halter is founder of Post Commons and Lantern Network, former U.S. director of Forge America, and on faculty at Northern Seminary. He is the author of a number of books, most recently Flesh: Bringing the Incarnation Down to Earth and Brimstone: The Art and Act of Holy Nonjudgment.