Starting a transformative movement of multiplying disciples, leaders and churches is a pretty big vision, so one of the challenges we have faced is knowing where to start. What’s the first step? Many church plants, with good intentions, come into a community with a pre-packaged formula about what to do and how to do it. Typically, this includes launching a public worship service as soon as possible. This approach can definitely be useful in some contexts, but we have intentionally chosen a different path. In short, we want to “land” before we “launch.” That is, we have chosen to spend time listening to, and learning from, the context we are being sent to before we “start” anything.
One of the ways to think about landing before launching is to use the language of incarnational mission. If mission is about going, then incarnation is about how we go. For example, Jesus lived for 30 years as a human being in the land of Israel before anyone knew who he was or what he was here to do. Wow! What was he doing for those 30 years? Why wait so long to get things going? Basically, Jesus was landing before launching – he saturated himself in the culture before he spoke into the culture. He was sent by the Father with a very specific mission, but how he accomplished that mission was through the incarnation – he lived among the people and participated in their reality.
So how do you take this principle of incarnational mission – landing before launching – and put it into practice? To help us out with this process, I created something called the 6 I’s of Incarnational Mission. It looks something like this:
Using this process as a point of reference, we wanted to share some things we have been doing to help us land well.
The first phase of the journey is Immersion. Once you know where you are being sent to, like a seed being planted into the ground, you have to immerse yourself into that context. For us, on the front end, our context is Nashville, but specifically, an area known as West End or Midtown. About a year ago we moved into an apartment and began to “dwell among the people.” In a city like Nashville, there is no short supply of things to do, so over the past year we have been steadily participating in the rhythms of the city, observing the people and places of the city.
The second part of the process is Interaction. We all know it’s completely possible, and for some people it’s entirely normal, to live somewhere but never really interact with anyone. For the past year, we have been proactively participating in as many events and social gatherings as possible. For example, I (Tim) go to several meetup.com events a month where I meet new people, set up coffee or lunch appointments, and build friendships. I’m also a part-time Uber driver, which has been a great way to meet new people and get a feel for the geography and culture of the city.
Also, Tiffany and I both volunteer at various non-profits and public events, adding value to the community through service and advocacy. The key, at this stage, is to genuinely inter-act. That is, you have to open yourself up to people and enter into give and take relationships. Going through this process of inter-action has allowed us to develop an affection for the city and the people who live here.
Part three is Interpretation. This is where we currently are in our journey. After a year of immersing ourselves in this context, and regularly interacting with people, we are now stepping back to interpret what we have been experiencing. To help us do this, we have done two things.
1. We did a SWOT analysis to brainstorm the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats of the city as it relates to our venture of starting a movement. Because Tiffany and I are wired so differently, it was really neat to see how we each saw different things in all four of those categories.
2. We did a day long prayer retreat. Tiffany and I went off to a local park and prayed separately, then came back to share what we saw and heard from the Father. In future posts, we will share some of the things we heard, and how that has given us a sense of direction.
The next phase of the journey for us will be Imagination. This is where we will begin to ask ourselves the question: based on what we have been hearing and seeing (from God and our own observations) what would it look like for the kingdom of God to come in this context?
If I’m honest, I am so glad we have finally made it to this stage. It has been a long, slow, and sometimes frustrating, descent this past year. Landing is not always easy, or fast. In fact, if you have ever flown in a plane, it takes way longer to land the plane than it does to launch the plane. But we are super excited to be entering into this new season. We see so much potential all around us. So while starting small has its challenges, it has presented us with a unique opportunity to flesh out what it means to take an incarnational approach to mission.
In future posts, we will share with you about how we are moving into the Imagination, Innovation, and Improvisation phases of the journey. This is the part I am really looking forward to. Thanks for reading up on what the Lord has been doing with us. We hope our journey inspires you to participate in what God is doing in and around you.