Incarnational Lessons from Beirut
by Hugh Halter
I sat in the back of a black BMW on a 45-minute drive through a dusty, war-torn area south of Beirut. Next to me was a national leader of the Willow Creek Association. We were getting to know each other and our talk quickly turned to renovating existing churches, updating small group ministry, and other assorted “churchy” conversations. In the front seat sat a woman named Sophi, a Sunni Muslim who had become a cult hero throughout Lebenon.
As we drove into a part of the country that a few years before had been obliterated by Israeli bombs, Sophi began to share her heart and vision for reconciliation between Sunni and Shiite Muslims. This is a crazy notion if you know anything about Middle Eastern relationships.
As we drove through town after town, all we saw were cement homes. Most looked uninhabitable. Then we took a hard right turn and headed into what seemed like a no-mans-zone—a series of winding roads that eventually led us to a community of 7,000 people. As we approached, Sophi smiled and said, “This is my village.” The car stopped and we noticed that the homes were different. Although the exteriors were still cement-based, the facades had been artistically altered to show beautiful murals of animals, fruit, and a wide array of creative pictures. Each home was decorated in a unique fashion.
It turns out Sophi was also an artist who transformed the drab concrete structures into beautiful homes. She had worked for several years to develop a sustainable business to fund her vision of reconciliation and redemption in this village.
As we work with so many church leaders and church planters, many of whom receive large sums of money to begin “new works,” we often use stories like this to recapture the imagination of how incarnational ministry is done.
She’s a lot like Jesus, who lived and worked in a small Nazareth village as a stone mason and who patiently grew in respect with local villagers before he began teaching or preaching. Paul also modeled the incarnational way, saying to the Corinthian church,
“For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you to imitate. For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.”
2 Thessalonians 3:7-10
Amidst all the church leadership lingo, strategies, models, and stories, we often miss the simple fact that living incarnationally is about our jobs, how they give us the ability to develop some “street cred” and submerse us in the lives of those we hope to reach.
I’ve been in church leadership now for 18 years, and I’ve still never had a full-time paycheck from a church. Yes, there is biblical support to receive full income from the churches we serve, but there’s also the option of learning how to live in the neighborhood like Jesus did, like Paul did, and thousands of powerful church leaders throughout the centuries.
When Jesus moves into a neighborhood, he doesn’t just live there. Flesh takes on creative beauty, looks for ways to capture the heart by bringing color, texture, depth, and relationship. Sometimes this has to happen through our mundane jobs.
That’s the power of incarnation.
Hugh Halter lives in Denver with his wife Cheryl and their three offspring, Alli, Ryan, & McKenna. Besides directing Missio, Hugh pastors Adullam, and loves to help The Church find it’s Missional Mojo. He has co-authored The Tangible Kingdom, Tangible Kingdom Primer, & AND…the gathered and scattered church.