Missional Communities are Incarnational

InterVarsity’s missional communities are described as “incarnational,” but what do we mean by this term? 


Incarnational ministry describes how we follow Jesus by living out the gospel in the world around us, its physical, social, and cultural realities. Incarnational ministry flows from incarnational spirituality, which expects God to reveal his power and love in the midst of these three realities.

Why is this important?

Jesus loved our world by entering into it and identifying with us in our humanity. John 1:14 reminds us that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Therefore, in missional communities, we identify with others to whom God sends us. God reveals himself to us in flesh and time through Jesus—and we also reveal God’s presence and message to others through time together and in our physical and social presence with them.

Incarnational ministry means that we go to others and enter their world to authentically engage their interests, speak their language, etc. Missional communities are outward-oriented, entering others’ social space and being relevant to their context (rather than expecting them to “come in” and join us). On campus, incarnational ministry calls us to be the gospel in their social networks: in dorms, athletic teams, ethnic clubs, faculty forums, labs, online communities, and studios.

Application for Leaders

  • In Christ in intimacy with God:
    Develop a regular practice of prayer (preferably in community) within the physical and social spaces of those to whom you are called. Ask Jesus where he is already working and listen for a response. Ask Jesus in what way he wants to work in that culture, and listen again. Then take faith-filled risks to accompany Jesus in what he is doing.
  • Like Christ in character:
    Incarnational ministry is by nature cross-cultural, and cross-cultural ministry requires keen awareness of one’s own culture, as well as some cross-cultural skills. Seek out mentors to help you develop these skills, especially if you are early in the cross-cultural journey.
  • With Christ in mission:
    Become a student of the culture of the people group to which you are called (dorm, class, team, campus, ethnic group, etc.). Learn as much as you can about their language, activity, physical space or digital space. Then find ways to position your ministry within that culture as much as possible.

Application for Chapters

  • In Christ in intimacy with God:
    A chapter can begin to embrace incarnational spirituality through a variety of prayer experiences (e.g., prayer walking or prayer vigils). As you seek God together, look for the revelation of his power and presence, and expect him to guide you in your mission focus.
  • Like Christ in character:
    For a chapter to take an incarnational approach to mission, it must know what groups, cultures, and subcultures are represented in the chapter, and then consider what groups, cultures and subcultures it is called to reach. This is an important conversation for leadership teams to have in order to develop the character of their own chapter.
  • With Christ in mission:
    In whatever ways your chapter “gathers” together, consider locating your gatherings (small, medium, and large) as often as possible in the physical and social spaces most comfortable for the people you are called to reach.

-- by Jason Jensen

Missional communities are incarnational, evangelistic, and apostolic. Learn more about these three characteristics and their implications for InterVarsity leaders and chapters.