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Words Becoming Flesh (Issue 24)

By Bishop Justin Duckworth. 

“The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighbourhood” (John 1:14).

At the heart of the Christian message is the incarnation: that God took on flesh and blood and became one of us in Jesus. It’s easy to forget the implications of the incarnation for mission. Caught in a modernist framework we’re often obsessed with the need to use words to proclaim the Good News. Instead of sending his Son, God could have txt bombed us all or tweeted the Good News or even put up a Facebook page where we could ‘like’ God and his Kingdom. Instead the Word became flesh.

It’s only as the Word becomes a lived reality that people can engage it. We live in a word-saturated reality, an information overload where an avalanche of data is instantly available to us at the click of a button.

It’s therefore not surprising to me that many no longer bother listening to the Church. People are over listening. Full stop. We don’t need more words. We need lived realities.

Re-learning the Incarnation

In my own life the challenge is to learn once again what the incarnation is all about: living out the Good News. My call as a follower of Jesus is to incarnate the Good News in my own life and in the groups I’m part of.

Society may be over words, but a lived reality that offers hope is compelling. It’s hard to ignore a lived reality that dwells among us. It’s hard to ignore a lived reality of hope when it moves into the neighbourhood.

An Anabaptist friend once summed up what it means to be a people who live out the incarnation:

  • Alternative. We’re called to live a different way of life, one that offers hope to the deepest needs of our culture and society.

  • Attractive. Those wanting an alternative way of life should find our lives appealing and contagious.

  • Articulate. When people observe the hope at the centre of our lifestyles, we can explain what (and who!) it’s all about.

I’ve always found this useful, though the challenge is to actually live a life that’s alternative and attractive. For many of us there’s often very little discernible difference between our lives and the lives of our neighbours. The only visible difference is we go to a church service on a Sunday morning as opposed to a café for brunch.

This gap is why we, as followers of Jesus, need to seriously reengage with discipleship. Discipleship is the lived reality of following Jesus in the contexts we find ourselves in. Discipleship is not the accumulation of correct propositional truths but a life transformed by knowing God and his Kingdom agenda for our world.

But what is it?

“Discipleship” has become one of those fuzzy Christian words that have come to mean everything and therefore nothing. Being frustrated with this early on as Bishop, I gathered a diverse group of people in the diocese to discuss what discipleship is.

I asked them to first define what they would look for in a mature follower of Jesus. I then asked them to describe what they’ve observed about people who became this mature. In other words, we asked what it took for people to become mature disciples. Drawing on the wealth of experience in the room we came up with a few key DNA strands that we thought helped people mature:

  • Intentional. People had to proactively choose to allow their lives to be formed.

  • Long term. People seemed to need to be involved for years to mature.

  • Community. Maturity happens in small group of between 3-12 people.

  • Missional. These groups are outwardly focussed, existing for the sake of others.

  • Leadership & mentoring. Somebody helps to facilitate the journey.

  • Liminal. This is the uncomfortable transition from one way of being and seeing the world to another, like the moment a trapeze artist has let go of the bar and is hanging in thin air, awaiting the next bar to swing their way. It is scary and outside people’s comfort zones.

  • Worship & prayer. The group regularly worships and prays together.

  • Whole of Life. These groups share life outside of formal gatherings – it’s the informal that forms.

  • Holy Spirit led. These groups are open and expect God to direct and be involved.

Interestingly enough there wasn’t much conflict in the group discussion. People basically came up with the same things, despite the group being theologically diverse and a mixture of ordained and lay. Then we realised we had just described Jesus and his disciples. Maybe Jesus was on to something!

I realise in my own life I can often get so obsessed with God’s Kingdom that I miss how he actually went about building this Kingdom. The vehicle, the method, the engine room of the Kingdom is journeying long-term with a group of misfits on Kingdom adventures.

Can I encourage us to strive to daily live out the reality we profess, and in doing so continue to see the Word become flesh and blood and move into our neighbourhoods.


For discussion

Why do you think there tends to be little discernible difference between the lives of Christians and our neighbours?

What is one thing you and your group can do to make your faith more of a lived reality?


Exploring today’s missional issues from a variety of angles, each edition of Intermission will equip you and your group to engage with God in your community and beyond. Why not take up the challenge and start using Intermission in your community? For more information or to order copies click here.