Lynn Cory, author of "The Incarnational Church" is interviewed by Phil Miglioratti
Phil ~ Tell us 3-4 things about your ministry life that will help us understand your passion to author this book.
Lynn ~ My ministry life, as you term it, began well over forty years ago, when I was called to serve as the college pastor of a rapidly growing church in the San Fernando Valley region of Los Angeles. And even though our ministry enjoyed every conceivable success from a worldly standpoint, I couldn’t help but feel that something was lacking or not quite right. I couldn’t put my finger on the problem, so I began to read every book took a simple job in a warehouse. My hunger to find what was lacking in my former experience led me to start a church in our home. There was something in that experience that seemed right . . . more in line with what I believed the New Testament to be saying. We grew steadily, eventually exceeding 60 adults and 25 children, but with a fulltime job, a wife and three young children, I just couldn’t meet all the demands. After four years leading the house church, our family became involved with the local Vineyard. The experience was more informal and fit well for our family. After a time, I joined the pastoral team, but something began to stir in me again . . . something that said the Lord has more in mind for His people. I wish I could be like everyone else and just go with the flow of church today, but the Lord has written evangelism into my DNA and a need to be in community with those outside the Church. The Incarnational Church conveys what I believe is necessary for the Church to be in step with what the Lord desires for His people in this particular season of history.
Phil ~ How does your new book differ from your previous book, "Neighborhood Initiative and the Love of God?"
Lynn ~ Neighborhood Initiative focused primarily on the individual believer and how one can live incarnationally in one’s own neighborhood. It gives helpful tools and stories to show how those in the Church can begin to connect with their actual neighbors and how believers can join with the Father in what He doing in the lives of those who surround us. In this new book, however, the focus is on the Whole Church in every city becoming collectively incarnational. By that I mean . . . the corporate body of Christ working together as one to replicate the life and ministry of Jesus in the cities and neighborhoods where He has placed us. While the first book was written with every believer in mind, The Incarnational Church is a sequel aimed more at pastors and leaders.
Phil ~ What does the subtitle, "Catching Jesus' Radical Approach for Advancing His Kingdom" tell us about your perspective of the incarnational life?
Lynn ~ The American church, for the most part, utilizes an operating system known as the attractional model. Very succinctly, I characterize the attractional church model in this way: We want people to come to our church. We are always looking for another way to attract people to our buildings, to hear our pastor, to participate in our programs. As so defined, the success of our church is marked by increased attendance and participation. Jesus’ ministry approach, on the other hand, was quite different. In contrast to the American church, our Lord utilized an incarnational model during His three years of ministry. That is to say, Jesus didn’t ask people to come to Him. He went to the people. He became “God with us” . . . God living life in our midst. As Dallas Willard so wisely pointed out, “One of the things we often miss is that His mission in the world is incarnational. It comes through people. Incarnation is not just a theological doctrine. It’s a doctrine about how we live. And if we are going to bring Christ to our world, our cities, our neighbors, then we do it in our own person, skin on skin contact, face to face, relationships to others where we manifest a love that is beyond human possibilities and yet is within human actuality, because God makes it so.” As I observe what God is doing in the Church today in America, I believe with all my heart that the Lord is taking His Church back to its first love, back to the things it did at first, back to the Great Commission and the Great Commandment. But in order for this to become reality, church leadership must catch this radical move of God and join Him.
Phil ~ You serve as coordinator for the Neighboring affinity sphere for the LOVE2020 movement. How can those involved in neighboring partner with you to:
- Mobilize Jesus-followers into an Incarnational, prayer-care-share lifestyle?
Lynn ~ Years ago, I was introduced to a message given by Dr. Francis Schaeffer entitled, “The Lord’s Work in the Lord’s Way.” I was deeply impacted by what he presented. At the heart of his message, Schaeffer stressed the importance of quietly and humbly waiting in prayer for the Holy Spirit to do His work through His people. In his opinion, the greatest threat to Christianity is when those in Christian ministry attempt to do the Lord’s work in their own strength. It is with this same conviction that I believe that lack of prayer turns our efforts into works of the flesh. In an effort to help Jesus-followers partner with the Lord in what He is doing in their neighborhoods, I developed the following:
- Pray for your neighbors by name, considering their physical and spiritual needs, concerns, and health. Ask the Lord to show you what He is doing in your neighborhood. While you are walking and praying, engage any neighbors you may meet along the way.
- Wait on God. Your Father is already at work in your neighborhood. Wait for Him to invite you into what He is doing. This is a waiting with great anticipation.
- Watch to see what the Father is doing. As you are praying, He may reveal things through something He puts on your heart or speak to you as you talk to a neighbor or as you see a need.
- Join your Father as He invites you into what He is doing in your neighborhood.
Care flows from a heart that is filled with compassion for those in your neighborhood.
Here’s where you start:
- Co-laboring with God. Once the Lord invites you into what He is doing, recognize that this is His doing and that He will give you the grace to care for those in your neighborhood.
- Initiate conversation. The needs of neighbors are manifold. All you need to do is take some time to talk with your neighbors, and before long they will fill you in on the needs of others who live on your block as well as their own.
- Listen. Learn to ask good questions and then listen. Resist trying to interject things to say while they are talking. It shuts down the flow of things coming from their heart. Offer to pray for them if it seems appropriate.
- Meet the Need. When a neighbor’s need becomes apparent, meet the need. They will never listen to our words until they know we really care.
- You can’t do everything. Keep in mind that every need in your neighborhood is not your responsibility…remember, you want to be about your Father’s business.
- You may need a partner. Enlist others in your neighborhood to help you with larger tasks.
If you look at the accounts of Jesus sharing about Himself and the Gospel of the kingdom, you will never see Him do it the same way twice. When God opens a door for the Gospel, allow the Holy Spirit to speak through you as you share your story and then His story. We see the apostle Paul using this approach in the book of Acts. Become effective in sharing the Gospel in this manner with your neighbors. If they are responsive, stay with them. If they listen to you and what they have heard, stay with that person, as Jesus said. You have found a person of peace. Devote time to the relationship and help them in their new walk with the Lord.
- Invite churches into cooperative/collaborative movement to love their community/city for and with and to Christ?
Lynn ~ I have found the most effective way to establish a neighboring movement of pastors and leaders in a community is to identify a leader(s) who has been called of God to lead a city movement. He needs to be a kingdom-minded person with a passion for this good work. In the early history of Christianity, James was called to lead the church in the city of Jerusalem. In the same way, a city leader of today is one who will take up a leadership role and cast the neighboring vision before other church leaders. He will draw pastors and leaders together to pray for this neighboring vision. In time, a team of leaders will emerge that will organize, train, and move the church of that city forward into cooperative neighboring ministry.
Phil ~ Lynn, I just now noticed The Incarnational Church has 30 bite-sized chapters that could easily be accessed as daily readings. If someone were to approach the book in that way, what question would you suggest they ask before they begin reading and what simple prayer should they express when that daily reading is complete?
Lynn ~ This would be a wonderful approach to reading The Incarnational Church. But whatever the approach, I believe it incumbent upon the reader to ask, “What would it take to see the whole church in our city move forward to live out the collective life of Jesus in our city and neighborhoods?”
As for a prayer, I suggest something along the following lines: “Father, I pray that the church in our city would become one so that those in our city will know that You sent Your Son, the Lord Jesus. I ask that the leaders and pastors in our city would be of one purpose…loving our actual neighbors as ourselves. I pray that we would join You in Your easy yoke to accomplish this work, for without You, we can do nothing. I ask it in Your wonderful name, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Phil ~ Tell us about Section 3: Stories About the Lord’s Incarnational Work in Cities...
Lynn ~ When I first started working with pastors and leaders in the neighboring movement, I thought there was only one way to approach neighboring in a city. How I quickly learned that the Holy Spirit is in no way restricted to any single approach! As I have learned through my years of working with pastors and leaders in the neighboring movement, approaches and methods change from one city to the next. In one city, God will work through a group of leaders to do it one way, while in another city He will use an entirely different approach.
By offering these various stories, it is my hope that we can in some small way convey the wide variety of approaches in which the Lord has worked to bring about His unique work in a neighborhood, with churches, and through city movements. The stories help to stimulate ideas and make it easier for others to see how God is at work in different communities.
Phil ~ Please comment on:
Lynn ~ Since my early days, books like True Evangelism by Lewis Sperry Chafer and John Pollock’s biography of Billy Graham helped convince me that prayer is absolutely central to evangelism. Though the primary focus of my book is not prayer, I have included two chapters on the subject because I believe it is so important. If pastors and leaders are not willing to pray for our cities, both corporately and privately, why would we ever expect to witness a move of God?
Lynn ~One of my favorite quotes from The Incarnational Church is from former U.S. Senate chaplain Richard Halverson. His assessment of the church is as follows: “The church began as a fellowship of men and women centered on Jesus Christ. It went to Greece and became a philosophy. It then went to Rome and became an institution. It then went to Europe and became a culture. When it came to America, it became an enterprise.” We moved from being a fellowship of believers centered on Christ with deep relationship with one another and moved toward advancing our organizations…people have become a means to advancing our agenda and our popularity. I desire to see the Church move back to pure and simple devotion to Christ and to fulfill the new commandment the Lord gave us . . . to love one another as He has loved us and to love our neighbor as ourselves.
Lynn ~ The word kairos…opportunity…is central to both books, as well as the ministry of Neighborhood Initiative. We live in a world governed by chronos . . . time. But until we understand what Paul was trying to communicate in Ephesians 5:15 and 16, (“Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every kairos, because the days are evil.”) we will be unable to effectively co-labor with the Lord. In my latter years, the Lord has revealed to me how important the kairos life is to evangelism. It is life in the easy yoke with Jesus . . . not trying to make anything happen, but joining my Father in the work He is already doing. I call it “living the kairos life.” I further develop this important concept in The Incarnational Church.
Lynn ~ Loving God and loving our neighbor is at the heart of the neighboring movement. I have come to the conclusion that you can’t love God without loving your neighbor and in many respects, you love God by loving your neighbor. Jesus said, “When you have done it to the least of these you have done it unto me.” Or as the Apostle John stated, “For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.” I believe the Lord is challenging His Church today to show this kind of love to those right outside our doors (unbeliever and believer).
Phil ~ Anything else we should know about neighboring?
Lynn ~ I mention the following in the introduction of the book: “When I first moved into Neighborhood Initiative I didn’t realize that “reformation” was what the Lord had in mind. Think about it. If we begin to love our actual neighbors then we will probably encounter people from other congregations who just happen to live in our neighborhoods. Are we going to avoid them, or are we going to invite them to join us in loving our neighbors
as ourselves?” I believe through the neighboring movement, God is calling us to love those from other churches right where we live. I firmly believe that this is what Jesus is up to in this particular season of Church history. He is answering His own prayer by making us one; the whole Church ministering in every neighborhood in every city.
Phil ~ Lynn, please write a prayer that invites us into the love-by-neighboring movement, as participants and mobilizers ...
Lynn ~ Father, You are working uniquely in our day to bring about a great move of Your Spirit as You once did through the Jesus Movement. Today, You are pouring out your Spirit on those in the neighboring movement. You are gathering pastors and leaders from around our country to pray and enlist your people to love those right outside our doors. Father, it is a beautiful work that You are doing. There is no one person or place that we can pinpoint where it started, but as Your Spirit has spoken to individuals in Your Church, a fire has started…a fire that can’t be contained…a fire that is picking up steam and is beginning to burn in the hearts of Your people. I give You all the glory for what You are doing in our day. I pray that Your Spirit will speak to more and more to pastors and leaders about what You are doing; that they will catch what You are doing and join with You. I pray that every city in America will have only one church and work together as one so that world will know that You sent Your Son. I love You, Father, and I pray this in Your Son’s wonderful name.