Incarnational Mission Vs. Pioneer Mission


There is a lot of talk these days of ‘Incarnational Mission

It seems that since the Noughties (circa 2000+) there’s been a ‘wave’ of people (usually ‘middle class’ or ‘upper working class’) relocating into the ‘urban’ or ‘inner-city’ environment to engage in ‘Urban Mission

This is one of the ways the idea of ‘Incarnational Mission‘ has been put into practice in the last decade or so

I am one of those who ‘moved into the inner-city‘ (in the year 2K as it happens)…before I had ever even heard of the idea of ‘Incarnational Mission’

I didn’t know it at the time…but I had ‘Moved In’ to the ‘Neighbourhood‘ to ‘Live Deep‘…’Incarnationally‘ and in close ‘Proximity‘ to the people I was seeking to ‘reach‘, ‘serve‘ and ‘bless

This post isn’t out to disparage these ideas…but sets out to answer the question:


I’m not much of a scholar…and am not attempting to set out to become one through this post.

Rather than seeking to fully understand the theological ramifications of the Incarnation and how it relates to the Mission of God (there are some excellent books floating around on this topic currently)…I’m more looking to modify the ‘practical‘ and ‘pragmatic‘ interpretations of the idea at ground level

There seems to be a repeated pattern of so-called Incarnational Mission as embodied (excuse the pun) by many who ‘move into the inner-city‘ (just one outworking of the idea) and it goes as follows…

Individuals, couples and teams move into the inner-city, and either attach themselves to a ‘local church‘ or become their own entity (a ‘youth and community’ social enterprise/charity and/or a ‘missional community’) or may even become Pioneer Missioners of a local expression of church (traditional or Fresh Expression)

They begin to engage and connect with the local people (host culture) through ‘Blessing the Community‘ type programmes and projects that aim to meet a ‘Social Need‘. (these can range from Kids Clubs, to Youth Arts programmes, to Mentoring Schemes, School Assemblies and FoodBanks et al)

The Incarnational Team slowly builds relationships with ‘the locals‘ over a number of years and become part of the ‘fabric of the local community‘.

As the Team are essentially ‘Outsiders‘ they sense they need to go very slowly…they are in it for ‘the long haul‘…and need to first ‘get to know‘ the people and the culture of the host community…

There are also assumptions about how the Mission of God progresses…these are sometimes voiced, but at other times remain under the surface as ways of thinking about the task (paradigms). For example;

Preach the Gospel, and if necessary, use words‘ (a quote misattributed to St. Francis of Assisi)
We need to earn the right to share the gospel‘ and other misnomers

In the beginning there doesn’t appear to be much of a problem at all. Full of hope and swashbuckling adventure, we move into the area/amongst the people we are ‘seeking to serve‘ which is, afterall, a step-up (or down) from so called ‘Hit-and-Run‘ evangelism or Outsiders doing ‘Community Projects‘ that reach the Insiders once-a-month and from a distant ‘city-centre type wealthy resource church‘.

By moving into the area (Place) or amongst the People we are aiming to connect with…we are actually ‘Building Relationship‘ not just ‘Blessing the Community‘ from afar…and by living in closer proximity…we may even begin to learn the inherent rhythms of life of the host community…what they really want, need and hope for. We begin to move from doing Things To People, to Doing Things For People, To MAYBE Doing Things With People…

But for those who have been doing the above for a while…and for all the ‘moving in’, ‘engagement’, ‘social projects’ and so on, some new questions begin to emerge…

1. Are We Actually Sharing the Gospel?
2. Are We Actually Making Disciples who can in turn Make Disciples?
3. Are We Actually Developing Indigenous (local) Leaders?

As someone who ‘did move in‘…it wasn’t long before these questions began to ‘nag at me‘…

With Pioneer Mission we don’t have to actually move into the neighbourhood/people group longterm to essentially ‘Become an Insider‘ ourselves…(although there is nothing stopping us from doing that if we feel ‘called to’)…

By Finding the Person of Peace (Luke 10/Matt 10) as Jesus instructed…we find the Insider whom God has already prepared to Receive Us, Receive Our Message and Gather Their Oikos to Hear from Jesus and Obey Him

It can take us a Week, Day or even a Couple of Hours to find a Person of Peace in the host context and we can Share the Gospel of the Kingdom with that person and their Oikos immediately…we don’t have to ‘earn the right to share’ and we don’t need to have even lived in the area, or become a part of that people group longterm before we are able to meet and begin discipling this Insider (PoP)

The Person of Peace IS THE INCARNATIONAL MISSIONARY so to speak!
Jesus already planted them in the field of their world (where they live, work and play) and they already have the relational connections and are embedded in their culture; their people group, place and sphere

By Finding the Person of Peace we are able to
Share The Gospel with them and their Oikos immediately
Make Disciples of them and their Oikos immediately
And begin to develop leaders from amongst their Oikos (often starting with the PoP) immediately

But…doesn’t Incarnational Mission and Contextualisation go together?
How do we answer these questions:
1. What Does the Gospel look like in this culture?
2. What Does Church Look like in this culture?

If we haven’t learn’t to understand the culture over a long period of time?

Well…the Person of Peace (Insider) will understand what the Gospel might look like in their culture a lot more than the Pioneer (Outsider)

And they will also naturally understand the ways in which their people gather and eat together and ‘do life’ (Simple Community/Church Formation)

They’re already embedded into their relational networks and know their community (they may have even been born in the place or amongst the people group, you, as a Pioneer Missioner are seeking to incept with the Gospel of the Kingdom virus)

So whilst in Incarnational Mission the emphasis is often practically on ‘Go Slow’ and celebrate ‘little wins‘ (‘a local smiled at you, or had a conversation with you, or even let you pray for them’)

The emphasis in Pioneer Mission can be quick and rapid multiplication
as we are Finding People God has Already Prepared!

So a few Questions to End This Post:

Are You More like the Person of Peace who will gather people where you Live/Work/Play (Live Deep..The Incarnational Insider)

Or Are You More like the Pioneer who will cross culture and help others gather where they Live/Work/Play? (Short Term, Not the Local Leader but- The Outsider who Finds the Insiders)

Or Are You Both? And Which are you in Which Context?


[This Article is an Extract from Peter J Farmer’s Forthcoming Book: TRIBAL MISSION]


{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Liz May 6, 2014 at 1:24 pm

Hi Peter
Had this whole thinking in my head as I drove home from Sheffield and shared it with agree with all you have said.
Found all the postings very true and helpful.
Thank you for taking the time to update us all


admin May 6, 2014 at 8:46 pm

Hi Liz
Thanks for leaving your comment. Look forward to hearing your stories as they unfold! Go and continue to be a part of amazing adventures that change the world 🙂


Carl Palmer May 6, 2014 at 1:38 pm

Timely thoughts Peter. You have crystallized the journey that many of us are on.


admin May 6, 2014 at 8:47 pm

Thanks for your encouragement Carl…we continue to pray for the continuing unfolding of the vision of new simple missional communities on every estate in Bermondsey, London!


bob May 7, 2014 at 11:56 am

Yes indeed I think you are right . For so long it has perturbed me that I see so many Pastors /ministers who have churches in the lower social economic areas and yet live in middle class suberbs therefore sugesting “do as I say but not as I do “


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