Incarnational Ministry

Statue of St. Vincent DePaul outside DePaul Center in the Loop

Monday, December 31, 2018

As mentioned previously, I’m reading four books as part of my field studies with LoopNaz. I recently finished the second book, Ministering Cross-Culturally: An Incarnational Model for Personal Relationships by Sherwood G. Lingenfelter and Marvin K. Mayers.

As the title suggests, the book offers a guide for how to live incarnationally in cross-cultural ministry. For the authors, that means taking Jesus’s life as the primary example.

In particular, Leigenfelter highlights how Christ lived out incarnational ministry not by immersing himself in the world of humanity generally speaking, but specifically that he came as a Jew in ancient Israel-Palestine. Jesus immersed himself into Jewish culture literally by being born into it. And by plunging into a particular culture, Jesus of Nazareth became our leading example for ministering incarnationally and cross-culturally.

If I think about the time that I’ve spent thus far with LoopNaz, I can already name a lot of ways that this example has been modeled here through the Lillie’s presence of actually living in the Loop and their daily prayer walk.

And one way we’re continuing to live into the Loop has been through the task that Reuben and I began this past Friday: to canvass the storefront businesses in the neighborhood.

‘Canvassing’ is one of those words that means different things to different people. We’re not standing on the corner with clipboards interrupting pedestrians’ cell-phone conversations. Our purpose in walking the Loop door-by-door and dropping into storefronts isn’t to solicit or recruit people to join our church or to convince people of any theological truths. It’s simply to let local businesses know we’re here, we want to be good neighbors, we’re praying for them, and we’d like to partner with them to serve our other neighbors in greatest need.

In other words, only if someone asks do we let them know more specifically how we’re already trying to be present in the community or do we try open the door further for building relationships. By canvassing in this way we’re not sending mailers or spamming people’s email boxes or making phone calls. We’re just taking the time to be good neighbors and meet business owners face-to-face in their stores. In a word, to be incarnate.

Some people have responded with greater enthusiasm than others. Many have been genuinely interested in further conversations to help our neighbors in need. A few people’s body language has suggested they’d like us to carry on our way quickly.

But in each visit, we’ve gotten to know these neighbors better, to put some names to faces, to bring some people joy when we tell them that they’re in our prayers, and to open the doors for continued conversations, and in some small way to bring the community of the Loop closer together.

And outside of our business neighbors that we connected with on our first day canvassing, we’ve also opened the door to connect with other neighbors simply by being present in the neighborhood.

In particular, we got to interact with one woman outside a local bookstore who’d asked us for spare change, which we didn’t have to offer. But we had just been given some meal vouchers from one of the local businesses across the street! So not only did we get to offer her a meal, but we also got to know one of our neighbors who really appreciated a chance to talk to someone.

This opportunity for living incarnationally was essentially provided by extension of our first efforts to reach out incarnationally to our business neighbors. In other words, our presence with one neighbor spilled over to allow us to be present with another.

And we’re confident this is just the beginning of the harvest to come from developing these relationships.


Lingenfelter, Sherwood G., and Marvin K. Mayers. 2003. Ministering Cross-Culturally: An Incarnational Model for Personal Relationships. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

Author avatar
Elise Fetzer

Elise is a senior Intercultural Studies major at Olivet Nazarene University from Oak Lawn, IL. She is serving with LoopNaz as part of her cross-cultural field studies coursework.