Response: Localized Incarnational Ministry After 2020

Response to Carlos Worthys Presentation at March 2, 2022 Colloquium
Part of Educating Urban Ministers in Philadelphia After 2020 project

Presentation Question: What does localized incarnational ministry, contextualized worship and congregation, communal spiritual formation, etc. look like?

My first comment is that the question itself is a bit too large and comprehensive on which a small paper can focus. Carlos, however, tackled this question admirably in his paper. Carlos framed the question dealing in part with contextualized worship in the ‘context’ of the social turmoil of urban Philadelphia during this last year. The two big events that shaped culture named by Carlos are COVID-19 and the unjust killings of African American/Black people. I really appreciated that his paper about context started off describing the contextual environment that drove his paper. Carlos identifies that the church is called and equipped to fill the solution for which people are looking, but the church does not always follow through with sufficient influence or care, especially in communities of color. The statement below framed well the problem that Carlos was attempting to address, named as systemic and structural racism compounded by the pandemic:

The effects on the health and well-being of people and communities of color as a result of this double-pandemic have people desperately looking for solutions. While looking for solutions, there are a growing number of people, in communities throughout America, who are questioning where is the church and where has the church been for several decades.1

We will be looking for solutions to the negative impact of the double pandemic on the health and well-being of people of color. Carlos states that the solution is “reclaiming a missional posture to be disciples of Jesus, in deed and in truth, that local churches can ‘follow the ways of Jesus’ through incarnational ministry and contextualized congregations.2 His concluding sentence was very clear in understanding the ways of Jesus. To paraphrase, he noted that participating in God’s mission commits a local church to serve as a conduit of the Lord working to make him known within its area of responsibility.

Carlos next addressed the incarnational ministry model which ties into one of “the ways of Jesus.” He cites solid biblical examples of Jesus’ authority and concern for those suffering diseases (COVID-19 in our present context) and for those who suffer under unjust laws and policies that dehumanize people (racism and oppression in our present context). Two transformative events were named from the ministry of Jesus: (1) Jesus’ laying his hands on those diseased and marginalized by oppression, and (2) holistically redeeming people from an incomplete citizenship in their towns by restoring them to community. The point about incomplete citizenship was just excellent. It made me stop and ponder the isolation of those oppressed and how people get left out and left behind who are sick and/or viewed as ‘lesser.’ In the future I would like to expand on that and describe more fully the deadly result of disease and oppression. Citizenship is such a powerful reality as well as metaphor that he called out. I also really appreciated Carlos’ comment that the people had a longing for Jesus evidenced by their following of Him.

Carlos also mentioned that “the local church must wholeheartedly recommit to being the embodied and incarnate Word of God.” This point is vital if we understand mission as proclaiming God’s gift of life in both word and deed. The church must go out into community to show God’s love for the people of that community, especially where people are hurting. The gospel should not just be auditory but also visible in a way that … comes alongside people in need … to remove burdens, oppression and injustice for the glory of God.”3 Carlos uses Matthew 25:35-46 to exegete his point which is a good biblical reference for incarnational ministry. He uses the word indifference amid human needs, which is very helpful to tease out. A useful follow up would be to tie together how incarnational ministry can impact racism.

What would be the church’s motivation for change and where would it find the power to change? Matthew 25 talks about judgement and reward but a fuller gospel understanding will also talk about the power of the Holy Spirit to convict and change our hard hearts.

Carlos gave very good practical ways for the church to practice incarnational ministry. These suggestions include evaluating how buildings and land are used, partnering with the community, helping new businesses begin, starting food pantries, planting a community garden, and establishing a public office ministry. Most churches are good at the spoken word but lack in incarnational practical help. In that regard Carlos’s paper addresses many ways that churches can help their communities practically. Incarnational ministry specifically must address racism and structural injustice.

The question Carlos addressed was very complex. One must be faithful in developing spiritual formation habits in order to live faithfully in community, for the community to be able to “see” Christ’s love for their whole lives.


1 Carlos Worthy, “Localized Incarnational Ministry After 2020,” Journal of Urban Mission 8 no. 2 (December 2022),
2 Ibid.
3 Ibid.

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