Money, Power, and Radical Incarnation—a model for missions (Muriu, Urbana 09)

A little over a week ago, Pastor Oscar Muriu spoke at Urbana–a giant (16-20,000) missions conference for American college students.


Money and Power: Oscar Muriu from Urbana 09 on Vimeo.

For more Urban09 videos, click HERE

(We had the privilege of hearing most of it at Nairobi Chapel earlier in the year—just an average Sunday sermon for us ;-).

Muriu begins by saying that if he were God, he would have brought Jesus as a powerful ruler, or a wise sage. He would have employed the the best marketing and branding strategies for all the world to see. The way God did it was to slow, too low tech. While the world waited desperately for salvation, God sent his son as a poor helpless infant.

His point is that before we go for missions, we must undergo an attitudinal incarnation. This incarnation has four doors:

1. From pride to humility.

2. From power to powerlessness (Phil. 2:6)

3. From privilege into poverty

4. From the harmony and the unity of heaven to the brokenness and dysfunction of the earth.

Side Note: I haven’t been able to locate a smaller MP3audio. I understand that this is directed at a young, American audience, but I couldn’t help noting that the very nature of the video link (124MB by my count), means that many Africans—even many with “reasonably good” internet access—won’t be able to see or hear this message. Just another way that Africans generally can be marginalized (by the missions infrastructure) from “missions” thinking and discussions…even when Africans speak. At least Americans are hearing their voices now; I commend the speaker lineup.

[More detailed notes]

1. From pride to humility.

The incarnation of our attitude is more fundamental than geographical relocation. Your attitude should be the same as that of Jesus Christ (Phil 2). Before you go, we must undergo an attitudinal incarnation; consider others better than yourselves. Leave your pat answers, your degrees, your learning…and take on the attitude of a humble servant.

By way of illustration, Pastor Oscar talks about

an encounter with a prostitute (during a church outreach to Kibera—Nairobi’s largest slum).  At the end of the presentation, he asked her if she was interested in receiving Christ. She said, “Yes, but I cannot. I would have to give up my profession. I cannot continue to be a prostitute.” I have a two year old daughter, and I cannot get a job. The only thing I have is my body to sell, and if I do not sell my body, my daughter will starve and die.”  “I had no answer for her. All my pat answers were not enough.” He had to stop seeing her with the labels he had categorized her in. She was a mother gripped by the bondage to poverty, trying to provide food for two-year-old, unable to get a job.  His pat answers failed. She stopped being a ministry and became a dear child loved by God, created in the image of God, that Christ had died for.

“The first incarnation is the incarnation of our attitude.  Otherwise we stand the danger of going into the difficult places of the world with a know-it-all attitude, analyzing people’s problems, unable to respect their challenges, unable to relate to their poverty and lostness. Our good intentions are not enough unless they are accompanied with humility.” Humility means, listening to their stories …listening to their wisdom…keeping our mouths shut long enough so that the poor can speak.

2. From power to powerlessness (Phil. 2:6)

Gospel does not depend on human power or the access to human power. The more we depend on human power, the less effective our mission becomes. That’s the upside down nature of the kingdom of God. Strategic planning, and marketing, and branding. Connectedness to rulers. Quotes Patrick Fung from the previous day: “We should live to be forgotten. Jesus came not as a king, but as a servant. He entered through the weakest door to humanity – a helpless infant (to a family without honor—a poor, refugee family). He entered humanity from the very bottom.

When we go to the mission field, we go with our trappings, our degrees, our access to power, our money, our iPods, our cell phones. This is not incarnation. The people we go to know this. They cannot challenge or correct us because they know if they do, they could lose our benevolence.

3. From privilege into poverty

Jesus had access to power and protection. “Foxes have holes…” When Jesus sent out his disciples, he told them not to take any staff or gold. He did not tell the rich young ruler, “go with your riches to the mission field.” Rather in Matt. 10 he seems to be tell his disciples to be dependant on the people we go to.

4. From the harmony and the unity of heaven to the brokenness and dysfunction of the earth.

From the familiar to being a stranger. 30 years of learning language, culture…we are often is such a hurry, but God is not. If it was up to us, we would have had him healing people by the age of three.

Our hurry hits the poor. We immediately hit the ground and begin speaking, organize people, telling them what to do, analyzing their problems, and writing books. We don’t know how to be quiet and listen. We have an agenda, measuring matrixes. We are short on time; we need to bring back our reports of success. We sacrifice relationships for the task, and we run, run, run.

For Jesus, the incarnation meant living among the people, eating their food, listening to their stories. For 30 years, he did not stand out in any way. he belonged; he was one of them. After living among them for 30 years, it took a mere three years.


This is the model for missions. New movements are arising that are seeking to move among the poor. The question today is, “Will you be that radical missionary?” You could spend your time critiquing our generation, but God calls you to extend grace to us, and rather lead us to show us how it could be done.

God has not given up on the Church. Take the beloved church of Christ to the next level. In the next ten years, you are going to be the leaders. We need a new movement who is radical in their engagement—radical incarnation in the poor and broken places of this world.

3 thoughts on “Money, Power, and Radical Incarnation—a model for missions (Muriu, Urbana 09)

  1. […] Ben. Related Posts:The Gospel in Different Contexts: Some HistoryHave You Done Your Christmas Shopping […]

  2. jeremyers1 says:

    Wow. I love this new paradigm. Thanks for pointing to it.

  3. […] Ben Byerly wrote about a message that was given at Urbana about money and power in missions. Good reminders for all of us. […]

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