By Alan Miller
There is a show on TV called Undercover Boss. In this show, CEOs of large American companies wish to see, in a unique way, how their businesses are running, so they go undercover.
They put on a new identity and work various jobs within their companies, in different cities all across the U.S. to learn how the company is actually running. You might experience the CEO of Waste Management, a large garbage removal company, picking up trash, or the CEO of a shipping company struggle to keep the boxes on the assembly line going. You might see the CEO of Moe’s struggle to keep up with the expectations of his “manager,” or the CEO of a frozen yogurt company unable to perform as the manager wishes. It is entertaining to watch these highly educated, highly paid individuals scurry around trying to keep up with the demands and high expectations of their supervisors.
Often times this is an eye-opening experience for these CEOs. They find injustice within their companies, inefficiencies, areas that need vast improvement and under appreciated workers who do more than is expected. They find diamonds in the rough who create ways to make the company better.
In the end, the boss sits down with the company employees with whom he or she had the most interaction, and confronts the manager who thought he was a poor line worker. Or he confronts the single mom whose child has cancer who works two shifts just to pay the medical bills. The CEO often gives monetary gifts to deserving employees, corrects and gives problem employees a second chance, promotes deserving employees or even pays for some to have further education. This show is a wonderful depiction of the boss getting down in the dirt with their employees, to see what life is actually like, to learn what needs help and to fix problems.
I find this show to be remarkably similar to the beginning of the Gospel of John. In it we see Jesus Christ who was in charge of everything up in headquarters, choose to come down, go undercover and put on a disguise. He does this in order to become like a regular human, in order to see what life was like, what was wrong and how to fix it. These undercover bosses didn’t just rule from their headquarters and make decisions based on their entitlement as CEOs.
Likewise, Jesus didn’t just rule from heaven, but rather he came to earth, put on skin, walked around in it and got busy working. In Eugene Peterson’s Bible translation, “The Message,” he translates John 1:14, “the Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.”
Jesus took the step that we could not take in that he came to earth, and served us, and served among us, so that we might have a right relationship with God. Jesus got in the middle of things, when he could have remained comfortable. He got invested in the lives of his disciples and those around him. He sought out the lost, the broken, the outcast, the poor and the sick; and when society told him to pull away, he dove right in. That is my understanding of the incarnation.
In a time where church budgets, staffs and resources are hurting, how can the church thrive in ministry? What models are out there for ministry that demonstrate some level of promise?
Certainly we might talk strategy and plan innovative ways to reach our communities with the good news. But I believe that our first look needs to be at a carpenter from Nazareth who saw a world that was hurting, one that was far from what the Father hoped for, and jumped right into the middle of the mess. He jumped into complicated, twisted, hurtful relationships with humans who were struggling. Perhaps the church need not invest too much in the latest fad, but ought to equip its own disciples to invest in the lives of the lost, the broken, the outcast, the poor and the sick. They are everywhere. This work is messy, difficult, and long-term. But in the end, this incarnational ministry is what we are called to. It is the work of Christ.
Alan Miller serves as the Minister of Worship & Music at Orange Baptist Church in Orange, Virginia. He is a CBF Leadrship Scholar attending Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond.