It was 1995, and Irwyn Ince had moved with his wife to Washington D.C. for a systems engineering job at Motorola. His plan was ambitious but realistic: He wanted to work his way up the corporate ladder to a vice presidency.
Four or five years later, Ince earned the management opportunities he was working toward. To open those doors, he’d need to go back to school for an MBA. But almost inexplicably, that wasn’t the kind of school on his mind.
Over the course of weighing his next steps, Ince said God “made the idea of going back to school to get an MBA distasteful.” He describes a gradual opening up to the idea of seminary instead, and then for five years, Ince worked part time on a degree while remaining at Motorola. In 2007, Ince and a team planted City of Hope Presbyterian Church in Columbia, Maryland, where he pastored bivocationally until about 2011. In August 2017, Ince became the executive director of the Institute for Cross Cultural Mission, a diversity training ministry of Grace D.C.
Ince talked with the Common Good editors back in 2019.
Obviously the term “mission” gets used all over the place in Christendom. What are you talking about when you talk about cross-cultural mission?
I’m talking about being committed to living the Christian life and to God’s people in a way that resonates with God’s heart. That’s the starting point and it gives evidence to this reality: God is going to unite all things under Jesus Christ (Eph 1) is the reconciliation between diverse peoples — seen in the local church.
And so by “mission,” I mean the witness to the reality that Christ is the way of reconciliation. The local church should reflect this unity and this diversity: people from various cultures, ethnicities, with backgrounds from various socioeconomic statuses and people from various generations.
What’s the work of the institute toward that goal?
Here’s how we describe what we’re after: Equipping churches with the confidence and competence to welcome others the way Christ welcomes us and particularly across the lines of difference. The tangible work of the institute is two fold: First, equipping existing churches through a three-year curriculum, for which churches send participants to represent them and be a part of a cohort for the duration of the program. Second is equipping the next generation of leaders.
In these cohort groups, what kinds of things are participants learning and discussing?
There are three focal areas woven through the curriculum. The first is the theology of unity and diversity; second is cultural intelligence; the third is leadership development.
In addition, we have curriculum modules that subject-area experts help us develop and facilitate. We’ve got someone, for example, who approaches the area of cross-cultural ministry, cross-cultural growth in justice, oppression, and liberty from the standpoint of the visual arts. And then each cohort participant is assigned a mentor in his or her local area who has cross-cultural ministry experience in some way.
Unity and diversity seem contradictory. How do these work together?
It was part of the foundational, biblical and theological understanding that drives us in the first place: that when we talk about unity and diversity, we are not talking about a unity that washes away diversity. We are talking about a unity in diversity that is fundamental to what it means for humanity to be made in the image of God. The theology is important because the God who we image is himself unity and diversity. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, our triune God, eternally existent in three persons and yet as one god. When God declares in Genesis that he’s going to make humanity in his image, he makes them male and female. Human destiny was by necessity going to be in community and by necessity going to be in diversity.
Herman Bavinck said this: The image of God is much too rich for it to be fully realized in a single human being, however richly gifted that human being may be. But it can only be unfolded in its depths and riches in a humanity counting billions of members, who exist successively one after the other and contemporaneous side by side. He said only humanity in its entirety, as one complete organism summed up under a single head. That single head is Jesus Christ.
It’s not a unity that washes away diversity. It’s that unity and diversity is a part of our redemption and our beauty.