The Incarnational Stream & Higher Education: Family


Have you considered the influence of your family history (or how you frame your family history) on your vocation and daily life? In Personal Foundations in Ministry, one of my assignments will be to complete a genogram. Have you completed a genogram? If so, what does it reveal? If not, what do you think it might reveal?

When preparing a class presentation on the The Incarnational Stream/Tradition, I could not resist delving into my family’s Moravian roots1 and drawing connections with my present vocation and daily life. Below are a few reflections. I look forward to the genogram project in the fall not only to learn about the past, but also to prayerfully consider my legacy.2

A brief look at the Moravians

“Zinzendorf as Teacher of the Peoples” (Johann Valentin Haidt. Oil Painting. 1747.)

According to Smith and Graybeal (1999),

In the 18th century Count Nikolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf allowed remnants of the persecuted Moravian Church (Unitas Fratum) to build the village of Herrnhut on his estate. Initially divided, the group became unified when they experienced a powerful outpouring of the Holy Spirit after Zinzendorf led them in daily Bible studies and in formulating the “Brotherly Agreement.” The Moravians joyfully served God – praying, evangelizing, and helping others – in the midst of baking, teaching, weaving, and raising families. This is an example of an incarnational movement (28).

Drawing from the framework provided by Smith and Graybeal (1999) and Richard Foster (1998) 3, Count Zinzindorf and the Moravians of his time were incarnational because their life together made “present and visible the realm of the invisible Spirit” (Foster, 272) Through their witness “we experience God as truly manifest and notoriously active in daily life” (Foster, 272). Nothing can escape from being offered to God. Keep Philippians 2 in mind when pondering these insights from Jars of Clay (from their hymnology project Redemption Songs):

Jars of Clay “Redemption Songs”

“The Moravians were selling themselves into slavery so they could be a witness to their masters of God’s love and his work. That just blows our mind today. Today’s all about freedom and self-discovery. We would never dream of the concept and they were on a boat with John Wesley to America. These Moravians would come up at the same time every day and sing these hymns in German. And so John Wesley translated them into English. John didn’t have a true conversion experience yet He was romanticized by the idea of being a missionary, but hadn’t had a full salvation experience before the Lord. But these Moravians were really pivotal in inspiring him and showing him what devotion is. “God Will Lift Up Your Head” was originally called “Give to the Winds Thy Fears,” the first line of the song. And he translated it into English. That was one we found and really liked it. We wrote it once in the blues/gospel tradition, and it just felt like it needed an anthemic feel, so everyone can sing along that this is my battle cry, that God will lift up my head. You can defeat me and enslave me, but at the end of the day God is my help and my refuge (“Old Words, Vibrant Faith.” Christian Today History Newsletter. 10/20/2005).


I continue to be inspired by the Moravian embrace of the call to “incarnate” Christ with head, heart, and hands.4 As depicted in the above painting, shared in the quotes, and explored by Atwood (see resources below), the Moravians as a community (i.e., the Body of Christ) under the leadership of Count Zinzendorf had a passion to extend the wounds and glory of Christ to the nations. They hungered to make “present and visible the realm of the invisible Spirit” (Foster, 272).  As such the Moravian communities of that time embodied the Body of Christ and prayerfully sent forth the Body of Christ to minister in Word and Spirit under the direction of the Father. Their communities provided the head, heart, and hands for the launching of the Protestant missions movement undergirded by a creative exploration of the arts, finances, and multi-ethnic life/ministry.

I yearn for, pray for, and give my life to our local congregations, homes, our campuses ministries, and the Emerging Scholars Network to be places where “we experience God as truly manifest and notoriously active in daily life” (Foster, 272) AND enable the next generation to truly taste and see the reality of God in “head, heart, and hands.”

Have you considered the influence of your family history (or how you frame your family history) on your vocation and daily life?5 Do you “experience God as truly manifest and notoriously active in daily life” (Foster, 272)?

Next post in series: The Incarnational Stream & Higher Education: Holistic Spirituality.



1 Reformation Day (Tom Grosh IV. Groshlink Blog. 10/31/2007).

2 For some of my thoughts on family, visit my review of Mike Austin’s Wise Stewards: Philosophical Foundations of Christian Parenting (Kregel, 2009).

3 In Streams of living water: Celebrating the great traditions of the Christian faith (1998), Richard Foster places the Moravians in the Contemplative Stream/Tradition. That is a conversation for another day 🙂

4 My developing rubric for the Incarnational Stream/Tradition follows Dennis Hollinger’s (President, Colman M. Mockler Distinguished Professor of Christian Ethics, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary) Head, Heart & Hands: Bringing Together Christian Thought, Passion and Action (InterVarsity Press, 2005). At the close of the series I’ll shift to a discussion of Head, Heart & Hands. If you haven’t already, I’d recommend you borrow/purchase a copy of Head, Heart & Hands and start reading to participate in the discussion 🙂

5I think this is helpful whether or not your family has Christian roots. My family has fascinating stories of those who followed Christ and those who chose their own direction. I’ve gained much from learning both how our family traditionally makes decisions and the importance of the next generation embracing their responsibility in decision making.

Sources Consulted

Atwood, Craig D. 2004. Community of the cross: Moravian piety in colonial Bethlehem. University Park, Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press.

Atwood, Craig D. Moravian theology and iconography in the 18th century. Lecture given at the Art in Clay Symposium at Old Salem Museum, April 16, 2011. (Accessed 5/19/2011).

Christianity Today Inc., “Old words, vibrant faith.” Christian today history newsletter. October 20, 2005. (Accessed 11/2/2005. Link no longer active).

Engle, Katherine Carte. 2009. Religion and profit: Moravians in early America. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Foster, Richard J. 1998. Streams of living water: Celebrating the great traditions of the Christian faith. San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco.

Hollinger, Dennis. 2005. Head, heart & hands: Bringing together Christian thought, passion and action. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Smith, James Bryan with Lynda Graybeal. 1999. A spiritual formation workbook: Small-group resources for nurturing Christian growth. New York, NY: HarperSanFrancisco.

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Tom Grosh IV

Tom enjoys daily conversations regarding living out the Biblical Story with his wife Theresa and their four girls, around the block, at Elizabethtown Brethren in Christ Church (where he teaches adult electives and co-leads a small group), among healthcare professionals as the South Central PA Area Director for the Christian Medical & Dental Associations (CMDA), and in higher ed as a volunteer with the Emerging Scholars Network (ESN). The Christian Medical Society / CMDA at Penn State College of Medicine is the hub of his ministry with CMDA. Note: Tom served with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship / USA for 20+ years, including 6+ years as the Associate Director of ESN. He has written for the ESN blog from its launch in August 2008. He has studied Biology (B.S.), Higher Education (M.A.), Spiritual Direction (Certificate), Spiritual Formation (M.A.R.), Ministry (D.Min., May 2019). To God be the glory!

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One Comment

  •' commented on September 11, 2012 Reply

    Give yourself a test. Define family universally. If you cann’t do it, look up “affinographs” for theoretical and methodological tools for imaging and studying families in all of their forms.

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