From Church to Kingdom: A God-sized mission for the people of God

24 lion lambSome time ago, I sat in a meeting and heard a colleague say: “I’m a company man.”

On one level, I understood the sentiment. He was expressing loyalty to his denomination. Yet at another level, it made me wonder: Is that all there is? Is this all just about expanding the membership of a particular ecclesiastical grouping?

No matter what denomination or congregation we call home, one thing is certain:

We signed on not merely to build an organization, but to build the Kingdom.

“Your Kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10) is the pithiest Scriptural expression of this longing. We see the lifeless corpses of Syrian victims of chemical weapons, and we pray: “Your Kingdom come!” The cries of a child with an empty stomach, suffering from the ravages of drought-induced famine move us to cry: “Your Kingdom come!” A hundred preventable heartaches evoke a spontaneous: “Your Kingdom come!”

The genius of the Christian message is that – properly understood – it never sees a conflict between calling people to reconciliation with God through Christ and calling people to active involvement in bettering our world. Renewal in the “image of God” – to use John Wesley’s term – is a renewal both for the individual and for society. To pursue one and neglect the other is like detaching one wing from a plane. Just like planes need two wings to fly, so does the Christian message.

As we speak about the mission of God in the world, our “plane” must have two wings, both “Church” and “Kingdom.”

Church – Ours is not a solitary faith. The Church is the people of God, the gathered community of belief. We affirm the old truths, that we are born estranged from God, but that in Jesus, we can draw near! Forgiveness of sins and cleansing are possible because of the atoning death of Jesus. We have hope for the next life because of the resurrection. Many tragedies in this world are not because people who are inherently good acted badly. Rather, Scripture teaches that each of us are inherently evil until we allow the grace of God to change us. Church is the arena where together we celebrate the transforming grace of God that makes saints out of unworthy sinners. And yet there is more…

Kingdom – The objective is not Church; the objective is building the Kingdom of God. My own denomination speaks of “making Christlike disciples in the nations.” This is good as far as it goes, yet something is missing. As God transforms our lives through the community of faith, God wants to deploy us for a Cause that goes beyond adding more disciples. The Great Commission of Matthew 28 cannot be divorced from the Kingdom themes that appear again and again in Matthew 1-27, and those Kingdom themes direct the Church to a Cause bigger than itself.

Transformed by God, the Church moves out to transform the world.

There has been a lot written about the growing exodus from churches in North America. As my wife and I have visited in many churches, we have been struck by the self-centeredness of some of the worship choruses, such as this:

“I am a friend of God, I am a friend of God, I am a friend of God, He calls me friend.”

Narcissistic lyrics like these will never fire the human imagination. Yes, a relationship with God through Christ is essential, and it is amazing to know that God has a plan for my life (Jeremiah 29:11). But if that’s all that we have to say, then we have provided no Cause bigger than ourselves. We have only reinforced what the culture is telling us in a thousand ways, that we are the center of the universe, and by the way, there is a God who revolves around you. Someone testified:  “I couldn’t find a parking space, so I prayed, and God gave me one!” Yet what kind of a puny God exists only to serve the whims of even punier creatures?

But what if instead of God existing to serve us, we exist to serve God? What if the purpose of our lives is not us, but something bigger? What if we as the Church are about not only “making Christlike disciples in the nations” but about “making Christlike disciples who will change the world”?

Now that’s the kind of Cause for which people will give their lives. People aren’t responding to other-worldly evangelism plans that sound like a no-risk offer to join “Club Heaven.” They  want to worship in a church absolutely convinced that the same God who can powerfully change individuals can powerfully change  the world. 

Planes need two wings. How many “wings” does our message have? Are we about Church and Kingdom? We need both. Let’s make sure we are promoting a God-sized mission for the people of God.

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Image: Chippep

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2 thoughts on “From Church to Kingdom: A God-sized mission for the people of God

  1. Hi Greg,

    Great topic, and one that is of particular interest to me in my research on the evangelistic witness of the church for my DMN project.

    Whenever I hear phrases like “the objective is building the kingdom” in relation to the mission of the church, I get a bit wary. I am drawn to the language of Trinitarian theologians like Nikos Nissiotis and Colin Gunton, who in “The Promise of Trinitarian Theology” describes the church as “an echo of the life of the Godhead.” (I credit Steve McCormick for directing me to these resources).

    I think phrases like “echo the kingdom”, “reflect the kingdom” or, to borrow from Lesslie Newbigin, “embassage of the Kingdom” are humbler and more compelling way to describe the relationship between the church and the kingdom. If we are “reflecting” the kenotic, poured-out-life of the Triune God, then this vision will compel the church to engage in transformative, life-changing, peace making, reconciling and world-healing, kenotic action in the world.

    But at the end of the day, I’d suggest that churches don’t “build the kingdom” but rather “bear witness” to the kingdom. One of the primary ways we do this is through making disciples who will engage in transformative action in the world as the Church, the people of God (not solitary individuals). Therefore “making Christlike disciples in the nations” is crucial to our mission.

    By the way, we met at the last WTS meeting in Seattle. I sat at a table next to you during Mike Lodahl’s presentation.

    Thanks again for introducing this thoughtful and important topic.

    Grace & Peace,
    Grant

    • Thank you, Grant, for your comment, and greetings to you from Johannesburg.

      I like your suggestion about “reflecting the Kingdom.” While less robust than “building the Kingdom,” at least it “leans forward” eschatologically. That is a real plus.

      Take care,

      Greg

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