Monday, February 27, 2006

An Actionary View of the Kingdom

In my faith tradition we did not talk much about the Kingdom of God. When the topic came up it was usually in passing as we discussed eschatology (the doctrine of the end times.) For most of my Christian life the Kingdom of God was purely a theological concept that had little or no bearing on my life today.

A few years ago I decided to read the book of Acts in my devotional time. As a trainer of church planters I thought this would be a good book to gain a fresh perspective on. Little did I know how much the first chapter would change everything for me!

As I began to read Acts 1 the question that stood out in my mind was “How did Jesus train the first church planters?” I immediately began to think about all the things I train folks in (e.g. calling, mission, vision, values, strategy, evangelism, etc.) But what did Jesus talk about? What did He think was important?

As I reflected on Acts 1 I quickly realized that the Scriptures did not record Jesus talking about anything that I talk about! All it said was (v.3), “He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the Kingdom of God.” Here is how Jesus trained the first church planters! He spent the forty days prior to His ascension talking to them about the Kingdom of God! That’s all the Bible indicates is important! It dawned on me immediately that (at that time) I never talked about the Kingdom of God! I was obviously missing something very significant!

That led me to go back and survey the gospels to study more carefully the teachings of Jesus. What I soon discovered was that only twice in the gospels is it recorded that Jesus used the word “church.” However, He talked about the Kingdom of God constantly! It was as if He was obsessed with this topic! Look at it yourself!

Frequently we see verses like Luke 4:43 where he says, “I must preach the good news of the Kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.” His longest discourse (the Sermon on the Mount) is all about Kingdom living. Most of the parables are Kingdom parables. Jesus was a one-sermon preacher. It was always about the Kingdom of God.

The passage that tipped me over the edge was the Lord’s Prayer found in Matthew 6. Jesus instructed us to pray like this, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (6:9-10). Could Jesus be suggesting that the Kingdom of God becoming manifest on earth was central to the mission of the church? What was Jesus trying to teach us in Acts 1:3? Could it be that the church will only be what He desires it to be if we understand His view of the Kingdom? And could it be that the Kingdom of God is not just a theological concept about end times, but a practical, actionable reality today?

That’s exactly what I’ve come to believe! Our mission as a church is to become apprentices of Jesus who continue His ministry of proclaiming and revealing His Kingdom on earth! That’s what Jesus did – that’s what we’re to do! We must have a practical, here and now theology of the Kingdom of God. We will never have a missional church without a proper understanding of the Kingdom of God!

Let me conclude with this. I do believe that there is a future reality to the Kingdom of God (see Rev. 11:15). But it is becoming increasingly clear to me that while the Kingdom of God has always existed, Jesus introduced a new manifestation of His Kingdom (Lk 17:20-21). I believe that Jesus expects His church to be an agent or instrument of the Kingdom that overcomes the power of sin, culture, and evil. The Kingdom of God will never be consummated on earth until Jesus returns. But in the meantime His church should be a spiritual force present today transforming individuals, communities, and the world. Only with that understanding will the church truly be missional! (For more on this see

What do you think?

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Missional Church and the Kingdom of God

When I was 10 years old I attended a series of “revival services” with a neighbor. The evangelist preached on hell several nights in a row. Finally I couldn’t take it anymore and I responded to the altar call. That night I accepted Christ as my savior, mainly because he scared the hell out of me! I was baptized and then asked the deacon who led me in the sinner’s prayer “What’s next?” “Nothing,” he replied. “It’s all over now.” That was the gospel of conversion.

A few years later my church disintegrated in its spiritual immaturity and I dropped out for a while. In retrospect, I believe I was truly born again at age 10. When I was a junior in high school a friend started taking me to Bible studies and church with him. I experienced a spiritual renewal. There I received the gospel of Christian education (you might say the gospel of discipleship, but it was really much more about knowledge than behavioral or heart change.)

A few years ago I was studying the gospels and it struck me that when Jesus talked about the gospel (the “good news”) He always talked about the “gospel of the kingdom.” He seemed to shy away from our modern gospel of conversion and our gospel of Christian education. He constantly talked about the gospel of the kingdom. In fact, He seemed obsessed by this message of the kingdom. It was all He proclaimed!

I have come to understand that the gospel of the kingdom is the gospel of transformation! (I am deeply indebted to George Ladd’s The Gospel of the Kingdom and Dallas Willard’s Divine Conspiracy to guide me in my understanding.) The gospel that Jesus preached was about transformation. He expected people’s live to be changed and he expected His disciples to be agents of change in their world in such a way that God’s kingdom would come and His will would be done on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10.)

What does this have to do with the missional church? Everything! The church is to be God’s representative and agent of the kingdom! We represent his rule and reign on earth, and we are His instruments (agents) to proclaim His rule and reign on earth! Darrell Guder in Missional Church says that the church is to be:
The Community of the Kingdom,
The Servants of the Kingdom, and
The Messengers of the Kingdom!

A missional church has an actionary view of the kingdom! Missional churches see themselves as agents of the Kingdom, and they see the Kingdom as a practical reality that is breaking into the world all around us (cf. Matthew 11:12). We will never have missional churches unless we have this understanding of the Kingdom of God! Ours is the gospel of transformation!

We are Kingdom mobilizers and multipliers! Missional churches mobilize their community of faith into action both locally and globally to change the world! Missional churches also multiply communities of faith everywhere they see people who are unreached by the gospel! Bottomline: missional churches must have an actionary view of the Kingdom! What do you think?

Friday, February 10, 2006

Does Anybody Really Know What A Missional Church Is?

I was talking with Dian Kidd from UBA (one of our church planting leaders in Houston) yesterday, and mentioned that our team/ministry was very intentional about planting “missional” churches. I told her that this was a “distinctive” of NCI. She raised a very good question with me – she stated that almost everybody today considers their model to be “missional” (i.e. Willow models, Saddleback models, Acts 29 models, GlocalNet, Organic models, denominational models, etc.) She was right! So the question is “What do we believe a missional church really is?” I’m convinced that not every model that claims to be “missional” is.

I’ve recently begun consulting relationships with a couple of new church plants and the leadership teams all claimed to be “missional.” As I asked them questions to understand their visions and their mental models of church, I realized very quickly that they were much more “consumer-driven” than missional. In fact, I’m coming to believe that North American “consumerism” is the biggest barrier to churches being missional. To plant or lead a missional church you have to begin with a core principle that I first learned from Fenton Moorhead, and that is “the church does not exist for itself!” Charles Van Engen in an excellent book entitle God’s Missionary People explains this in more detail. I commonly see American Christians nodding their heads in ascent, but then without realizing it, immediate start asking the “what’s in it for me/us” questions.

In its essence, the church is a community of faith! It’s not a building, a place, an event, a program, or just an organization. It is a community! Having just returned from Southeast Asia I’m reminded again (from the church in the east) that Western Christians don’t do “community” very well. That’s not a slam, just a reality that we must work with. If you don’t do “community” well, you will not do “church” well! The best analogy for community is family, and the family has been weakening in the U.S. for several decades. Thus, we are loosing our grip not only on family, but also community. Now here’s my main point: as a community of faith we do not exist to consume ourselves, we exist to be on mission in the world as a community! In my mind this is a huge issue, a critical paradigm that most Western Christians do not get (even though we say we do!) Why do I say that? Because it shows in how we start and lead our churches! It shows in how we allocate our resources! It shows in how we measure success!

Jesus did not end His ministry with His crucifixion, resurrection, or ascension. His plan was (and still is) to continue His ministry through this vehicle the Bible calls “the church.” The church exists to continue doing the work that Jesus did. It does not exist to provide programs for our children, great music for our worship times, meaningful Bible studies or a myriad of other programs and activities (although those things are not bad!) Ultimately the church exists to proclaim and represent the good news of the Kingdom! That was Jesus’ ministry! That’s basically all He did! He proclaimed the Kingdom, He taught about the Kingdom, and He demonstrated the power of the Kingdom to change lives and society. To have a Biblical view of church, we must understand the ministry of Jesus and the centrality of the Kingdom of God. That’s what we will discuss in the days ahead.

But for now, let me conclude my ranting with this. On a continuum of 1 to 10, 1 being a consumer and 10 being a missionary, where are you? Where are the people you lead? Are we feeding consumerism or are we calling out missionaries? Are we planting churches to just attract consumers, or to produce disciples who do the work of Jesus collectively (as a community)?

The past couple of weeks I hung out with Steve Chin, a Chinese pastor from Taiwan. When I used the term “missional church” he looked at me rather odd. He said, “I would never use that term. To our people it’s like saying educational teacher.” (See his post on my last blog.) Because of their understanding of the church, the term “missional church” doesn’t make sense! Of course the church is missional! This terminology will only make sense in Western societies and societies that have been deeply influenced by Western consumerism. So lets be aware of that as we use the terminology.

What do you think?