We need to see beyond the church to the Kingdom.
In a recent discussion I had with a group of pastors, the question arose as to why so many men who have served faithfully in the church will, when they reach a certain age, quit all work in the church and spend the rest of their time either fishing or golfing. The attitude of these men seems to be, “I’ve done my time. I’m now over it.”
As I pondered why this is so, one reason seemed to me to be the defective vision of mission that so prevails in many churches. These churches will often support foreign and home missions, but the people who benefit from this support seem laudable but strange to the average church goer. This defective vision is that you and I are to serve the needs of the local church, rather than the Kingdom. The mission of the Kingdom is thus lost. The Kingdom is not preached nor is it taught. It has been displaced by the mission of the local church, by tending to its campuses and its programs. In the teaching and preaching of Jesus, it is the Kingdom that dominates, not the church. We do not hear Him proclaiming that the local church was meant to be an end in itself. As a matter of fact, Jesus only mentions His Church three times during his ministry, and this only in Matthew (16:18 and twice in 18:17). Instead, Jesus speaks of the Kingdom of heaven thirty-two times in that gospel, while Luke quotes Jesus speaking of “the Kingdom of God” the same number of times in his gospel, Mark quotes Jesus using the phrase fourteen times, and John two times.
If we follow the teachings of Jesus, we see that the Church is called to advance the knowledge of the Kingdom. But since this vision is lost, Christians seem to think that they are called to help a church meet its budget, tend to its buildings, fill its Sunday school classes and its Sunday services. It’s not that these aren’t important. It’s simply that in God’s economy, the church is not an end in itself, that these should not be our primary concerns, but that each local church is an outpost to train people for ministry in the furtherance of the kingdom. Over time, service can be exhausting, especially if the service is not for a larger and grander purpose. People get tired. But when the church is a congregation in which true worship shapes its members and shapes its greater mission, its members understand that they are called for mission that exists in the panorama visible beyond their church building’s windows. They understand that they have been called to be lifetime ministers. Our mandate is to make disciples, which means the church should be training us and encouraging us to make disciples in our homes, in our communities, in our neighborhoods, and out into the world at large.
If we worship what is true, we will worship the One who created, rules, and reigns over the cosmos. We will grow to understand that his realm is everything that is, visible and invisible, in earth and in heaven (see Psalm 103:19). But there are vast pockets of Jesus’ realm that are in rebellion against His rule and refuse to acknowledge that He is their Caesar; that it is He who rules overall. These fiefdoms are under false caesars (lowercase “c”), not the true Caesar. Our mission is to enter these fiefdoms and declare that Jesus’ realm is everything and to reclaim these fiefdoms for Jesus that are in the hands of usurpers. If we follow the teachings of Jesus about the Kingdom, we will enter into these dark fiefdoms wherever they are, in our families, in our employment, in our neighborhoods, in our communities, in our governments. We will enter them as ministers of light, of love, of prayer, of courage, of character, of kindness and integrity. We will enter them as God’s gentle warriors who are in His Son’s Kingdom under His Lordship and Who has given us the mission to proclaim that our Caesar reigns in glory and invites all to enter into His benevolent grace and rule.