Jesus’ first sermon (Mark 1:15) had three points:
- The time is fulfilled
- The Kingdom is near
- Repent and believe
Jesus was obsessed with the Kingdom. He talked about it more than anything else. He told his followers, “I must preach the kingdom of God to the other cities also, for that is why I was sent” (Luke 4:43). He taught his disciples to pray: “Thy Kingdom come….” (Matthew 6:10). He commanded them to seek 1st the Kingdom of heaven (Matthew 6:33). He gave to his apprentices ‘the keys’ to the Kingdom (Luke 12:32) and sent them out to preach the Kingdom (Matthew 10:7, Luke 9:2). After his resurrection, he spent his final 40 days on earth teaching about the Kingdom (Acts 1:3).
As a churched kid, I grew up thinking that the Kingdom was just another name for Heaven. Then I went to Bible College where I learned that the Kingdom is the literal reign of Christ on earth, aka…‘The Millennium.’ In seminary, I was taught that the Kingdom is really just another fancy name for the community of God’s ‘called-out ones,’ aka… the Church (big C).
With a 3-second elevator spiel or 12-word tagline, Jesus could have cleared up some of the confusion about the Kingdom. But he wasn’t into bullet points or cleverly worded slogans. Jesus seemed to favor mystery more than clarity; ambiguity more than certainty.
So, what is the Kingdom and where is it? Is it ‘now’… or is it ‘then’? Is it ‘here’ or is it ‘there’? Is it a ‘place’ or is it a ‘principle’?
Someday, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Christ is Lord. Till then, might I suggest that ‘the Kingdom is wherever the King is’?
What if the Kingdom is simply (or not so simply) ‘the presence and reign of Christ?’ What if the Kingdom is ‘anyplace and anytime where the presence and rule of the King is recognized and affirmed?’ I can wrap my head around that. We all can.
When God’s people submit to the loving rule of the King, the Kingdom is revealed. When churches serve their neighborhoods in the name of the King, the Kingdom shows up. When mission teams proclaim and demonstrate the Gospel in the places where Jesus is least known, the Kingdom is announced.
Church used to be the center of my world. Aside from Becky and the kids, my life revolved around church. I went to bed dreaming about it. I woke up scheming about it. I believed (and still believe) that everyone who loves Christ ought to love his bride. But as important as church is… it’s not the only thing that God cares about. His plans are much bigger.
I’ve come to believe that the local church is God’s primary means through which His kingdom is manifested and advanced. When people look into the windows of a local church, they ought to be able to catch a glimpse of what the Kingdom looks like. But the church is not in itself the Kingdom. It’s a manifestation of the Kingdom, but it’s also the agent of the Kingdom. The Kingdom is the end. The church is the means. The implications of this are enormous.
When church is viewed as ‘the end,’ the focus becomes inward. The goal is the growth and stability of the institution. The strategy is to attract and assimilate. Success is measured with organizational metrics, like plates and pews. Control is tight and tidy. Risk is a ‘four-letter word.’ Satisfying and retaining church consumers is the overriding objective.
When church is viewed as the means to a Kingdom end, the focus is outward. The goal is about the manifestation and advancement of the Kingdom. The strategy is to permeate and transform a community or culture. Success is about external impact. It’s organic, messy, and risk embracing. Seeing the presence and rule of Christ recognized and affirmed becomes the overriding objective.
Churches that ‘think’ Kingdom are more likely to build bridges rather than walls. They welcome broken people into their fellowships and value authenticity over piety. They emphasize relationships over programs. They grow by planting seeds of love rather than by elevating excellence. They encourage their people to be salt and light in their communities and empower them to live out their Kingdom callings. They quickly enter into community partnerships without caring who gets the credit. They honor those who serve outside the church as much as those who serve inside the church. They’re more about advancing the cause of the Gospel than defending their constitutional rights. For them, church is the means, not the end.
Kingdom-minded churches grow Kingdom-minded people. Kingdom-minded people:
- View all of life as being under the lordship of Christ.
- See the Gospel as being both personal and public.
- Have an eye out for the broken places.
- Value partnering with others, rather than competing.
- Think like missionaries, looking for where the King is revealing himself and figuring out how to join him.
If the Kingdom was such a big deal to Jesus, shouldn’t it be a bigger deal to us?