Before I die, I hope to be part of a church which identifies itself, deliberately and forthrightly, as an agent of the Kingdom of God. More particularly, I hope that church will embrace the three-fold relationship of the church to the Kingdom which Lesslie Newbigin described when he wrote,
“The church is only true to its calling when it is a sign, an instrument, and a foretaste of the Kingdom of God.”
By “the Kingdom of God,” the Bible means the right and authority of God to exercise His power and sovereignty in each human life and in the world at large. For now, although God is the sovereign power in the universe, He has given humans the freedom to choose whether they will live under His authority, as citizens of His Kingdom.
Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is the Monarch, the King, in the Kingdom of God. Those who acknowledge Jesus as Savior and Lord (Christians) are citizens of the Kingdom. When Kingdom citizens choose to come together in community and encourage one another in Kingdom living, a church exists.
As Newbigin noted, the local church only functions in a way that is consistent with God’s purpose when it serves as a sign (pointing to the coming of the Kingdom in its fullness, when Jesus returns), an instrument (serving the purposes and interests of the Kingdom of God on earth), and a foretaste of the Kingdom of God (where the principles and values of the Kingdom to come are lived out in full view of the watching world).
I want to be part of a church like that.
A church that recognizes its role as the agent of the Kingdom will, I believe, focus its energies in three areas: worship, discipleship, and community. Worship will be primary, because, at the most basic level, it is all about God. In worship, the church concentrates its attention on the triune God—Father/Creator, Son/Savior, and Spirit/Empowerer—and expresses its adoration and gratitude in word and song, in readings and homilies, in liturgy and sacrament and prayer.
Discipleship involves every aspect of the church’s service—from individual and corporate transformation into the likeness of Christ to sharing the good news of the Kingdom with those who have not yet believed. It includes personal devotion and corporate compassion. It recognizes that the gospel of the Kingdom is both an invitation to personal faith as well as a call for societal justice. It encourages personal holiness and social responsibility. It is the means by which the values of the Kingdom permeate the church and overflow onto the culture at large.
Kingdom citizens are not innately antagonistic to the culture around them, but faithfulness to Kingdom values will inevitably lead to tension, no matter how lovingly we try to engage a culture which is mainly insensitive to spiritual reality. The church is the place where we embrace and comfort and bandage and console those who are battered and bruised from this kind of interaction. The church is the place where we encourage one another to hang tough, be consistent, not surrender, and not lose heart. The church is the place where we practice—and where we experience—genuine community.
I want to be part of a church like that.
What kind of music will be played in a church like this? What will be the style and format of its worship service? What kind of a building will it meet in? Will its ministers be paid? Will they wear robes? I don’t know. I have my own preferences in these areas, but these are decisions that will be made by those who are willing to invest their time and talent and money in developing a church like that.
People who are not involved in church are not sitting around waiting until a church with a worship band or a church with a pipe organ comes to their neighborhood. If they are waiting at all, it is for a church that will genuinely love them, accept them, and put their needs ahead of a prescribed institutional agenda.
If they are looking at all, it is for a church that reminds them of Jesus. One that is more loving than judging. More forgiving than condemning. More generous and grateful, less critical and hateful.
That is what I mean by a “missional” church. A church that understands its great privilege to serve the King and the culture as a sign, an instrument, and a foretaste of the Kingdom of God. A church that evaluates every potential decision, every anticipated expenditure, every available avenue for ministry against the unchanging standards of the glory of God, the example of Jesus, and the values and principles of the Kingdom.
Before I die, I hope to be a part of a church like that.