Kingdom First

Let me ask you a question…

What if the members of our churches started sharing their faith, but it wasn’t in a way that brought more people to our church? Would we celebrate and encourage that?

If not, we may not be as much about kingdom growth as we think we are.

We hear a lot today about church growth… and church growth is good. A healthy church should be growing just like a healthy person should grow. A healthy church cannot help but grow! Like any revival draws people from all over to it, genuine Spirit filled believers are drawn to a movement from the Lord.

A lot of churches are starting to evaluate every program and decision according to how much it helps the church grow. Are we too traditional? Too contemporary? Is our music too loud or too soft? Do we need a coffee bar, a younger more hip worship pastor, a funnier preacher?

Evaluation is good and healthy as long as we look at the big picture. The big picture that I am talking about is the Kingdom of God. Matthew 6:33 says,

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

We do not seek his kingdom to get what we want, but as we seek first the kingdom of God our lives and ministry cannot help but grow.

Church growth cannot be the only reason we do what we do in our local churches. There is a much higher calling to grow the kingdom of God.

In the book Externally Focused Quest Rick Rusaw and Eric Swanson have a great discussion about the Kingdom. Here’s some highlights that may challenge your thinking:

How important is the kingdom? The word kingdom is mentioned 152 times in the New Testament and 116 times in the Gospels. By contrast, the word church is mentioned just three times in the Gospels – all in the book of Matthew. The first public words of John the Baptist and Jesus were to announce the kingdom (Matthew 3:2, 4:17). The first prayer request that Jesus taught his disciples was “Thy Kingdom come…” (Matthew 6:10). The first priority for the believer was to seek God’s kingdom (Matthew 6:33).

 

What is the kingdom? The kingdom of God is any place over which God has operative dominion. The kingdom is where the King is reigning. So if Jesus is reigning as king in your own life, “the kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:21).

In the book Liberating the Church Howard Snyder writes,

Kingdom people seek first the Kingdom of God and its justice; church people often put church work above concerns of justice, mercy, and truth. Church people think about how to get people into church; kingdom people think about how to get the church into the world. Church people worry that the world might change the church; kingdom people work to see the church change the world.

The church does not exist for itself. The church exists to proclaim and demonstrate that the kingdom is near.

So… what’s the difference between church thinking and kingdom thinking?

  • CHURCH: local, internal, evangelism the goal, programmed, gospel explained, Sunday, growing MY church.
  • KINGDOM: global, external, evangelism the starting point, organic, gospel lived out, Every day, growing THE church.

Jesus said in the great commission to go into all the world and make disciples. Those people that need to be reached and discipled in all the world don’t just include people from our local communities that will attend our local churches.

As people use social media to make new relationships and keep in touch with friends who have moved away, more aspects of our lives are happening without regard to geography. From crying with a friend going through a divorce, to celebrating the joy of childbirth, many of our most intimate moments are being lived through Facebook Live, Skype, YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, and FaceTime.

More people who share their faith are doing it online, too. Which means that the friends and family members they’re sharing it with are becoming less likely to be able to attend church together.

These recent nuances in connectivity and communication provide great potential for our church’s participation in kingdom growth, even if it doesn’t always result in the numerical growth of our local congregation.

I love the mindset of the senior pastor I work under. When he is asked about programs we could add like youth sports, Celebrate Recovery, etc… he normally redirects the conversation to a local church in our area that does that particular ministry with excellence and says, “Why would we try to compete with another ministry in our area instead of just sending people to that ministry to be nurtured?”

Sometimes our evangelism and discipleship can end up with us encouraging someone to follow Jesus to another church!

In the western church world, we have become so used to tethering evangelism to our church’s programming and attendance that we can forget they’re not the same thing.

NEWSFLASH: Church attendance isn’t the goal of evangelism. Following Jesus is the goal.

What if a church was teaching and practicing evangelism in such a way that people shared their faith in Jesus at work, in their neighborhoods, with their families and online, not only as part of a church program, but as a natural outgrowth of their faith? We must always remember that, while church attendance is a vital element in our spiritual growth, church attendance isn’t the goal of evangelism. Following Jesus is the goal – even if it means they attend a different church than ours!

We must remember that Jesus didn’t call us to make congregation members… He called us to make disciples. Making disciples comes first!

Let’s focus on the Kingdom and be just as happy when someone comes to Jesus and attends another good church as we are when they attend ours. It’s great when a church member invites an unchurched friend or family member to come to church with them. But it’s even better when that person invites someone to follow Jesus with them. People need to know we’re concerned about them more than our church’s bottom line. The kingdom of God is always bigger than our little corner of it.

 

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