Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Barn-builders or kingdom movements?

The following is a compressed version of some of Steve Humble's thoughts; any misrepresentations are due to Brian's editing!

The primary purpose of God has always been to have a people on earth who recognize him as king over their own lives, over all men, and over all things. This people of God are to be formed in God’s character and to live on earth the way God lives in heaven; that is they are to represent (re-present) their king and manifest his kingdom on earth.

After the Fall, God began to build this people when he called Abraham and made covenant with him and his descendants. God’s people, the children of Abraham, were called to be the blessing of God and his reign for all the nations. However, once God had dealt with Israel’s propensity to serve the gods of other peoples, most of Israel turned the focus inward, believing that they were the center and epitome of God’s interest.

But God’s purpose, unveiled in Christ, was to have a people—the followers of Jesus consisting of both Jews and Gentiles—who would represent God throughout the whole earth, a kingdom people dispersed into all nations, manifesting God’s kingdom in their individual lives and in their community with one another. This call to be communities of the king and his kingdom is the substance of the new covenant.

The people of the kingdom are to follow the pattern of life modeled by their King; that is, we are to lay down our lives individually and corporately for the life of the world (John 6). We, the sons of the kingdom, are seed. Seed does not exist to be stored in barns, at least beyond the short run. Some seed goes through death and resurrection like the First Seed and thus the seed is multiplied. Other seed serves as food, giving life to other creatures. The issue is not to build big barns but to sow out the seed.

Like Israel, “churches” can become ends in themselves, whether on the local or the denominational level, often times using their resources to build bigger and bigger barns. The “churches” tend to be self-focused to a great extent, rather than to offer themselves up (individually and corporate) as living sacrifices of worship. A kingdom movement is focused on giving life. A “church” movement tends to be a consumer of life.


smokin joe said...

Good topic, Steve and Brian!

When Steve says that churches can become ‘consumers of life’, this is congruent with our ‘free-market’ consumer society. To try to build people and churches that are kingdom focused as “living sacrifices of worship” in the way Steve is describing runs right in the face of our culture – against the grain.

There is a pattern of scripture of great scatterings. Ecclesiastes says there is a time to gather and a time to scatter. Some of the parables talk about the scattering of the seed. In Genesis 11, God deliberately scattered the people who were building the tower by confusing their language. Around the time of Jeremiah, God carried the Jews into captivity and scattered them into the nations. In the early church, when they forgot the command to go to Samaria and the ends of the earth, a great persecution rose up and they “went everywhere preaching the word.”

It seems to be a pattern that God’s people like to gather where the grace and the blessing is, but we are very hesitant to take the blessing to every ethne, and thus we build barns rather than training centers for missionaries. God wants us to multiply and fill the earth. This requires a fundamental change in the paradigm of the church, and church leaders and members. If we are unable to make that paradigm change, we can be assured through the example of scripture and history that God will help us by disturbing the nest for us.

don woolley said...


Sorry I haven't contributed lately. I totally track with these thoughts.

As an encouragement, our district of the United Methodist Church is launching a Missional Leadership Training in cooperation with Forge - Alan Hirsch and Michael Frost's group in Australia. It has taken off beyond anything I could have hoped or dreamed. We will have Hirsch, Reggie McNeal, and Neil Cole's CMA folks coming at different times as part of this year long process. The goal is to begin transitioning our churches from an institutional/attractional model to a missional/incarnational model. If you guys know what an institutional mess we've become in the UMC, I think this is a miracle on par with the parting of the waters!
:-) The focus is hands-on. Every congregation is expected to take on a serious relational "missional commitment" - refugees, addicts, skaters, etc. etc. etc.

Also encouraging was a Conference wide "envisioning event" for 40 and under clergy yesterday. I was shocked at how healthy the conversation was. People I had written off as ladder-climbing company men have felt called by God to start an organic church network. It was really amazing. It was a great time of sharing and connecting.

So, as screwed up as things are (especially in my denomination) there are real reasons to take heart.

God is on the move.

steve H said...

One further comment, if I may, for clarification's sake: In no way would I intend to minimize the "church" in saying our focus should be on the kingdom. We all know that the "church" is at the heart of God's eternal purpose (Eph. 3:8-12). The issue for me has to do with what the "church" is.

Again, most of us know that the Greek word translated in English as “church” is “ekklesia.” The more I have researched the use of this word in biblical times whether in Greek culture, or in the Septuagint, or in the New Testament, the more convinced I am becoming that we have lost something important to its primary meaning.

I am coming to believe that “ekklesia” most often refers to specific assemblies (gatherings) of God’s kingdom people. God assembles his people, sometimes as few as two or three, to do kingdom work--most often through worship, intercession, and declaration. Sometimes God calls them to assemble in order to adjudicate relational issues among themselves.

I posit that "ekklesia" is a specific assembling of kingdom people to re-present God's government on earth. (Are these assemblies a primary way in which the "ekklesia" reveals the many sided wisdom of God to the principalities and powers?) [Again, I recommend you read and think through the implications of John Zizioulas's "Eucharist, Bishop, Church."]

If this is so, then the "ekklesia" is a critical aspect of what it means to be the people of God, the representatives of the kingdom. I fear that, when we use "church" as the catch-all term to refer to the people of God rather than to refer specific assemblies of those people, we may actually be watering down the Biblical meaning.

Randy R. said...

Tracking. . . . .

smokin joe said...

Hey Don, you almost make me want to return to my Wesleyan roots! I would almost anything to be part of a process like you describe…

Steve, good comments. I agree for the most part, however, I hope we can keep this conversation focused on what it means to be part of a “kingdom movement” before we revert back to discussing what is the ekklesia or structure structure. Maybe it is difficult to separate them, but here in this blog, we have spent far more time in the past talking about the church than we have talking about the kingdom. I would enjoy staying focused on the kingdom for awhile and giving the ‘church’ topic a rest.

Gary Henley wrote me that he forgot his user name and password but offered these thoughts:

On "scattering" I believe the correct view of Matthew 28:19 may be more correctly translated, "As you go, make disciples . . ." If this is accurate, Jesus anticipated that his people would naturally spread all over the earth possibly through commerce and other means. Regardless, the focal point seems not so much to GO, but to teach men wherever we go to live as aliens who teach people another way to live. Obviously, I am not opposed to making purposeful and missional plans to GO. However, both at "home" and in all the places we GO, teaching people to live another way must be central. Of course, they will change the way they live because of what they believe, but we need to remember we are not there to give them a doctrinal formula, but to show them how to live by doing His will the way it is done in heaven. Singing songs of "worship" is a good way to confess our beliefs together, but the worship "in spirit and in truth" of John 4:23 is best defined in Romans 12:1,2 as our "spiritual" or "sensible" act of worship, i.e. a sacrificial way (schematic or pattern) of life, as Steve pointed out. This we demonstrate to others in the process of discipling them, but we do it primarily as service to Him (Mt 25:40). You can call this way of life "church" or you can call it "kingdom" - living it, not defining it, is the key. I have seen excellent examples labeled both "kingdom" and "church" and some sorry ones also. Some of the sorriest were even called "kingdom churches". Let's major on teaching people how to live as though they were in heaven; people will put their own label on it. We might be called "the way" or "Christians" or an infinite number of other names; let others name it whilst we DO it!

steve H said...

I am with you on staying to the kingdom topic, Joseph. I only intended to suggest that "church" needs to be dealt with in the context of the kingdom. Many of us who participate in the blog are called to work primarily in the context of "church." Our work too should be seen in the context of kingdom work with the manifestation of the kingdom as it's goal, not as a separate entity. (I'll plan to say no more on that in this thread.)

steve H said...

Concerning a more literal translation of Matthew 28:19-20 would be "Going, therefore, make disciples... baptizing them... and teaching them to obey...

1 verb with three descriptive modifiers, confirming what Gary said, all done at the command of the King who has all authority in heaven and on earth.

John the Musician said...

Argh! Down with the Church me mateys.
Joking, but in all honesty the current church "organizations" seem to have lost touch with the early Christian roots. Not to say that there aren't some good things happening in the "church" because I'm quite sure there are. I wonder though if perhaps it's time to cut our losses? When fighting a battle you do the best you can to win, but also to keep as many men alive as you can. When fighting a war (i.e. campaign) you try to win but you also try to win as many battles as you can to do so. Sometimes however a battle must be lost towards the greater accomplishment of winning the war.

I guess the first question we should ask is whether or not God is still in the "organized church?" (not to be confused with the ekklesia or the gathering)
And the second is probably whether the "organized church" can be salvaged into a win or is it too far gone?

Jesus of course came to make all things new, and there's quite a possibility that he intends to do just that with our current "church." There's also a possibility that the "church" as we know it today isn't really a living organism and thus can't be renewed.

I'm probably way off base right now but just thought I'd throw around a couple fightin' words. =OP

smokin joe said...

thanks John ... now... back to the kingdom ...

I wonder why it is so much easier to be critical or to defend the church than it is to envision a kingdom movement?

Brian Emmet said...

My thought at this point is what could "we"--participants in this blog? Members of ACM? Members of something else?--do in our local contexts in these regards? We could, as John Musician suggested, "vote" the organized church a lost cause... just not sure that would make any difference. Are there ways we could be of some concrete, practical help to one another?

steve H said...

Here in Winchester we elders are trying our best to foster a kingdom mentality in ourselves and in the people who walk with us. Right now we do this by continually pointing to the call to live as a living sacrifice -- both as individuals and as a community of faith.

God has put us here to manifest the kingdom (however imperfectly) in our daily lives, families, and businesses.

God is giving us opportunities to offer ourselves for practical service in the community -- to be involved (sometimes individually, sometimes as a group)in various community activities -- such as helping to rebuild a home destroyed by flooding, working with others in the community on a project to help at risk families develop relational skills, financial skills, and job skills, to teach character classes to young people in trouble with the law (done under the oversight of the police chief), etc.

Each summer we try to send several people to Nicaragua with one of our elders and Ted Sandquist to do work projects and prayer walking.

And we are here to serve with the other "churches" in the area, not compete with them. As the Lord gives opportunity, we are seeking to pass along "kingdom vision" to them. Sometimes we do this by direct invitation from a church. Some of us also have done so by teaching in a "Bible college" started by our former mayor and some local pastors to equip local elders, deacons, and SS teachers.

I know... doesn't sound like much, but we are trying to get and keep our focus beyond our own "church."

Randy R. said...

Regarding Steve's most recent post, I have a one word comment to offer: AMEN! Actually, I might make that two words: "AMEN & AMEN"! When you travel to Nic., that wouldn't happen to be Ometepe would it?

John the Musician said...

I suppose I was simply offering the critical side of the argument first, and I'll stick to my guns. It's not at all my place to judge the good that the church organization does, but I feel that I have seen that it's rarely effective in truly upholding the Christian lifestyle... at least past Sunday. There are however a great many good people in the "church" that this observation does not apply to.

I would say that the reason it's much easier to be critical of the things that exists is both because it's easier than creating something new and potentially better, and also, that most of us (or at least me!) don't have a clue what it is supposed to look like.

So I guess that comes round about to the point of this conversation, "Let's get a clue about what the Kingdom of God should look like in the here and now."

Luckily, Jesus gave us several parables that explained just that. For instance at our Tuesday night God-party here in Miami we just talked about the parable of the landowner. The Kingdom of God is like a landowner who hires workers to work his vineyard.

This makes me think of what Steve just said about trying to be examples of His Kingdom here on earth. Does this mean that we are the workers in the parable? Or maybe we are supposed to be the landowner's foreman? Or perhaps we are supposed to exhibit the qualities of the landowner? Such as being generous to all of our fellow men and women, going out each day with a sense of desire to give others "work" (or in my interpretation, whatever it is that we have that others need, which often is the love of God), of course this theory runs into a brick wall when the landowner tells the workers that came first not to be stingy because we ourselves aren't supposed to judge others.

Anyway, a few more of my thoughts on the less critical side of the conversation. =O)

don woolley said...

I love Gary Henley. I have benefited from his insights, mainly through Matt Brennan. THANKS!

I have the same struggles with the organized church as John the Musician, and was a certified rock chunker.

After a bruising meeting with a Conference board, I realized how far off track I was with their thinking. I was bitter and angry and fired off explosive emails...which I SHOULD regret :-)

Anyway, after cooling off I felt convicted for criticizing but never getting involved to turn things around beyond the couple ministries I lead. So with some hesitancy I volunteered to serve anywhere on the district level if there were places I could help. I suspected I would quickly discover how right I was - that "they" were a lost cause and I could bail with a clean conscious. That's not at all what I found.

Though they haven't had language for it, a surprising number of people are wrestling with the same issue we are discussing. How do we die to self, give up our empires, and join Jesus in building the Kingdom of God no matter what the consequences to us personally and corporately.

Granted, not everyone is on board and there are many, many obstacles to overcome. My hopes could soon be shattered, but I AM hopeful... and it feels good...really good.

smokin joe said...

"they have not had language for it..."

hmmmm.... I wonder if that helps explain some of the challenges we have had to overcome to even talk about this subject ...

William said...

I think that is a key phrase don. Thanks smokin joe for extracting it for us. Not having a language for the things that God is doing, or has done, seems to be a problem that we as finites run into. I was thinking about the works of the Spirit in the Old Testament: When Moses saw the burning bush, I tend to think it looked a lot more intense and confusing then the bush was on fire but it wasn't burning up. When the Spirit held back the waters of the Jordan so that the Israelites could cross into the promised land, I bet that was quite a sight and they probably didn't know what was happening. All that the guy who wrote it could say was, he held back the waters.

I know I am a little off track, but we all can see a shift is happening. The Holy Spirit is doing something that the Son spoke and the Father planned, God is on the move. When you are in the middle of a swirl, as Dr. Dow Robinson calls it, its hard to explain what is going on. Its best to catch the current by opening your 'wings' instead of staying on the ground trying to analyze and describe the sight.

That being said, I know that we are sharing what the Spirit is showing us and where he is leading us so that it can confirm or encourage others to do hear Him in their own sphere.

I have not posted much this summer, and mainly because it has been an eventful one. The kingdom is being built in my life and my friends'. There are a handful of us, and the number is growing, who have been delivered and are walking that out by learning to walk in the Spirit. Throughout this process I have been able to see that this is a real battle. The Son of God came to destroy the works of the devil. If we are to be a part, an ambassador, of His kingdom, we must, as Gary Henley was saying, teach as we go and be intentional in looking for opportunities. His holiness will come in the ordinary, mundane plodding of daily life...of their daily lives...we just need to continue to make ourselves more than available to Him...for Him.

Brian Emmet said...

Insightful and perceptive comments all--I am grateful for them, and for you.

Our local... uh, gathered-kingdom-we-hope-ekklesia... has a smallish school as our largest single, ah... ministry, er, missional endeavor. The most exciting idea we've been trying to unpack for the past several years is called "service-learning."

Don't think "service projects," which are good in their own right. Service-learning is a pedagogy, an approach to education, that says, "We haven't finished with our learning until we are using that learning to serve others." So, our ten 3rd/4th graders are weekly visiting a nieghborhood assisted-living facility, to build relationship with the seniors there. We are planning a trip for our 5th--8th graders for spring 2009 to the DR to partner with a Christian school there. I had a chance to speak with our dozen or so middle schoolers today, and shared a paraphrase of Frederick Buechner: "Your place of service will be found at the intersection of your deep joy and the world's deep need." They were puzzled... nd I s'pose I was as well. "They don't have language for it..."

John the Musician said...

That's really excellent Brian, sounds like a truly exciting endeavor! To be honest one of the areas that Jesus-Followers have had trouble accessing is the youth. Too often it seems that we only get a chance to teach our children, but the big what if of it all is; The Devil sure as hell is teaching our youth, why shouldn't we be doing the same? Seems like that would be an amazing way to serve the Kingdom.

In otherwords, Rock on!

don woolley said...

Brian, that is awesome! What a beautiful story.

It's what Jesus primarily did - discipling on the go, in the field, hands-on. Obviously our education model of discipleship is largely ineffective. We acquire knowledge but are left, for the most part, unchanged.

smokin joe said...

I want to thank Johnthemusician and William for continuing to contribute here ... I know we get pretty deep in theological jargon at times, but I appreciate you two guys and Patrick tracking along with us. Without you guys and your generation, there is not much productive or practical that we can do to advance the kingdom.

Michael said...

Hello everyone! I find myself drawn to the conversation. Here are some random thoughts:

I believe we have so partitioned our lives that it has been easy to define the things we do at church (read ministry) as kingdom work and then everything else we do outside of church as secular. I believe this is a barrier that still needs to be torn down in the way life in Christ is viewed.

Brian you asked: Are there ways we could be of some concrete, practical help to one another?

I would suggest, how can we and the people we serve see God at work outside of the context of a church meeting, church gathering, home group, growth group or any other church sponsored seminar or event.

To be able to see the HS at work in the world and lives or others outside of a church activity is to see the kingdom establishing a beach head in the hearts and lives of those he is trying to reach.

I love the interpretation of the great commission. Thanks to Gary and Steve. The verb to act is before the description of what to do. I believe this fits into not having good kingdom language. We tended to put our nouns first or have turned verbs into nouns. Two examples to chew on, one is Faith the other christian.

smokin joe said...

Michael: you just put your finger on the key issue of why the distinction between the 'church' and the 'kingdom' is so vitally important.

"I would suggest, how can we and the people we serve see God at work outside of the context of a church meeting, church gathering, home group, growth group or any other church sponsored seminar or event."

Jesus is not only the 'head' of the church, more importantly, he is Lord of Heaven and Earth ... we have become blind to his work and initiative outside of church activities.

To move our focus from 'church-centered' to 'kingdom-centered' is to vastly broaden our understanding of his work and activity all around us all of the time.

This is a good conversation, and central to the epochal changes that God is bringing about.

Bama Stephen said...

As members of one local church, which is part of the larger Church, and is dedicated to extending the Kingdom, this is a conversation that we have on a daily basis. Apart from the Gospel of the Kingdom - prolaimed, demonstrated, and proclaimed via demonstration - we have no Gospel.

I wrote this in another response, but we are daily feeding on passages such as Isaiah 58-61, Matthew 5-7, Matthew 25, Luke 4, and the book of James to re-discover what it is that the Spirit of the Lord has annointed us to do. "Kingdom" is a noun, animated by the verb of love.

Steve H approaches this in such a wise and balanced way by not setting up a false "Kingdom vs. Church" straw man, but instead discussing the Church within the larger context of the Kingdom. It's both/and, not either/or.

Aaaaack! I have so much to say, but I'll stop for now. Great conversation, guys! And, it's great to see Don W here ... you rock, my friend! Let's have lunch or breakfast soon!

Randy R. said...

At the risk of appearing to split hairs, I would like to focus on something that Stephen stated in his post: "Kingdom" is a noun, animated by the verb of love." That really caught my attention. Could it be that in our dialog, we are trying to make "Kingdom" a verb? It seems to me, that as Stephen pointed out that "love" is the verb . . . the Kingdom in action. A book that had an absolutely profound impact in my own life around 1987, and is still a hallmark for ministry was titled, "Love, Acceptance, and Forgiveness," by Jerry Cook. It is a relatively small book that turned my life around, and I continue to believe is the message that the Kingdom is about. God wants us to demonstrate His love, as Brian shared and Steve shared, with no strings attached: i.e., I don't love you so that you will come to faith, but I love you whether you come to faith or not (although I hope and pray that the person does). We can only do that when we are consumed by Father's love and our identity is not in who we are (whatever our title or work might be) but in Jesus and Him alone.

Brian Emmet said...

Frederick Buechner, who has a way with words, wrote (I'm paraphrasing) "Your place of service will be found at the intersection of your deep joy and the world's deep need."

I'm grateful for the joy that is percolating just below the surface of these conversations. May God direct us, each and all, to those intersections!

Bama Stephen said...

I met today with a few pals of mine: an Anglican rector, an Assembly of God pastor, an International Communion of Charismatic Churches Bishop, and a Restoration Baptist Pastor. This sounds a bit like a set-up for a joke, doesn't it? "So, the Anglican says to the fat guy from Alabama ..."

Anyway, as we were talking, my Anglican friend talked about "Incarnational Reality" in terms of how "Christ in us, the hope of glory" is manifest to those around us. I talked about John 7:37, how we drink from the "Fountain Who Is a King" and the result is that we become a spring that gushes rivers of living water. And, not to be a broken record (there's an archaic term, eh?) but the tangible result of this "water" is that captives are freed, broken hearts mended, naked are clothed, hungry are fed, sick are healed ... the Kingdom comes, His will is done on earth as it is in Heaven. This is the "because" of our anointing (see Luke 4).

Please pray for me ... this Sunday, I am speaking at our Latino Covenant Church plant - Casa de las Naciones - and I want to be faithful to what God is saying. These brothers and sisters are very excited about extending the Kingdom.

smokin joe said...

I think there are two kinds of outward movement of the kingdom into the world that we have touched on. Each has a different starting place but moves outward toward the world. One is the example that Steve Humble gives us, of his congregation becoming very outward focused in serving the community around them, rather than being focused on meeting their own needs.

The other is what Michael Tomko alluded to, of learning to discern the activity of God in the people around us in the world. This does not start in the church and move outward… rather, it starts with God’s initiative in the world, and if we in the church are sensitive and discerning, we will see what God is doing at the university, in the business office, at the gym, in the PTA meeting on the school board, and we will get behind and bless what God is already doing.

This is what I find myself doing in my own involvement in my university studies and in my bar socializing. I find that the Holy Spirit has gone ahead of me and is already at work in my new secular friends – both in the History department of Florida International University, and also at Stick & Stein’s bar and pool hall in Homestead. When I go to either location, I go expecting to find that the Holy Spirit is already there at work in people… the key for me is to learn to ‘see’ what he is doing, and to only ‘do’ that which he is initiating. This is the kingdom at work … mostly (in my case entirely) outside the church.

We cannot dismiss the church in this process of cultural, missional and theological turmoil and transition but we must refocus our priority on the kingdom of God and realize that the scriptures are clearly kingdom-centered, and the people of God have been gathered to serve the greater purposes of God. We must learn to have ‘eyes to see’ what the Spirit is already doing in the world, from Monday through Saturday outside of our worship services.

We need local churches to cultivate a whole new crop of 'apostles', called and commissioned by the Holy Spirit, to be sent ‘out’ of the church (Acts 13:1) into the ‘work’ of the Spirit in the world to extend God’s’ kingdom. If you prefer, we can call them missionaries … into high schools, college campuses, businesses, the arts, bars, pool halls, coffee houses, etc. We need to send them out rather than to hold on to them to run our church programs.

smokin joe said...

Brian, with your permission, I took the liberty of starting another conversation thread. This one has been quiet for a few days. I posted some concerns that McKnight has about the role of the church in the kingdom ... that he poses as questions to McLaren in his Christianity Today article.