Kingdom Communities on Mission with God

Last week I blogged about Tiffany, a prototype of a post-modern person.  Tiffany is broken by sin and intimidated by “church” yet receptive to the Gospel.  I suggested that we use divine imagination to see “things as God sees them, to catch a dream as big as God is!”  This imagination helps us to jump out of “what is” into “what God desires us to be!” (Harris 2004).  It enables us to develop paradigms for church planting and renewal for people like Tiffany—for those living in the postmodern, post-Constantinian, and increasingly post-Christian contexts of Western culture.

This divine imagination within Mission Alive is embedded in seven small words:  “Equipping Kingdom Communities on Mission with God.”  These words form the essence of Mission Alive.

Equipping

Equipping at its core involves “character”—the spiritual nurture of the soul to reflect the qualities of God—his love, his holiness, and his faithfulness.  Ministry to Tiffany is defined by these qualities. She learns to walk with God by being with us, by seeing us “reflect the Lord’s glory” as we are “being transformed into his likeness” (2 Cor. 3:18).

Equipping also involves “skill,” or ministry practice.  How do we build a discipling culture which nurtures Tiffany to spiritual maturity?  How is she equipped within the community for works of ministry (Eph. 4:12)?  How is Tiffany nurtured to commune with God; become a part of a worshipping, transforming community; and sent out to make other disciples?  How does she develop God’s compassion for the poor and the oppressed (Luke 4:18-19)?

The church provides the matrix for both her spiritual formation and equipping for ministry.

Kingdom

The word “kingdom” captures the essence of spiritual reality. Theologian Jurgen Moltmann describes kingdom as a “scarlet thread” interwoven through the fabric of the “biblical testimonies” (1981, 95).  Used within the context of Theistic reality, the term means “the rule or sovereignty of creator God.”  God is sovereign over the world he created (Ps. 24:1-2).  Without the kingdom of God, we live by our own whims, without divine direction.

“Kingdom” is defined in the Old Testament by David who praises God saying that his people “tell of the glory of your kingdom and speak of your might, so that all people may know of your mighty acts and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.  Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures through all generations” (Ps. 145:11-13).  God’s kingdom is one of glory and splendor. The synonymous parallelisms equate the kingdom with power, mighty acts, and dominion.  God does not “merely sit on a throne, but he reigns by performing mighty deeds . . . expressed in acts of power” (Ferguson 1989, 7).  The kingdom of God is illustrated by what the King does!

These acts of power reflect his nature.  This description of the kingdom in Psalms 145:11-13 is framed by two descriptions of God’s love:  He is “gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love . . . good to all” (Ps. 145:8-9), and “The Lord is righteous in all his ways and loving toward all he has made” (Ps. 145:17).  God’s mighty acts reflect his love. The kingdom of God is thus defined by who the king is!

“Kingdom” is most incisively defined by Jesus in the Lord’s Prayer:  “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:9-10).  The kingdom is people being shaped in such a way that they give glory to God so that his will is done on earth as it is in heaven.

The Bible is a narrative describing how people lived in relationship to the kingdom of God.  Israel and Judah, for instance, sometimes lived in obedience to God giving their allegiance to him; sometimes they rebelliously followed the pagan gods of the nations and were consequently punished by catastrophe and exile (2 Kings 17:16-18; Jer. 5:19).  With the coming of Jesus Christ the word kingdom began to connote God’s ultimate, decisive reign through his Son.  His parables described the nature of the kingdom, his miracles its power, and the Sermon on the Mount its qualities.  The death, burial, and resurrection is the decisive fulcrum of the history.  The resurrected Lord reigns with His father as Lord of lords and King of kings through his Holy Spirit within his kingdom people.  The ultimate age of the kingdom has entered the world with the coming of Jesus Christ but will not be consummated until his second coming.

The kingdom of God is a theme interwoven into the fabric of the biblical narrative.  Tiffany hears these kingdom narratives and begins to understand herself as a participant of the kingdom of God.

Communities

Kingdom in this defining phrase of Mission Alive describes the nature of the church.  “Kingdom communities” are like God’s holy temple:  Christians are living stones shaped to fit around Jesus Christ, the Chief Corner Stone, growing to become his temple (1 Pet. 2:4-5). This shaping is illustrated by Jesus who called twelve apostles, trained them to be his disciples, and then sent them to “go and make disciples” (Matt. 28:19).  Robert Webber says, “The church’s mission is to show the world what it looks like when a community of people lives under the reign of God” (2002, 133).  As Tiffany is spiritually formed within the kingdom community, she defines herself in relationship to Jesus as his disciple.

“The church’s mission is to show the world what it looks like when a community of people lives under the reign of God.”   — Robert Webber

 

On Mission with God – “Going Out! Going Deep!”

Kingdom communities develop their distinct identity not only as gathered communities listening to the message of the Gospel but also as communities on mission with God. Alan Hirsch describes what he calls the missional-incarnational impulse of “going out” and “going deep.”  He says, “God continues to send the church outward into the world as well as deeper into people’s lives and contexts, to send and embed the gospel” (Hirsch 2009, 91).  Out and Deep!  Out and Deep!  This is the nature of kingdom communities on mission with God!

Tiffany, for instance, came to Christ not only by hearing the Good News of the kingdom of God but also by witnessing the kingdom
through gracious hospitality, miraculous prayer and blessing, and social justice (ministering at the point of cultural brokenness).  She both heard and witnessed the in-breaking of the kingdom of God.  Kingdom habits are both taught and caught in communities that gather for teaching and fellowship and scatter for ministry and proclamation!

Kingdom communities, like moons reflecting the light of God, establish their rationale for being—their purpose for existing—while on mission with God.  Christians grow to understand themselves not as servants of the church (or the most recent cultural fad of the church) but as servants of the kingdom of God!

Conclusion

Mission Alive’s definition of identity, “equipping kingdom communities on mission with God,” makes a number of significant assumptions about . . .

  • Intentional equipping.  Christians must be trained to become holy participants of the kingdom of God.
  • Becoming disciples of Christ:  Equipping enables them to grow beyond mere consumers who come to the church to receive religious goods and services to disciples who live as committed participants in the kingdom of God.
  • Being on mission with God:  Participants learn to become disciples by going out and going deep.  Discipleship
    is taught and caught while on mission with God.
  • Love, holiness, and faithfulness:  These qualities of God shape a non-mantipulative discipling environment.

“Equipping kingdom communities on mission with God” thus infers intentional equipping to become disciples of Christ on
mission with God within a loving, holy, and faithful environment of nurture.

Feedback 

Impressions?  What questions come to mind?  What are blind spots that were overlooked?

Works Cited

Ferguson, Everett. 1989.  The Everlasting Kingdom.  Abilene, TX:  ACU Press.

Harris, Randy.  2004.  Imagination. Speech at Mission Alive’s Church Planters’ Retreat, June 11.

Hirsch, Alan, with Darryn Altclass.  2009.  The Forgotten Ways Handbook.  Grand Rapids:  Brazos Press.

Moltmann, Jurgen.  1981.  The Trinity and the Kingdom.  San Francisco:  Harper & Row.

Webber, Robert E. 2002.  The Younger Evangelicals:  Facing the Challenges of the New World.  Grand Rapids:  Baker Books.

8 thoughts on “Kingdom Communities on Mission with God

  1. One of the many ways what you wrote leads us toward new horizons is the way you describe ‘equipping’. You wrote that equipping forms people on the level of ‘character’ and ‘skill’. No doubt both of these require a certain amount of cognigive understanding but in comparison to the kind of equipping the church has done in recent centuries, you place considerably more emphasis on discipleship as character and skill formation. It seems as if the church has assumed that if you fill the head with understandings about character and skill, formation of the heart and hands will follow. Yet rarely has that happened. I believe that learning to have a heart (character) and hands (skill) like Jesus requires intentional equipping beyond educating the head. This is a critical shift needed in the church and it will not likely be achieved with the equipping methods we currently have. We must discover new (or rediscover very old) methods of equipping people in heart and hands.

  2. Right on, Tod (and Gailyn).

    It’s critical to hold together both character and skill development in equipping and discipleship. I’ve been guilty recently of focusing so much on skill development in my equipping that I’ve neglected character development. The result is thwarted skill development. They both work together.

    One thing I’m learning – this kind of equipping can’t happen in purely programmatic way. We can’t schedule a time to work on character development and expect to accomplish it. We can’t create a training event for skills and assume our work is done when people complete it. Don’t get me wrong – I think these times are important, but much more is needed.

    As you say, Gailyn, equipping happens as skill and character are “caught and taught” by disciples in the mission of God.

    Skill and character formation require relational proximity, where those being equipped are invited to share life with those equipping them. They’re able to have conversations about skill and character through real life situations that test skill and character. Equippers and equipped spend time just hanging out. Doing ministry together. Praying together. Living life together. More formal times of training serve to supplement and inform such relational proximity.

    One implication of this line of thinking: equippers in local contexts must think about equipping fewer people rather than more. We can’t create a programmatic equipping factory to run 1,000s of disciples through. We only have so much time, and can invest in relationships with only so many people – so we must discern and choose carefully who we’ll invite to share life with us at the deepest level. I see Jesus doing this with the 12. It’s a strategic decision to invest in a few who will invest in a few who will invest in a few.

  3. “One implication of this line of thinking: equippers in local contexts must think about equipping fewer people rather than more. ” Excellent point, Charles! I think it is our Baby Boomer/In-Search-of-Excellence/CEO/Entrepreneurial mindset that focuses upon bigger and better. (Is that enough descriptors for you?) The truth is Jesus, after three years ended up with roughly 120 folks and 11 leaders (and that’s three years of daily walking-and-talking ministry, not weekly assemblies). That’s a far cry from some church planting organizations that say you should have 200 in attendance by the first two years or you’ll never break “the ceiling”! Well, if the goal is getting a nice budget to pay my salary then that 200 ceiling might be an issue. But if the goal is making disciples then perhaps we would do better with slowing down and focusing on the few.

  4. I’m grateful for the thought and theology represented here. I’m convinced that a key to both renewal and revival is growth in our identity–how we see ourselves. You’ve cast a marvelous vision not only for church plants but for all churches. The more we all could live into this vision, the more we’d all become the salt and light communities so desperately needed today.

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  7. Lowell, think about disciple-making and mission like building a house. First, we lay the foundation of personal relationship and obedience with God through our relationship with Jesus Christ. This happens because all the house is joined together (like a body of Christ is joined together in Christ). Then God begins to work within us when we invite guests to hear the way of Jesus in our house–that is, our spiritual house.

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