Some people talk as if the church isn’t necessary to this endeavor anymore, that it no longer applies to his plan and mission to the same degree it once did. They say, “God is at work outside the church”–and, yes, he is. They say, “The kingdom is bigger than the church”–and, yes, it is. They say, “The kingdom of God is not the church”–and no, it isn’t.
But the missionary purpose that forges our identity, placed within us by a missional God, continues to draw us into the core of his kingdom activity. The ministry of his gospel has been designed “so that God’s multi-faceted wisdom may now be made known through the church” (Eph. 3:10, italics added). And so that through us, he receives glory.
The church, therefore, remains his central tool for accomplishing the subversive kingdom’s agenda. No, we are not the means of reconciliation any more than the misinformed modern citizen is the potential conduit to heaven on earth. God does the saving, not the church. But just as he sent Jesus here to establish a beachhead for the kingdom, and just as Jesus dispatched his first disciples to carry out his kingdom plan (John 20:21), the church has now emerged in the wake of this mission, called to advance God’s kingdom by taking gospel light into the darkest corners of society as his messengers. Not to prove we’re right. Not to win. Not because we’re better than everybody else. We go because we are carrying out the mission of our founder. We go because we are sent by him, and he sends us empowered by his Spirit.
And “go” is the right word for how we do it.
When Christ instructed his followers to head out under the Holy Spirit’s direction and empowering, bearing witness of him “in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8), this signaled a new chapter in kingdom work. No longer were God’s people to be continually drawn toward Jerusalem, as had been the case throughout the Old Testament. They were now being sent out from Jerusalem. The centripetal mission of bringing outsiders into an earthly city was being replaced by the centrifugal mission of taking heaven’s glories to the cities of the world. The indwelling Holy Spirit and his amazing visitation at the Pentecost celebration of Acts 2 meant the church was being empowered to pursue, not to be pursued.
This is why, when giving a talk at a missions meeting recently, I said rather facetiously, since it was a non-Pentecostal gathering, “What we need in our churches–in all kinds of churches–is more speaking in tongues.” (Insert nervous laughter here.) My focus–and what each of us along all points of the Christian spectrum should be able to concur with–is this: the church needs to be speaking the heart languages of all the world’s people groups, both at home and abroad. Rather than merely throwing open the doors of our building to a “come and see” festivity (and thereby considering ourselves fully compliant with a kingdom calling), we need to be going out into the darkness with a “here’s light” message of freedom for all kinds of people, in all sorts of life settings and situations.
So I say any church daring to call itself missional might consider doing three kingdom things: (1) serving locally, (2) planting nationally, and (3) adopting an unreached people group globally. Why? Because God wants his glory to be manifest before men and women everywhere through his covenant people on earth. He wants his found children wholeheartedly engaged in rescuing his lost children. He wants his people living and declaring his grace to those who are starting to see the pointlessness of human progress.
What they need is redemption. And because they exist in every town, county, state, and nation of the world, that’s where his church is commissioned to go.
The church, as it turns out, only exists because God is missional. He is a “sender” as part of his nature. So if the church is going to function the way it’s supposed to, we need to condition ourselves to live “sent lives.” Jesus was sent to establish his kingdom. As kingdom citizens, we live sent. We must realize that for subversive transformation to take place, it must happen not only in times of gathered worship but through a whole week’s worth of kingdom-oriented living and going. Culture expects us to be all about our Sunday morning huddles, but when we live beyond the safe and warm huddle, our lives become an argument against their perception of us.
Jesus said, for example, that he came “to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). If we as the church are going to own our calling as messengers of his salvation, then we need to join him on rescue mission, knowing we cannot fulfill this mandate simply by getting together on Sunday morning, teaching our best Bible studies, singing our best songs, and preaching our best sermons. Yes, those things are important. Key. Valuable. But a church that cannot locate its pulse for entering the culture to engage the lost and see them reconciled with their Father is not bringing him the full glory he desires and deserves.
Jesus also said that he came to “preach good news to the poor . . . to proclaim freedom to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free the oppressed” (Luke 4:18), to serve the helpless and hurting. Therefore, we as the church need to join him in going to the mistreated and marginalized, restoring a sense of justice to these situations that will one day be made completely right in his consummated kingdom. In this way we introduce small, tangible doses of “already” into the still unseen “not yet.” Like a recent commercial says, produced by the United Methodist Church to describe their work in disaster relief, “Sometimes prayer brings miracles. Other times it brings heavy machinery.” When the church scatters to do its kingdom work, lives are transformed in the process, both physically and spiritually. It’s the essence of our subversive agenda.
It’s important that the church not cave to a consumerist mentality, becoming a mere dispenser of religious goods and services, turning itself into little more than a “way station” where people come to get what they think they need, purchased with minimal offerings of time and money. We are not here to provide a hub of community-center activity unhinged from true, kingdom mission. A church that becomes activity-driven rather than kingdom-driven runs the risk of ceasing to be an authentic church at all because it is no longer focused on bringing God’s glory to its neighborhood and the nations. The glorious, redeeming gospel of Jesus Christ, living and operating and generously shared through his church, is not just what we’ve been sent here to offer whenever people bother to show up. It’s what we’ve been sent out from here to give.
Keep the ideas of this chapter firmly in mind, for they are the heartbeat of our marching orders as kingdom agents.
Our subversive plan of action is to live for God’s glory, which is most vividly expressed in the sharing and receiving of the gospel, which is most powerfully administered through the church–people who have been set free by God from the results of sin and death to become part of his plan for setting others free as well.
Adapted from Subversive Kingdom (2012, B&H Publishing Group)