An excerpt from my thesis, "A Toolkit for Unlikely Leaders"
a. The Kingdom is dynamic
It is important for us to remember that it is God who makes things happen, not humans. We get to partner with Him if we wish, or simply get caught up in what He is doing, or even resist and oppose what He is doing; but God is on the move! The Kingdom is dynamic and definitely not passive. We get to join God in His work. “In his defence Jesus said to them, ‘My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.’” (John 5:17 NIV). The Father is at work in our lives, our families, our communities and the nations. Whether we are aware of it or not, God is moving. His delight is for us to join Him in what HE is doing in our world. “Since the days of John the Baptist, the kingdom of heaven has been advancing with force. And forceful people are taking hold of it.” (Matthew 11:12 NIV).
b. The Advancing Edge of the Kingdom
The Kingdom of God is growing, and it grows on the edges where it touches this Present Evil Age. It doesn’t advance uniformly, but neither is it random. God Himself directs it, as He sets up divine set-ups for His people to enter and join with God’s activity.
All around the advancing edge of the Kingdom there is a swirl of Kingdom activity as the future age invades the present age. There is a clash of the kingdoms and power encounters at the impact points of the Kingdom of God breaking into the present evil age. The Kingdom brings the benefits of the future age – forgiveness and freedom from sin, healing of sickness, healing of relationships, peace, joy, salvation, being free from demonic interference, etc. and the present evil age will resist the advancing Kingdom as much as it can. There is a swirl of Kingdom activity on the advancing edge of the Kingdom as darkness is impacted by light. As some people have encounters with the Kingdom of God they pass from the world (or this Present Evil Age) and begin to move in to the Kingdom of God (as demonstrated by the red line in the following diagram. They join Jesus and accept his offer of salvation and the promise of the Kingdom.
There is a rhythm we want to build in to the lives of believers, of going deep into the heart of the Kingdom life for intimacy and learning and community, and then going to the very edge of the Kingdom for ministry opportunities.
Compassion and love take us from the security and comfort of the depths of Kingdom life expressed in our church life, to the advancing edge of the Kingdom. The gifts of the Spirit give us something to offer when we get to the Advancing Edge. There is a wonderful rhythm of going deep in the Kingdom to get love and compassion, and then letting that love and compassion take us to the edge. This rhythm is the same as what I talk about in other chapters: Building Community and Kingdom Expansion. The temptation for us is to just go deeper in to the heart of the Kingdom. Our lives become surrounded by those who already belong to Jesus, and sometimes we get discouraged because we are not seeing much of the gifts of the Spirit, and the visible activity of the Holy Spirit. But it is simply because we are with the already-saved & the already-convinced. Once in the Kingdom we don’t need to experience the power and signs of the Kingdom as much as those who are coming towards God and salvation. What I mean is this: I have experienced enough power demonstrations and answered prayers and healings to be utterly convinced of God’s goodness, and power and willingness to alleviate human suffering. I don’t need to see another miracle to be convinced – though of course I love to see and experience as much as I possibly can. But if we stay in the comfort and security of the heart of the Kingdom expressed in our church community, then we start seeing fewer and fewer signs wonders and miracles. As John Wimber used to say “the meat is in the street.” The key is not centre or edge but rather rhythm.
c. Signs, wonders and miracles
One of the things that marked Jesus’ ministry was that He performed signs, wonders and miracles. He taught with authority: what He said He was going to do He did. “People of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know.” (Acts 2:22, NIV)
What those signs wonders and miracles did, as well as alleviating human suffering was to act as a sign to pint people to God, and alert them to the reality that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah. “. . . how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.” (Acts 10:38 NIV)
Signs are there to point to something; wonders are designed to make you wonder; and miracles are always simply miraculous. When we look for the breaking in of the Kingdom in this world, we are to expect signs, wonders and miracles, just as Jesus showed us. But they are not the goal in themselves. We can get side-tracked and enamoured with gifts and power. But they are, at the very heart of their meaning and importance , signs that point people to Jesus. The nature of signs is that they are there to take you somewhere. You don't sit down to eat under a restaurant sign – it is there to take you inside the restaurant to the meal. You don’t stop at the sign to tourist site – you keep driving and following the signs till you get to your destination. In the same way, signs are to point people to Jesus.
5. Who attracts the attention of the Kingdom?
a. Some people and situations seem to attract God’s attention more than others.
Have you noticed by now that some people and some situations seem to attract more of God’s activity and power than others? “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.” (Luke 4:18 NIV). God seems to choose to draw close to the broken-hearted, the poor, the sick and the marginalised (Centurion, Syro-Phoenician woman, women in general – which was not done in those times, outcasts – lepers, tax gather, Roman soldiers, etc.) Experience also tells us that God/the Kingdom also draws near to those in transition: geographic, life stage, relational, vocational, etc. What this means for us, is that if we want to partner with God, and join him in what He is doing, then we need to be around these kind of people. If we are longing to be involved in God’s supernatural ministry, then the issue is not how spiritual or holy we feel, but rather, who we re spending our time amongst.
b. This doesn’t mean that He doesn't do things for other kinds of people/situations
He loves everyone the same – but it seems like the Kingdom is more effective where it is most welcomed and needed. As disciples of Jesus, we have already seen the signs and have responded to God. We have already received the greatest gift of all: our names are in His Book and He has taken up residence in our lives through the Holy Spirit. But God is so generous that He will continue to give signs, wonders and miracles to those already in church. Church is meant to be more like a Discipleship Training School – we learn to see and act on Sunday, so when we go back to work on Monday we have eyes and ears and hearts trained to spot what the Father is doing.
c. Where should we be looking in our culture and communities?
Try to spend time around those who are sick, in pain, in transition (life transitions, geographic transitions life-stage transitions, job and career transitions, etc.); those whose hearts have been broken; those who can’t find justice or mercy; those who have tried everything else to fill the gap in their lives. This understanding of the times we find ourselves helps us discover why some people get healed and why some don’t, why some people get sick and die and others seem to be resistant to sickness. It empowers us to have a robust theology for healing, and an equally robust theology for suffering and dying.
The Key Question is, “How does the Kingdom Advance?”
I think a key question we must ask ourselves and remind ourselves over and over is how does the Kingdom advance? We love the whole church and all it’s manifold traditions and distinctives. Each tradition would probably answer this question a little differently, but I have found wonderful freedom in our tradition and theology. It keeps the emphasis on a God who acts, rather than people who act, or a God who doesn’t act but merely observes. The following diagram is a snapshot of the evangelical continuum, which ranges from fundamentalists and reconstructionists at one extreme (kingdom not yet) through to the hyper-faith hyper-grace movement and the restorationist movements at the other extreme (kingdom now). In the more centred position are the mainstream evangelicals, who also have a spread. On the more “kingdom not now” end of that centred continuum are the conservative evangelicals, while at the other end of the more centred continuum are the Pentecostals. We in the Vineyard, along with many other movements and churches like us, hold the tension of the now but not yet of the Kingdom.
The Evangelical Continuum and How the Kingdom advances:
In this next diagram I attempt to distinguish between the way the 3 traditions answer the question how does the Kingdom advance. I realise that in a sense I am making a wide sweeping summation, so I trust no-one takes offence as it is certainly not intended, and neither are my comments an in depth analysis of different belief systems. They are at best an over-simplified representation, and there are exceptions and there are certainly no clear and solid boundaries, but rather a comtinuum. However, I am very familiar with our theology. I have very dear friends on either end of this scale who I deeply respect and love, and I do understand the rationale for their answers to the question “how does the Kingdom advance?” From my experience the conservative evangelicals would answer the question this way: “The Kingdom advances through the conversion of individuals. Each convert brings the kingdom closer and the coming of Jesus closer.” Again, from my experience (having happily been one for part of my Christian life) the Pentecostals would answer the question this way: “The Kingdom advances through specially anointed individual’s ministries, who have unusual power gifts and evangelistic gifts.” I would answer the question this way: “The Kingdom advances through ordinary believers who do actsof obedience to Gods prompting, and in doing so people become followers of Jesus, and destinies are changed.”
Vineyard's (and other similar movements) theological centre is that the Kingdom advances through ordinary everyday believers doing acts of obedience in response to the Holy Spirit’s invitation. It is not about the inherent power or anointing of the individual, but rather about joining God in what He is doing, and putting our hands on what he is blessing. The Kingdom advances though ordinary believers, but we are faced with a choice. Either I need to get more anointing to make progress if I am coming from a Pentecostal theology; or I do acts of obedience – an empowered vision – seeing the advancing edge of the Kingdom. The difference is a little like this: you can be a great salesman trying to sell a mediocre product or a mediocre salesman trying to sell a great product that sells itself.
We are able to move in a very wide diversity of church movements and denominations. However, we don’t change our theological centre to have fellowship with others. We can have spiritual unity with all Christians – but we can’t have organisational unity when we have differing direction, vision, practices etc. For example, some people would interpret renewal or revival experiences as “the next thing” or the next move of God, and part of God’s restoration. We however would see it as another “breaking in of the Kingdom”.
Some Implications of Kingdom Theology in our Practices.
1. The Kingdom is present because the King is present. So we focus on seeking the King and recognising that when we sense His presence then His power is also present.
2. Healing comes because the Kingdom comes, rather than us having inherent authority and power to heal on the basis of healing being in the atonement. This means we are looking for signs of the Kingdom drawing near a person or people, rather than looking for some internal feeling. See chapter 9 for some very observable signs of the Kingdom drawing near to a person. “Keep in step with the Spirit.” (Galatians 5:25 NIV)
3. We need to look and see what Father is doing, rather than trying to do what we want to see done. Watch for who God draws near to. God is always the initiator and we are always the responder. But this doesn't mean we should be passive. We can ask God to draw near, to bring His Kingdom, for the Holy Spirit to come etc. We are looking to see any little sign of the Kingdom. Notice what you notice, and act on what you see.
4. Because He is always the initiator and we are always the responder, it profoundly impacts how we "do ministry". To some people and some traditions it may seem like passivity – but it is an outflow of Quaker roots in our movement looking to only do what we see the Father doing and avoiding "creaturely activity".
This is why we pray for people the way we do. We look to see what the Father is doing, and seek to agree and co-operate with what He is doing.
This is why we worship the way we do – we seek to follow His “wooing” of us, rather than trying to “pump up” the congregation. We want to give Him what He is looking for rather than seek to have a personal religious experience.
This is why we evangelise the way we do – power evangelism is looking to see what the Father is doing and who He is doing it to, and responding to that.
That is why our leadership practices are focused around fulfilling the King’s rule rather than trying to establish our own. We are servant leaders – servants who lead rather than leaders who serve.
That is why we plant churches the way we do – not just with a cognitive strategic plan, but looking for where God is moving and leading.
Fasting and praying is focused not on us trying to move the hand of God, but looking for what the hand of God is blessing and getting ourselves involved in that.
Our focus is on joining the King’s ministry, not developing our ministry.
5. We are opposed to all spiritual manipulation – e.g. “If the Spirit isn’t moving, we move the Spirit.” There is no sense of striving, but rather, receiving “tomorrow’s bread today” as the phrase in the Lord’s Prayer can be interpreted. We believe strongly in the sovereignty of God, which allows us to trust His ability to cause us to bear fruit, because we are in relationship with a mighty God rather than trying to become a “mighty man or woman of God”. We are looking for the “breaking in of the Kingdom” rather than the development of personal power and position.
6. Ministries are initiated by the Father more than they are need-driven. We build in the areas God is blessing. Give yourself, your church more to that area, rather than worrying about what you are not doing.
7. We are able to give ministry away to others and train others because we are serving His plan and rule, not our own. We are joining Him in His plan, rather than asking Him to join ours.
8. Because of Kingdom theology, we can live in “eschatological tension” with integrity, holding a theology of healing as well as a theology of suffering. We can have a theology of living as well as a theology of dying.