Church and Kingdom, and the leaders for each

An excerpt from my thesis, "A Toolkit for Unlikely Leaders"

Two Kinds of Leaders and Two Poles of Ministry Focus.

God gives any church or ministry two types of leaders. Some are given to us to love and develop to help grow and strengthen and advance your church or ministry area. But others are given to us to love, develop and strengthen for us to send into the Kingdom. Many of those that we send will be for influencing in the realms of family, work, business, education, service, etc. And some of them will be for the extending of the Kingdom through church planting and cross-cultural mission.

There are 2 seemingly opposing poles of ministry direction that we have to handle in our leadership roles. One seems focussed on going out, and the other seems focussed on drawing in. I describe them as Kingdom Expansion and Community Building. For the more evangelistically minded or activist minded Christians, everything is about Kingdom Expansion; winning lost people to Jesus, doing power ministry on the streets, changing social conditions, feeding and clothing the poor, righting wrongs, planting churches, going to where there is no gospel witness, etc.

For the more pastorally or person focussed people it is all about Community Building; taking care of the already saved, developing deep and meaningful community, healing hurts, restoring broken relationships, creating nurturing environments, etc.

The good news is that it is both/and. Leaders must hold these 2 seemingly opposed activities in creative tension. As I talked about in Chapter 2, like walking, we must use both legs, and throw ourselves off balance to make progress. Being in a balanced position means we are not going anywhere. We will always feel like we are lurching towards Kingdom Expansion, and then lurching towards Community Building. But every lurch is another step!

The Kingdom of God

Jesus and the apostles talked a lot about the Kingdom. Jesus pointed people to the Kingdom. “’The time promised by God has come at last!’ he announced. ‘The Kingdom of God is near! Repent of your sins and believe the Good News!’” Mark 1:15 (NLT)

I will talk much more about the Kingdom of God in chapter 7, but I want to spend a little time here on the concept of preparing people for Kingdom life. On a reasonably regular basis I teach a series called “Kingdom Life in A Fallen World.” It is based around the Sermon on the Mount, and is focussed on how we navigate life in the Kingdom, when we live in a broken world, and live and love and work with people from another kingdom.

It is important to distinguish between the Kingdom of God and the Church. They are both vitally important and we are participants in both. “The Kingdom is present in the ministry and person of Jesus, the King. It is manifested through his announcement or proclamation. The nature of the kingdom is revealed in his parables." Jesus is the King of the Kingdom of God, and it is He that we serve. He directs the activities and the mission of the Kingdom. There are a number of metaphors that can help us understand the Kingdom. For example, the Kingdom of God is a feast, a table, to which the whole world is invited. He is the commander of the Lord’s army, and we are soldiers in that army called to pull down the works of the enemy (Acts 10:38). Healing, deliverance, shalom are in the Kingdom, and when the Kingdom draws near, those elements/benefits of the Kingdom are accessible.

Morphew is clear in his book that there are distinct differences between the Kingdom and the Church. For example:

“The church is not the kingdom. By most definitions, the church is a people or gathering of those who serve Jesus as Lord. The Kingdom is the personal, dynamic reign of God. …God’s reign is over all: the whole universe, the stars, the angels and the redeemed of the earth. The kingdom is therefore much wider than the church.”

Again, he distinguishes between church and Kingdom:
“The kingdom creates the church. The inseparable link between the church and the kingdom is shown in Matthew 18:18-20… Those who enter the kingdom automatically enter the church” So the way into to the church is through the Kingdom. In a sense the Kingdom is the agency that reaches out to lost people to bring them in to the church. Morphew goes on to make three more points about the differences. He says on firstly, “The church has been entrusted with the proclamation of the kingdom.” Secondly, “The church has been entrusted with certain powers and prerogatives as the proclaimer of the kingdom.” Thirdly, “The church must demonstrate the presence of the kingdom.”

So the trajectory of the Kingdom could be said to be outside the church to the ends of the earth to reach God’s lost children, and the trajectory of the church is directed to the care, discipleship and development of it’s members in order for them to serve the purposes of the Kingdom of God. 

The Church

 “The church” is a very easy and soft target for any criticism of Christians, and any group of Christians. Yet the church is the visible sign of Jesus’ presence on earth today. Together we are the church, and any criticism of one is a criticism of all. Any success of one is the success of all. We are the church and we stand or fall together. The church is not an “it” it is an “us.”

The church is Jesus’ idea, and He builds and nurtures and grows His church. “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.” (Acts 20:28 TNIV)

A few years ago God reminded me to not get my “orders” mixed up. It was one of those dark moments when life gets a bit much, and people can seem to be the problem. (Perhaps I am alone in having these moments??) I was wanting Jesus to look after loving people so I could get busy building His church. He firmly and lovingly and gracefully reminded me that I had it the wrong way around. “You love the people, and I will build the church!” He won’t do our work, and we can’t do His work. Jesus said “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of death will not overcome it.” (Matthew 16:18 TNIV)

As Vineyard Churches in Aotearoa New Zealand we are focused on the mission of helping people who don’t have a relationship with God find their way to Jesus, and we do this through the planting of churches around our country. Churches are redemptive missional communities of faith hope and love. The church exists in all sorts of shapes and sizes: small churches, house-churches, middle sized and large churches, mega-churches and multi-campus churches.

When we read the word “church” in the Bible it is normally an English translation of the Greek word ekklesia, which simply means a gathering of people for a shared purpose, or “called out ones.” In the scriptures it was used to describe something as big as the people of Israel, and it was used to describe something as small as a town council meeting. What Jesus and the apostles did was to invest the word with special meaning for followers of Jesus

The church (ecclesia - called out ones) exists at several levels

  • 2 or 3 gathered in Jesus Name (Matt 18:20)
  • Church in your house (Rom 16, Acts 2)
  • Congregation (neighbourhood church – For example, a domestic residence with internal walls removed) - larger than a house church, smaller than a city church
  • Church in a city – For example the Church at Ephesus
  • Regional or national church – For example the Church in Galatia
  • Worldwide church - every believer.

Martin Luther wrote about the distinguishing marks of what makes something a church, as distinct from simply a being a group of people with similar ideas or purposes. I have summarised those distinguishing marks in to these 6 attributes:

A gathered group of believers

  • Worship and fellowship
  • The preaching of the Word of God
  • Practice of the sacraments
  • Proper discipline - moral oversight
  • Church government / rulership - Biblical leadership

(To view some extra thoughts on these attributes, visit this blog series)