God’s Mission and Our Mission of Reconciliation
The Church functions for the sake of the Kingdom of God, not the other way around.
Over the centuries, the Church has placed itself at the center of God’s plan for the world, but God’s plan is the reconciliation of all things to himself (see me previous posts), where all things again submit to the rule of God.
This is The Kingdom of God.
The church is the people of the Kingdom, not the Kingdom itself. As George Eldon Ladd outlines in A Theology of the New Testament (in chapter 8, “The Kingdom and the Church”) , the Kingdom creates the Church, and the Church witnesses to the Kingdom, is the instrument of the Kingdom, and is the custodian of the Kingdom. Ladd correctly states, “The Kingdom is God’s reign and the realm in which the blessings of his reign are experienced; the church is the fellowship of those who have experienced God’s reign and entered into the enjoyment of its blessings” (p. 117). This is no subtle nuance of semantics. It makes all the difference in the world.
The late Ray Anderson, who was Professor of Theology and Ministry at Fuller Theological Seminary, correctly assessed that “the temptation for the church has always been to identify its own existence and institutional life with the kingdom of God. When that occurs, the existence of the church tends to take priority over the mission of the kingdom of God” (The Soul of Ministry, p. 161).
Alan Hirsch makes the argument in his influential book, The Forgotten Ways: Reactivating the Missional Church, that “we have so divinized this mode of church through the centuries of theologizing about it that we have actually confused it with the kingdom of God.” (p. 51)
My hope for the Church is that it would be less institutional-focused and more Kingdom-focused. Kingdom-focused ministry leaders, in the words of Reggie McNeal, are not limited to “one congregation or to just church real-estate programming,” but are “more collegial than competitive, more community focused than merely focused on church culture agenda,” and are busy “reconceptualizing and practicing a Christianity that is not dependent on the prevailing church culture for its expression” (A Work of Heart, p. 103).
Many churches, since they see themselves as the center of God’s plan for the world, spend the majority of their time, money, and resources on strategies for getting people to come and become members of their church. But this strategy severely limits the scope of their Kingdom influence.
The Church must change its manner of ministry to better match its mission. If God’s mission in the world is to reconcile all things to himself, and if he has called his people to do this ministry of reconciliation (that is, to be the witness and instrument of the Kingdom of God), then our mode of being local church congregations must follow. Alan Hirsch correctly insists that a missional reading of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) “requires that we see that Jesus’s strategy is to get a whole lot of versions of him infiltrating every nook and cranny of society by reproducing himself in and through his people in every place throughout the world” (The Forgotten Ways, p. 113).
There is hope because we are witnessing a new and fresh movement of God’s Spirit in the North American evangelical church. I see a reawakening of our call to be restorers of God’s good creation, ambassadors of God’s reconciliation of the all things back to himself, agents of redemption and shalom in a broken and hurting world.