FIRST-PERSON: The Kingdom-focused church
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--Some of our most profound events are the least expected. During the early days of my first full-time pastorate, I was standing outside the doors of the church under the drive-through portico. I had stationed myself there to open the car doors and welcome our people to church. My attention was soon drawn to a car a few cars back in the queue. It contained a young man about twelve years old and his dad.
As I watched them approach, it became obvious to me that they were having a very animated conversation -- one might have even called it an argument. I began to speculate to myself concerning the nature of their conversation. I had a few visual clues that helped. The young boy had on a suit that was too small, a shirt that was too tight in the collar, and a clip-on tie. I could tell the boy believed the shirt was too tight, because he was clawing at the collar as if he were about to suffocate. His dad, on the other hand, was quite relaxed in his open-collared, knit shirt and golf hat. I began to surmise that their "conversation" had to do with their various destinations. The boy was being dropped off at Sunday school while his dad was headed to the golf course.
When I opened the front door of the car, the little boy was turned toward his dad. I found I had been correct when I overheard the last three volleys of the conversation.
"Dad, do you promise you had to go to Sunday school and church when you were little?"
"Son, how many times do I have to tell you? I never missed a Sunday, so get out of the car and go on in."
"I'm going, Dad, but I bet it won't do me any more good than it did you."
That singular event caused me to ask several questions. While I didn't know what was going on at the boy's home, it was obvious that his father's behavior was not compatible with what the boy was learning at church. Why didn't church do this man any good? Why didn't it change his life? What was not happening at this church I had been called to pastor that had caused this young man to drop out? What is the church? Who does it belong to? What is its purpose?
We can actually answer all three questions with a single definition. The church is a covenant community of born-again believers accountable to Christ and designed for the fulfillment of the Great Commission. But how many of our churches function like they are accountable to Christ? How many have a passion to fulfill the Great Commission. I think we would all agree that a Kingdom-focused church should exhibit these characteristics, so let's look at the book of Acts to see if we can glean some guidelines for the Kingdom-focused church.
-- The Kingdom-focused church proclaims the Gospel with boldness.
If you look at Acts 2:41 you will discover that the great Jerusalem church was birthed through the proclamation of the Gospel. The Holy Spirit doesn't want us to miss this point, and thus He has Luke virtually bracket the description of the church with the emphasis on bold proclamation. Listen to verse 47: Praising God and having favor with all the people. And every day the Lord added to them those who were being saved.
When Peter is brought before the mighty Sanhedrin, he sees his questioning as nothing more than a witnessing opportunity (4:10-13). When the early church was scattered by persecution, we are told they went on their way proclaiming the Gospel (8:4). If you look further at Acts 11:19-20, you will find that bold witness was consistently practiced by those early believers. We are not going to see baptismal statistics change until we allow the Spirit to fill us with boldness for witness. Every church should have some strategy for equipping and mobilizing all church members for sharing the Gospel.
-- The Kingdom-focused Church has a global vision and cooperative mindset.
The Acts 1:8 challenge is the focal point and outline of the book of Acts. Strategically the local church is the hub of a global church planting movement. Believers from Jerusalem planted the church at Antioch (11:19-30), which, in turn, sent Barnabas and Saul of Tarsus into the neighboring regions (13:2-3). This characteristic means that the Kingdom-focused church values cooperation and seeks partnerships with other like-minded churches. No single church has the resources to reach its Jerusalem, much less the ends of the earth. Thus, when the church becomes serious about the Kingdom, rather than their own limited agenda, it will work with a cooperative mindset in Kingdom partnerships.
-- The Kingdom-focused church shatters prejudices and unites people.
The church at the center of much of the mission activity in the book of Acts is the church at Antioch. Luke gives us an interesting insight into this church. In Acts 11:23 he tells us that when Barnabas arrived from Jerusalem, he "saw the grace of God." What did Barnabas see that convinced Him that God was at work in this community? If you read the entire text, you will discover that it was in Antioch that the early believers first witnessed to the Gentiles.
I think Barnabas saw Jews and Gentiles in fellowship with one another. This inner wall of partition that had existed for generations had been broken in an instant. What inner wall of partition does your church face? Some churches are divided over age distinctions, which often create problems related to styles of worship. The Kingdom-focused church will allow the Spirit to break down these walls for the sake of the Kingdom.
-- The Kingdom-focused church teaches sound doctrine.
Acts 2:42 indicates that the early Christians were "devoted" to the apostles teaching. In Acts 11:26 we learn they taught new converts for an entire year before they were called Christians. If we are going to be obedient to the Great Commission, we must teach "them to observe everything I have commanded you." Some church growth "gurus" argue that the church can't reach today's generation if you are strong on doctrine. This is neither true nor biblical. Every church must have a strategy for discipling believers. We cannot leave this to chance. The Kingdom-focused church needs to rediscover the impact of small-group Bible study. Pastors need to focus on biblical exposition from the pulpit.
-- The Kingdom-focused church practices authentic fellowship.
According to Acts 2:42, the early Christians spent time together. We can't experience fellowship without spending time together. It is tragic to see the number of persons who give one hour a week, often on a somewhat irregular fashion, to attend a preaching service, and then complain that the church didn't provide fellowship. If the church is to function like extended family, it must prioritize spending time building family relationships. Furthermore, Acts 4:34 indicates that there was not a needy person among them. Fellowship is not simply a pat on the back and an occasional pot luck meal. The Kingdom-focused church is a family of faith that enjoys one another's company and meets one another's needs. Kingdom churches are generous churches, because they know everything belongs to the King.
-- The Kingdom-focused church prioritizes worship.
True worship is active and life-changing. The idea of commissioning Barnabas and Saul was given by the Spirit as they were "ministering to the Lord" (13:2). The word translated "ministering" is the Greek word from which we get the English word "liturgy." Have you ever viewed worship as "ministry to the Lord?" I sometimes hear people indicate that a certain style of worship "didn't minister to me." Get a grip — worship is about God, not about you. We come together to minister to the Lord. Kingdom-focused people are passionate about ministering to the Lord, because they understand who He is and what He has done for them. Does your worship service reflect the desire to minister to the Lord? Or does it reflect the desire to appease a particular group of worshippers?
-- The Kingdom-focused church experiences supernatural empowering through powerful prayer.
Acts 1:14 tells that the life of the early church began with continuous, united prayer. Prayer was the life and breath of the early church. After Peter and John were released from jail, they have a prayer meeting (Acts 4:31) — and some prayer meeting it was! The place was shaken, and the Holy Spirit gave them boldness for witness. We sometimes forget that the task to which we are called requires supernatural empowering. If the Son realized He could accomplish nothing apart from the Father, why would we be so bold as to believe we can do anything apart from prayer and the Holy Spirit? What priority is given to prayer in your church?
-- The Kingdom-focused church practices generous stewardship.
We have already looked at the text that indicates the willingness of early believers to sell property and meet the needs of those who had less. When we read the story of the church at Antioch, we discover that they spontaneously took a love offering to meet the needs of the saints in Jerusalem. Paul challenged the churches in Macedonia and Achaia to join in this generous offering. Kingdom churches are marked by generosity. Perhaps it is because they have discovered that they own nothing, but the King whom they serve owns everything.
How is your church doing in these areas? I suspect most churches struggle in one or more of these areas. However, by God's grace, and through a commitment to becoming a Kingdom-focused church, every one of our churches can be transformed into bodies that reflect the heartbeat of God.
Kenneth S. Hemphill is the Southern Baptist Convention’s national Empowering Kingdom Growth strategist.