It was great to have Jen Hatmaker write for me on the blog yesterday. Today, it seems only appropriate that the attention turns to Jen's husband, Brandon. As I mentioned yesterday, he pastors Austin New Church in Austin, TX.
When I meet with pastors, I find they have many of the same hurdles when it comes to leading their local comminity of faith to living out the mission of God. They want to engage their community for Christ, but they either don't know how to start, or they don't feel like their people are willing.
Brandon's book Barefoot Church, which came out in the fall, tackles those issues and others as he examines how the local church can be an active catalyst for kingdom growth within its community. Below is just one of several short videos produced by Leadership Network for the book (which is available here). You can find the rest of the videos here.
Brandon also asked me to write the foreword for the book, which I was honored to do. Here is the foreword:
"He said, therefore, 'What is the kingdom of God like?'"
- Luke 13:18a
Jesus spent much of his earthly ministry teaching about God's Kingdom. He taught how God's kingdom was different from the kingdoms of the Persians, Assyrians, or Romans--the kingdoms with which his listeners would have been most familiar. The ethics of the Kingdom, the teaching that formed the substance of the Sermon on the Mount, sharply contrasted with the "here-and-now" focus of this life, and his words were like a bright light in the darkness, exposing the hidden sin behind the ritualistic religion that had developed from the law. Using parables, Jesus taught and explained the nuances of his kingdom, clarifying his Father's role and his own part in bringing about the coming kingdom. Using children as examples, he illustrated to his listeners the type of faith that would mark citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven (Luke 18:16). And using a model prayer, he spoke of the Kingdom's eternal nature (Matt. 6:13).
After Jesus was betrayed and arrested, he was asked by the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, if he was a king. He responded by saying that his kingdom was not "of this world," adding this clarification: "Otherwise, My servants would fight" (John 18:36). The normal path to power and authority necessitated the taking up of arms in open rebellion. One of Jesus' disciples, Peter, had already started down that path, cutting off the ear of the high priest's servant in the garden. Peter's violent response, though well-intended, received a rebuke from Christ, who healed the servant and willingly surrendered to the Roman authorities. Jesus was making it clear that his goal was not the violent overthrow of the Roman occupation or the pursuit of political and military rule. His intention was far more subversive.
His goal was to change the world--forever.
Jesus established his church and empowered his followers at Pentecost, unleashing the life-changing power of God on an unsuspecting world. Since that time, his followers have continued to effect change by bearing witness to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The visual manifestation of Jesus' kingdom rule--his church--would become the living example of the kingdom the prophets of God had intoned in generations past. The kingdom of God was inaugurated into this world through the incarnation of God's Son in the person of Jesus Christ. Through the rule of Jesus, the Kingdom of Heaven would now be extended by the mission of the church, reaching every corner of creation and overcoming spiritual darkness until the day of Christ's return.
In contrast to the prevailing pattern of the culture since the days of Babel and Noah, the church was different--a community called to combat greed with contentment, lust with love, brutality with kindness, and power-grabbing with humble service. Instead of conquering through might, the Kingdom, like yeast, would gradually infiltrate the nations of the world. The power of God was demonstrated in the gospel, which redeemed and transformed the enemies of God's Kingdom, making them its holy citizens.
In this book, Brandon Hatmaker issues a clear call to the church: to remember her practical, spiritual heritage as the visible manifestation of God's kingdom rule. He reminds us that the most world-changing work we do may not be in the in the halls of governmental power, but, rather, among the poor, the homeless, and those who are victims of injustice. He draws our attention to some of the weaknesses of the church in our Western culture, how being Christ to the poor can easily become just another ministry on top of our other programs, worship services, small groups, and Bible studies. The church has forgotten the incisive words of Jesus in the parable of the sheep and the goats: that Jesus is most likely to be found among the poor, the hungry, the unclothed and imprisoned--not necessarily in the places of worldly power: Congressional offices, court rooms, or the hallowed halls of the White House.
And lest we assume that Hatmaker's call is just another salvo in the missional/attractional, traditional/contemporary, liturgical/hang-from-the-light-fixtures war of words, he quickly dispels that notion: "Barefoot Church is not about attractional, seeker sensitive, culturally relevant, or any other model. It is not a church growth strategy or new style of church. Contrary to popular belief, serving the least does not make a missional church. It's about serving the least AND your neighbor. It's about balancing the fasting AND the feast. It's about making the altar both a place for communion AND a place to leave your shoes."
The gospel of Jesus Christ, embodied and proclaimed by the church, remains the only hope of the world, which means it is also the only hope of the poor and disenfranchised. To be the body of Christ, we would do well to remember that our bare feet, rather than being adorned with Gucci's and Jimmy Choo's, need only be dressed with the gospel of peace, a gospel through which lives will be changed, not the least of which will be our own.