Monday Is for Missiology: We Are Signs of the Kingdom, Windows to the World
The world, as we know from both the Bible and personal experience, is passing away, while at the same time Christ is building up his kingdom through the church. He is creating an "already" brand of people who (individually, yes, but especially when seen collectively as a whole) are able to preview the "not yets" of his eternal rule and reign. What others may not be able to grasp spiritually or intellectually about his gospel and his kingdom, they should be able to see physically through the way Christ's people operate together and through the lives that are transformed from their subversive work.
When the outside world peers into your church window and sees you displaying a genuine sense of unity and peace in your relationships, sees you redemptively handling conflict, sees you actively serving your community, sees you living with high levels of integrity and grace, they form an impression. When one of your outreaches is written up favorably in the newspaper, or touches someone in their family, or makes them question what they've always thought about God and the church, they make note of it. They recognize a difference between their experience and yours--between the kingdom of this world and the kingdom of God. And that leaves them with a decision for how they're going to respond.
Now granted, we're not in a popularity contest, and the Bible certainly makes clear that the church will never escape being maligned and misunderstood on earth. Getting others' acceptance of us is not the goal of our kingdom efforts, nor is it how we determine the success of our job performance. Our team at LifeWay Research recently polled a sampling of unchurched twenty-somethings--young men and women who, other than for a wedding, holiday, or funeral, hadn't set foot inside a house of worship of any kind for six months or more--and asked them to agree or disagree with certain statements. When offered the chance to give their opinion on whether or not "Christians get on my nerves," a full 44 percent said this described their feelings pretty well.
OK, duly noted. And no big surprise. But while the world will always hate certain things about faithfully practiced Christianity, while the cross will always be a stumbling block in many people's minds, while some will always find our views and beliefs to be morally distasteful to their liking, they should at least be able to recognize by looking at us that belonging to Jesus makes people different.
We love one another. We care about the hurting. We forgive unfairness. We live with uncommon character. We actively serve. We worship our King. We share our time. We give our all.
No, this doesn't mean we awaken every morning without difficulties, problems, and struggles. We've been known to argue with our spouses. We are often in the wrong. We're not always the parents we should be. We're tempted to ignore our neighbors rather than love them.
But by his grace we are followers of Jesus Christ, living out an authentic faith every day of the week, being shaped and sanctified morning by morning through the living Word of God. We're making wholesome and healthy choices with our lifestyles. We're relating to one another with both understanding kindness and challenging exhortation. We're getting real with one another about what truly matters instead of just floating along and pretending everything is probably all right.
We are signs of the kingdom, windows to the world.
"So look inside," we're saying. "Check us out--broken people put together through the redeeming power of Christ. None of this is artificially touched up or falsely advertised. This is what life is really like when you're not just out there like everybody else, trailing along behind the latest thing or marching in lockstep with the world's predictable, pop-star mentalities. This is how it feels to be actively and excitedly engaged in transforming the culture instead of just being marketed by it and pigeonholed within it.
"Come back here behind the counter where we keep the keys of the kingdom, and see what happens when you're set free from your bondage to sin and addiction, to your own litany of unnamed dreads and others' fickle opinions. Imagine getting to live every day in a place like this, surrounded by people who take your concerns to heart, who will go to the mat for you, who will be praying for you when you don't even know about it, who will invite and involve you on subversive missions that'll make you wonder why you once thought hanging out at the bar or going clothes shopping was the most fulfilling way to spend a weekend."
We're not just "doing church" here. Every week when we meet to worship, every time we serve our King together in public places, every time we interact with one another on the job or around the lunch table, every time we serve one another and serve our neighbors, we're polishing up the store window. We're letting people get a clearer look inside, to see what this King and his kingdom are all about.
Now if they don't like what they see and aren't interested in coming any closer, they certainly wouldn't be the first to reject the church as being irrelevant and unnecessary. But at least don't let it be because we didn't present our Lord well or didn't realize that others were paying attention.
Yes, they are. And yes, we must.
Adapted from Subversive Kingdom (2012, B&H Publishing Group)