I’ve been reading, thinking, and praying a lot recently about the nature of the local church in relation to God’s larger kingdom work. And I think I agree with those who say we need a new way of thinking about the local church. It’s true that the church overall — at least the evangelical church of North America — has become sort of in-grown and often rather self-serving. There is a lot of wonderful ministry happening in and through the local church but it seems the focus has been wrong; we’ve made the local church the centre and end of all things rather than a bi-product of larger kingdom ministry.
Sometimes it’s evident that we need a radical paradigm shift. I’m reminded of the Copernican controversy of the early 16th Century when Nicolas Copernicus theorized that the earth was not the centre of the universe afterall. Instead, he proposed, “that the earth rotated on its axis once daily and traveled around the sun once yearly.” It is difficult for us to appreciate how “revolutionary” this idea would have been at the time since it was taken for granted by everyone (promoted by the church of the day) that the universe revolved around the earth.
The reason for this unbalanced local church focus of our day may be nothing more than our natural tendency to want to have a personal sense of visible success. Using Scripture to support our passion for the growth of the local church (i.e. Matthew 16:18, Acts 2, etc.) we have become infatuated with the idea of establishing an institution that bears testimony to personal achievement rather than the glory of God. The problem is accentuated by an inordinate emphasis on the role of a paid clergy. And one effect is that we have come to understand ministry only in terms of those works that build the local church. Quite unconsciously the Sunday morning service and related programs have become the main event. Worst of all, this focus has eclipsed God’s larger kingdom work which the church was originally designed to establish.
One of the good things about the influence of post-modernism is that the church is being called to a new sense of authenticity. A younger generation is no longer satisfied with church as usual. The youth of today are not interested in building an institution. What they are looking for is something all true followers of Christ have been passionate about from the beginning — the establishing of God’s kingdom. But for this generation, this is a lot bigger than merely building a local church. It is about being a kingdom-minded person! It is about experiencing the power of the kingdom now! It is about mission and being missional! It is about going into the communities and work places of our lives and seeking transformation!
As the Kingdom of God (heaven) was the central mission of Jesus Christ, so it should be the central focus and mission of our lives as well. Perhaps the Copernican model might be applied here too by thinking of the church as being that special body created by God that revolves around the Son of God and the work of His kingdom. What I mean to suggest is that the Kingdom of God is actually a much larger sphere by which God is working on many different levels and places to accomplish His ends. The church on the other hand is that very special part of His Kingdom by which He is seeking to steward the truth of the Gospel, prepare people for eternity, and raise up laborers for the harvest for the fulfilment of His kingdom work.
The implications of this new paradigm are huge! Christians need to be taught to understand (through the ministry of the church) that the main focus of their lives is their experience and participation in the life of the Kingdom. While the church is central to God’s kingdom work, it is not the main event. It is merely the primary means by which the Kingdom is established. Rather than building the church (which really is God’s business anyway) we should be seeking to encourage and train Christians about how to do God’s kingdom work in their respective sphere’s of influence and start churches or worshipping communities, as God’s power is being manifested through them.