03 February 2012

owning the kingdom

We often use language of "owning it" when we think that someone needs to take responsibility for something.  If it is a failure, we simply want someone to "own it" and acknowledge the fact that they were wrong, hopefully on the path toward reconciliation.  This doesn't always happen . . . maybe this doesn't frequently happen, and typically it is painfully obvious to others when someone refuses to own it.

On the flip side, there seem to be ways that people need to own a success and take responsibility for it.  I think that is what it means to be workers for the kingdom of God.  What has been brought into the world, handed over to the work of the church, and what the Spirit is wanting to inspire, is something that God's people need to own.  It must become our kingdom if the partnership between heaven and earth is going to yield God's restored creation.

Of course, we are Reformation people and this sounds like it could be works-oriented theology, thus we must reject it altogether - sola fidelis!  For the same reason we must also acknowledge that this sounds like it could be humanity-based kingdom work, thus we must reject it altogether - sola gratis!  (And, if one is conservative this then sounds like some version of liberal social gospel, in which case . . .)  However, the fact remains that the church has been instituted with the purpose of implementing the kingdom of God, once inaugurated by Jesus and now being fulfilled by the Holy Spirit at work through the covenant community.  And that means any failure to grab hold of the ownership of God's kingdom is a failure to serve the king who commanded us to go into the world with the gospel.

We are to own the work of the kingdom of God because that is Jesus' desire for us.  Think about his words to the church in Thyatira: "To the one who is victorious and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations - that one 'will rule them with an iron scepter and will dash them to pieces like pottery' - just as I have received authority from my Father" (Revelation 2:26-27).  Not only is the messianic promise of God-appointed kingship (as expressed in Psalm 2) given over to Jesus, but he now makes a guarantee that those who are faithful participants in his kingdom will also share in God's rule.  Messiahship is a big deal because it is God's throne being established through and along with (cf. also the shared authority of the Son of Man in Daniel 7) the human king.  Now the promise is that those who are faithful followers of Jesus will also benefit from that same relationship.

All of this is to say that the future intention of the kingdom of God is for his people to own it.  And if we are to believe (in NTWrightesque terminology) that God's future has come rushing into our present, then we ought to be owning God's kingdom here and now - presently living the guaranteed future victory that has been achieved through cross-resurrection-ascension.

Can we then own the kingdom of God as Jesus desires for us?  Can we take up the ministry that needs to happen in our world?

An example from my own congregation on this . . . Until a couple of years ago we had a thriving children's ministry and youth ministry.  Because of a number of circumstances and situations, that all fell apart and we were left with one or two children (at best) and three youth.  After a long stretch of praying, seeking, working and laboring in the direction which God's Spirit has led us, we are seeing a marked increase in both of these ministries.  But, we have (once again) discovered that one must be careful for what you ask God.  For in the last couple of months our Wednesday night youth has gone from 10 to 45, and our children's ministry is beginning to gain traction also (about 10 on a Sunday morning).  The positive numbers are fine, but the emphasis needs to be on another figure - the lacking number of people in our congregation who are willing to own these ministries and come alongside as workers for the kingdom.

Our church is by no means unique in its struggle to get volunteers on board.  So these comments, while certainly written with my immediate context in mind, are meant for the larger body.  If we truly sensed that we were owners in the kingdom of God then we would be more invested in what is happening as kingdom-work.  In our situation we are looking at youth and children, our spiritual heritage as the family of God.  If we cannot care enough to work within their lives then we ought not be considered part of the faith in the first place.  All is not lost, for sometimes we must wake up to this reality . . . and I believe that there is still some waking up to take place in our congregation(s).  To own this is not only taking responsibility for the wrongs, but stepping up and grabbing hold of the rights.

Even Walmart has ownership figured out (at least, conceptually). When we stop using the term employee and start using associate, then people will consider their work with a higher value.  At least, initially this worked.  But we have an even higher ownership - the renewal of heaven and earth and the coming of the kingdom of God.

I believe that if we as the present generation of the church does not fully embrace the kingdom of God, as his people, then God is going to move on toward the next generation and allow us to wander in the wilderness until his people can serve him with their whole hearts, minds, souls and strength.  This is where many of our congregations find themselves today.  As leaders we should value that which God values and focus our ministries to the places he is doing his work.  Let the remainder drift out into the barren desert and become a forgotten generation, for his kingdom come is all that will last.

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