In this, the third and final post in our series, we pick back up on the theme of Jesus being Lord of us. In the first post we explored the implications of Jesus being Lord of our lives. In the second post we considered what it looks like to be a Jesus-led team. We discussed shared leadership, covenantal relationships, and commitment to the Kingdom of God. But what happens when the commitment to the Kingdom extends beyond the team to the whole organization? What does it look like for us to be a Kingdom-focused people?
We remember that the Kingdom of God is a collective experience, not an individual one. In a western or individualistic mindset it can be hard for us to intuitively understand what the Kingdom is. A western mindset starts from the focal point of the individual and extends outwards to the group and then the community. But in a Kingdom mindset, the kingdom does not function as an extension of the individual. Instead, it exists before and beyond the individual, and the people simply find themselves within it. When we live as a Kingdom-focused people we ask for Jesus to be Lord of our neighborhoods, communities, and cities. In this way, when Jesus is Lord, the church serves the Kingdom and is not an end unto itself.
Our understanding of Jesus (Christology) forms and shapes our understanding of how God interacts with the world (Missiology), which then determines how we exist together as the people of God (Ecclesiology). All of this is refined and shaped by our understanding of Jesus and together comprises our understanding of the Kingdom of God.
A Kingdom-focused people are not looking for power and authority, but rather they come with a servant’s heart. Like Brother Lawrance in Practicing the Presence of God, they serve the King anywhere the King places them. Whether the position is grand or lowly, each assignment is sacred and done for the glory of God. The same is true with the Kingdom-focused organizations. When Jesus is Lord of our organization it does not matter if we are big or small, known or unknown. What matters is whether we are being faithful to our specific assignment.
When Jesus is the Lord of our organization we know we are not the end or the answer, we are just a part. We know that the Kingdom is bigger than our ‘thing’ and we are here to point people towards Jesus as the answer and not ourselves.
There is peace and rest to be found in seeing ourselves as merely a piece in the whole design. We don’t have to carry the burden for the whole Kingdom coming. Our part is really quite small. But that does not mean it is unimportant. We can fall in the ditch on either side of the road where we think more or less of ourselves than we ought to. We are small, it is true. But it is also true that we are precious.
When Jesus is Lord of us we can be as small or as big as the Lord determines because we are so satisfied in who Jesus is for us that there is no comparison or competition with anyone else. This sets us free. We don’t have to do what someone else does, only better. We don't have to do what they do at all. We only have to do what we are supposed to do and the narrowness of our assignment is perfectly designed for us.
Many leaders and organizations struggle with comparison and competition. Our culture, indeed our very economy is built upon it. We are so focused on winning, gaining and being the best that it blinds us and leverages our selfish ambition - even in the name of ministry.
We don’t have to be the slickest, coolest, or most appealing ministry on the block. It was said of Jesus in Isaiah 53:2 that “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.” (NIV) Jesus was substantive, not ‘sexy'. This is something we have to learn to embrace if Jesus is to be the Lord of us and we are to look like him.
City transformation not church growth
We know that Jesus is not contained in our organization - we don’t have the capacity to express his fullness. Instead, our organization is merely an organ in the body of Christ. We are just a ‘member’ of the body Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 12, and to do our work we must be connected to other ‘members.’
God’s heart is so big and the Kingdom of Jesus is so vast and beautiful that no one person or one organization can carry it. It takes all the kaleidoscope of human existence to fully reveal the heart of God.
God’s heart is revealed when his children play well together. Partnership is the antidote to the sicknesses of comparison and competition. God’s design is that we work with other kingdom-focused people to be part of what Jesus is doing in our joint sphere of influence.
If Jesus is the Lord of our organization we can partner with others in humility and work for city transformation. What if the church could focus on something greater than numbers? What if the church helped feed a school, or revitalized a neighborhood? What if the church visited those who were shut-ins or in nursing homes? What if the church planted gardens and trees, or taught English-language classes? We are meant to be a people focused on the Kingdom coming around us, in our neighborhoods, towns, and cities. We are called to be a people that love Jesus well, everywhere.
This releases us from just focusing on growing our organization. We don’t have to worry about how many people Jesus brings to do our ‘thing’ with us. We can trust that Jesus will meet and supply all our needs according to his riches in heaven (Phillippians 4:19). This is not a statement of naivete or abdication of responsibility. Personally, I don’t believe you count fruit - you celebrate it. Instead, you measure what you can control, like how many days you labor (6) and how many disciples you are personally making (1-3). It is about being faithful to what is our responsibility (farming) and trusting Jesus with what is his responsibility (fruit).
Kingdom-minded people don’t compete for resources, they partner for them. Sometimes we see needs that are not part of our assignment. But rather than looking for more resources inside our organization to meet those needs, we should partner with others to address them.
A Kingdom-minded organization fears the Lord enough not to stray off-assignment. We can choose to release into the hands of Jesus all that lies outside of our assignment. We can choose to be less so that Jesus is more, working through other organizations.
Phillippians 2:1-4 (NIV)
Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others.
An organization gives greater lordship over to Jesus when they prefer the other and work for the good of the other. We can get together and ask where Jesus is moving in our communities and what his heart is for the people around us. We can support and champion the assignments of others. We can collaborate, and celebrate when the Kingdom wins.
A Kingdom win anywhere is a Kingdom win for everyone. In my leadership, this has looked like partnering with other organizations to meet the needs of those less fortunate in our community. Instead of keeping our own food pantry, we partnered with a faith-based non-profit in our small community to provide them food supplies and send people to them who needed assistance. The food pantry, the soup kitchen, the clothing supply, housing support, and addiction support were all carried by different organizations in partnership with one another.
Additionally, when people came to the community and expressed an interest in finding a church, I would ask them about their theological stream and worship style. I would recommend a kingdom-focused church that was a match for them rather than trying to implore them to come to my church. Each person who found a faith community that resonated with their heart language was a Kingdom win. When Jesus is the Lord of us, we are free to do this and celebrate others.
If we are Lord of our organization, it becomes a demonstration and validation of us. This is what causes us to compare and compete. We cannot celebrate others because we think one more tithing attender for them is one less for us. But that is not the Kingdom where Jesus is Lord. That is only our tiny fiefdom. And if we are on the throne than Jesus is not. As we talked about in our first post, Jesus does not share thrones. He will not share with us, so we have to choose.
Brothers and sisters, let me urge you that the way of Jesus is much better. It is the way of life. Jesus makes a better King and Lord than we do. When Jesus is Lord of us there is no more competition and no more comparison. Instead, the Kingdom reflects the King and is full of life, light, love, and freedom, to the glory of the father.