“Thanks, everyone, for helping to advance the kingdom.” The words hung in the air and I could almost see them in a comic strip-style balloon hanging over his head. The man who made the statement is the senior pastor of the community of Jesus followers my husband and I are a part of.
Let me start by saying that our community describes itself as “a church for people who aren’t into church.” This description plays itself out in many ways, one of which is an intense focus on home churches. Every week there are small groups of between five and thirty people meeting together in someone’s home to discuss the sermon. The setting is informal, relaxed and very much like extended family. In short it seems to embody much of what it means to be part of a community of Jesus followers. The weekly teaching is available by podcast and on the church’s web site, so frequently there are home church participants who didn’t attend a Sunday morning service. The teaching comes from a general perspective of advocating for peace and the end of religious forms without meaning, among other things. All of these things have contributed to helping me feel comfortable there as I’ve spent the last couple of years exploring what I really believe about church.
I’ve started cautiously putting my toe back in the water of church involvement by volunteering. I spend my time counting out support materials for the children’s Sunday morning classes. There’s nothing about what I’m doing that could remotely be described as high profile and that’s fine with me. Like I said, I’m just getting my toes wet. I believe that in the description Jesus gave us of His values, He sees substance in all contributions.
Recently when I arrived for my volunteer time, rather than being greeted by the general quiet of the remotely located resource room, I found a beehive of activity. The staff was gearing up to launch two new locations. Since the meeting locations are rented for Sunday morning services, the material and equipment are set up and torn down each week. Preparing to start two new locations means a furious amount of effort gathering supplies and organizing them into rolling bins that can be easily handled by one or two people. I spent the next few hours that day placing supplies in plastic bins, counting out things like disposable diapers and generally providing an extra set of hands to the operations staff.
This was the setting for the pastor’s statement. As he was leaving the building for a lunch time appointment, he stopped by the resource area. I understand the desire to make sure everyone knows that their efforts are appreciated. I’m sure that’s what he intended with his comment. There is no way he could have anticipated that his words would trigger a completely different reaction in me.
In my experience in the Church we have used the idea of “advancing the kingdom” to justify working without rest, setting no personal boundaries, as though we are the ones responsible for the advance rather than joining our abilities to the overwhelming plan of God to advance His kingdom. Also fairly often we have equated “advancing the kingdom” with building a larger Church. I love this quote from the Africa Bible Commentary discussing Jesus’ comments about His kingdom in Matthew:
“the kingdom of heaven is not primarily the church, but is God’s sovereign rule in the whole universe, including the church.”
We aren’t “advancing the kingdom” by starting two new meeting locations. We are “advancing the kingdom” when we love the unlovely, ensure that widows and orphans have a safe place to live and food to eat, make ourselves friends of prisoners and generally reflect God’s image into places that our culture would rather ignore.