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Friday, November 3, 2017

Distilling it down -- the tasks of the church

To review a few basics from the last several weeks:

  • Churches are struggling to define themselves these days. Church leadership, growth, and management are all growth industries. 
  • Everyone who is in church leadership in any form struggles with some of the myriad of challenges facing today's churches. 
  • Though Jesus talked very little about the church, he did talk a LOT about what he called "the kingdom of God." 
  • It's important for Jesus followers to understand what the Bible says about the church, and specifically what Jesus means by this phrase, "the kingdom of God." 

So as we observed earlier, the Bible is shot through and through with this idea of the kingdom of God. How can we begin to get our heads and hearts around what this means for churches and individual Jesus-followers today?

For simplicity, let's distill the kingdom of God -- as witnessed throughout the Bible -- down to four basic concepts. We can make biblical arguments for each of these, and down the line we'll unpack some of that. But for the moment, let's just lay these four concepts / directives out there: 

1. Stewardship of Creation.
2. Stewardship of Community.
3. Proclamation of Jesus.
4. Proclamation of the Kingdom. 

If you know the Bible's stories, you might remember the Garden of Eden and God's directive to the first man and woman that they should manage the earth. "Till the earth and keep it" is one phrase that gets used to address this command. Another is that we should "have dominion" over the earth. We'll unpack this more in the future. 

As we read the New Testament book of Acts and the letters of Paul and others in the New Testament, we see an incredible priority on the stewardship of the community of believers. Basically the entire Bible challenges us to ask ourselves what love looks like in the context of the Christ-centered community. The stewardship of this community dominates so much of the Bible, both Old and New Testaments. Again, this is worth taking some time to unpack in the future. So let's. 

The followers of Jesus -- both the first disciples and the church today -- are called to be a proclaiming group. Our first proclamation is that we proclaim Jesus. Read the book of Acts and the rest of the New Testament and you find that the church is constantly proclaiming Jesus. The church today is too often tempted to slide away from focusing on Jesus -- but that never goes well for us. 

The followers of Jesus, this "proclaiming" bunch, are also called to proclaim the kingdom of God. This is the proclamation that we in today's church most often miss. What does it mean to proclaim the kingdom today? Jesus made this task incredibly clear, and yet it's so easy to miss. I'm very excited in the coming weeks to explore what it might look like for today's church to be a kingdom-proclaiming church. This proclamation goes hand in hand with our other tasks of stewardship of both creation and community, and our proclamation of Jesus. In fact, without those other tasks we really can't proclaim the kingdom effectively. 

So let's start next time with the stewardship of creation. If you're impatient, check out the poetry and essays of Wendell Berry, who has been thinking about these things in depth for many years. One of my favorite collections of his poems is called Farming: A Hand Book and it includes a character called "the mad farmer" who challenges us to think beyond what we have known before and to see more clearly than we have seen in the past. If you can't wait for that next blog post, those poems would make a great read!

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