There are those moments when you’re ‘all in.’ Palms sweaty, heart racing, trying to look cool on the outside but feeling the nervous excitement that comes when you’re taking a risk for God. There’s something about the in-breaking of God’s Kingdom that seems to centre around these sort of moments… but what do we mean by ‘Kingdom of God’ and how does it relate to evangelism?
As a fan of theologian NT Wright (particularly his outstanding book Surprised by Hope), my worldview as a Christian has been centred around the belief that Scripture is a unified story of God putting back together a world marred by sin, and of Jesus as the climax of that great narrative. Through his death and resurrection the future reality of God’s redemptive plan burst into the present, and we don’t just wait for the return of the King but we partner with God to see his Kingdom come now.
This shapes our ‘good works,’ our serving the poor, the sick, the lonely, those that society has left behind. This shapes our expectation around the supernatural, as we pray for the sick and the broken. And this shapes our evangelistic passion – we can confidently, wisely and humbly invite people to embrace love, wholeness, life and healing in a relationship with Jesus, the humble King.
What kind of pants do you wear?
Two quite distinct camps have emerged over the years that have caused us to lose something of our effectiveness. Scot McKnight has captured something of this in his recent book Kingdom Conspiracy. He talks about ’Skinny Jeans Christians’ who love Kingdom work – helping the poor, drawing alongside those society has left behind, and sometimes living in ‘intentional community’ to outwork this. Yet there is reluctance to invite people to give their lives to Jesus. But Scot doesn’t stop there. He critiques ‘Pleated Pants Christians,’ saying they’ve reduced the Kingdom to ‘redemptive moments’ where people come to faith, neglecting things like caring for the poor as a waste of time since mission is all about getting people into heaven.
I am convinced we’re called to it all! We’re called to serve the poor, care for God’s creation, care for the refugee, draw alongside the lonely, roll up our sleeves and serve our communities. And we’re called to invite everyone to the banqueting table of God’s love, challenging them to give their lives to follow Jesus, to pursue and be pursued by him, and to partner with him to see his Kingdom come.
So the skinny jeans and the pleated pants crowds need each other. I wonder whether we’ve lost something of a humble spirit that would learn from those who have a different focus or passion (1 Corinthians 12:12-27). There’s great power in a passion for both servant hearted Kingdom works and helping people journey towards Jesus.
If I’m honest, I don’t think we’re weak in doing ‘good works’ here in NZ. I’m proud of all the initiatives just about every church I come across is doing to serve their wider community. But I wonder whether we’ve lost some confidence in God’s power to break into the world and move supernaturally.
For example, a whole article could be written about Power Evangelism. A friend of mine was recently talking to someone who was very resistant to the topic of Jesus! But my friend asked to pray for the man’s back which had been causing him pain for many years. He said yes, even though he didn’t believe in God and had never been to church. His back was instantly healed, his eyes just about popped out in surprise and a conversation ensued that ultimately led to the person asking Jesus into his life! What a reminder that God’s Kingdom is not just of words but of power (1 Corinthians 4:20).
The Awesome in the Awkward
The area I’ve felt particularly challenged in is the lack of ‘redemptive moments’ I’ve offered people. I felt the Lord gently challenge me earlier this year: “Sam, in your church services, when is there an opportunity for people to cross the line to come to faith?”
I realised I was afraid nothing would happen, that people would reject me, that I’d look like a fool. So I began to step out, giving people an opportunity at the end of our services to become a Christian… and I was excited to see people actually respond! I realised I needed a ’Kingdom expectation’ around people coming to faith in our gatherings. Often God’s awesome power and Kingdom are found in awkward moments where people step out in faith. Sometimes the awesome is in the awkward!
We’re called to make disciples not converts, but conversion is a vital step in the journey. It requires someone asking a question: “Do you want to give your life to Jesus? Can I pray for you? Do you want to come to our Alpha course? Do you want to come and visit my church?”
The most thrilling part of seeing God’s Kingdom break in is when we see one of his precious children return to him. Over the last couple of weeks I’ve had the indescribable privilege of watching people who are a part of our latest Alpha course take real steps towards faith. Every Alpha night people from our community who wouldn’t call themselves Christians come in to our building. Some are going to Alpha, some to a parenting course, some to community youth programmes, some have engaged with our free budgeting service throughout the week. Through all of this we’ve created an ‘on ramp’ for people to journey towards faith in Christ.
My prayer is that there would be a fresh passion for God’s Kingdom in all its expressions and a fresh confidence in the power of the Gospel to change lives. May there be a ‘new normal’ in our expectation of the supernatural, the expectation that people will come to faith, and a great passion to pour out our lives to see God’s Kingdom bless all who encounter us.
Sam is the pastor of Grace Vineyard’s Beach Campus in Christchurch.
Are you in the ‘Skinny Jeans’ or ‘Pleated Pants’ brigade? How can you find a better balance between these two extremes?
What’s needed for your church to become a place where people can cross the line and come to faith regularly? What role will you play?
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