“Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here.” (John 18:36 NKJV)
So… I was in my mid-twenties and I found myself the “Director of Finance and Support Services” for a regional government agency. I’ll spare you all the boring details regarding how I acquired that position, but let’s just say that people “do” notice when you show up for work -and you work hard. Man, I thought I was somebody. I administered a budget of over 4 million dollars including managing payroll and benefits for almost 100 employees and oversaw the accounting, information technology, maintenance and food service programs while supervising a staff of sixteen. “I” only reported to the executive director; I had especially impressed myself by acquiring this position at the age of 27 with only an associates degree in general studies. I found myself making major decisions that profoundly affected other people.
I can still vividly remember the first time I was involved in making the tough decision to lay an employee off. It was the right decision for the organization, simply “a business decision.” -BUT, it had a profound impact on the person we laid off. I can still remember talking on the phone with her a few weeks after it had happened. She sobbed almost uncontrollably as I re-explained her options regarding health insurance and other benefits. She kept asking me why, “Why did we do this to her?” I stuttered through the conversation and finally got her off the phone. My executive director seem unaffected by the episode, but I could not say the same. I kept telling myself, “it is just a business decision.” “It is just business.” Telling myself that didn’t help much though.
As my secular career has progressed over the past 12 years I have always tried to remind myself during those difficult decisions, “this is just business.” As Christians in a secular workplace, we can do our best to stick to our values and ethics but at the end of the day what is best for “the company” has to drive the company decisions -and what is best for “me,” has to drive my decisions as an employee. -I have to admit that the more I have followed that logic, the more successful I became in the secular world. -Like it or not, that is the way that the world goes round. For those of you who are tempted to be pass judgement on me for making the above comments, please keep in mind that if businesses are not kept in the “black” and if government agencies are not run efficiently, then there are no jobs. -Thus the current condition of our economy.
Furthermore, as I translate these thoughts to words I cannot help but think that I would have become a much more “successful” pastor and church planter if I would have adopted this same logic from my secular career into my career in ministry. To grow a church, you always have to do what is best for the organization. If you need to throw someone away in order to “do what is best,” then the end justifies the means. -The betterment of the church is what is important, right? Upholding and supporting the church leadership is what is important, right?? Ultimately, getting butts in the seats is what’s important, right??? Please note that I am an equal opportunity critic with these comments. I have served and closely observed many different denominations and independent church groups over the past 18 years. And as I think back, I find that this logic is by far the most commonly used in the church. -At least in “successful” churches. Therein lies my frustration; a lot of today’s churches do not look much different from secular organizations. Sure we do a good job of sounding Christ-like, but “our systems” operate almost identically to the systems of the world.
Jesus said, “My Kingdom is not of this world.” Wow… there is a lot that could be said while “unpacking” that truth. Those of us who are students of the Gospels know that the disciples had a very hard time wrapping their heads around that truth -and I think we struggle just the same today. At the end of the day, Jesus was telling us that his Kingdom operates completely different from the world’s kingdoms.
Inserting Jesus’ statement into it’s original context gives us the most extreme example of this. Jesus tells Pilate, “If My Kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight (to defend me,) so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My Kingdom is not from here.” -So rather than Jesus’ servants (who He called “friends” -by the way) fighting and dying to defend Him, He surrenders Himself to certain death on the cross. Let us think about these last events of Christ’s earthly life even further. On the last night with His disciples rather than having them serve Him, “He” opts to wash their feet in a display of ultimate humility: the “Creator” washing the “created’s” feet. Let us ponder even further and consider Peter attacking one of the high priest’s servants sent to arrest Jesus. Jesus rebukes Peter and then heals the servant’s wound. And just for the sake of argument, let us consider Jesus’ fireside breakfast with the disciples on the beach -after His resurrection. Our resurrected Lord cooked the disciples a meal in His glorified body; take a second to wrap your head around that scene. -Our resurrected Savior was still serving. Surely “His” Kingdom is not of this world! How many of our worldly leaders can you imagine doing those things? How many of our church “leaders” have you ever seen doing anything like that? -Hopefully, at least a few, but I seriously doubt there are many. Our culture dictates that we act differently.
Yet, what were Jesus’ parting words to His disciples in Matthew 28:19-20? “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always,even to the end of the age.”
Jesus’ parting marching orders:
1. Go make disciples
2. Teach them what I taught you.
If we wanted to simplify these last commands from Jesus even further, I think it would be accurate to restate them as Jesus saying to the disciples -and to us, “Go do what I did.” -So then the question remains, “Are we doing today, what Jesus modeled for us in the Gospels?” When we look at American Christianity today, do we see a kingdom of this world? Do we see a kingdom that builds venues to compete with the venues of this world? Do we see a kingdom that markets itself just like the kingdoms of this world market themselves? Do we see a kingdom whose organizational structures function in a similar fashion to the kingdoms of this world? Do we see a kingdom with leadership that exhibits behavior from “a different Kingdom,” or does it’s leadership look very similar to the leadership that we find in this world?
If you answered the above questions honestly, perhaps you are feeling a bit of the frustration that I am. God’s Kingdom is not supposed to look like man’s kingdoms, nor does it attempt to compete with them. I have seen an innumerable amount of impressive church buildings. I have participated in worship services with the musical and speaking talent to rival the talents found in the world. I have been a part of religious machines that had millions of dollars flowing through them. I have served under very gifted, talented and charismatic leaders, who could masterfully lead hundreds of people. I have been a part of church politics that was just as complex and every bit as brutal as the political systems of the world. I have seen good people get “thrown away” and deeply wounded by our coveted religious institutions. And I have watched as God’s people, shepherds & sheep, were absolutely ruined by the world’s “matrix” working in Jesus’ bride. So please understand, I have to be candid and ask the obvious question: “Whose kingdom do we look like?” The answer to that question is the 10,000 pound elephant in the Church.
If there is to be any meaningful reform in the Church, we must stop competing with the world and reject the systems, tendencies, unholy methods and core values that are found in our secular culture. We must reject the complex systems of empty religion that have infested our Christian communities. Those of us who are still sober enough to realize our drunkenness must be brave and speak out. We must reject all of the excuses for bringing the world’s systems into the church. We must rediscover the elementary teachings of Jesus found in the Gospels. And we must return to the most basic elements of the Church.
-Next, we will begin discussing those basic elements. Stay tuned…