Ever since I wrote a rather lengthy, and somewhat pretentious essay about the commissioning statements of Jesus and the Early Church, I've been asking questions about the kingdom, mission and the church. It finally crystallised with the emergence of the language of the missional community. As I tried to figure why, if it was the heart of the church's reason for existing, evangelism was so hard? Was it just down to the spiritual battle against the forces of darkness, or was it because somehow we'd lost the plot and prioritised the 'winning of souls' in a way that skewed the role of the church.
Suddenly the vocabulary of the missional movement gave me a way to both understand and express what I was feeling. The church wasn't here to lead a movement but to follow one. We weren't on a mission as much as we were in partnership with the God of mission. It was his mission, not ours.
That leads us the question "What does that mission look like in my community?" If the kingdom of God is among the people with whom I spend my time, how do I alert them to that reality? How do I stop trying to turn everything I do into a precursor for evangelistic engagement?
Well, I'm struggling to answer some, if not all of those questions, but I find myself every so often involved in seeing glimpses of what the rule of God means in the everyday interactions of my life. It usually comes as I sit and talk with people and they share their struggles and ask me what I think. One lesson I learned at college from a long serving minister was never give advice. If it works, they become dependent upon you, if it doesn't they blame you. So the best course of action is to explore ideas with them. I've had two or three of these encounters recently.
I don't carry a sign or a card identifying myself as some sort of life coach or counsellor or guru. I'm just me. I listen and more often think 'what am I supposed to say to that?' I try to reflect things back and somehow to allow the kingdom of God to reveal itself. I was once described as being ruthlessly committed to grace, and I think that still stands.
Grace changes everything. The unfolding story of the bible is of God's desire to be with his people. To share daily life with his creation. The tabernacle has long been a wonderful example to me of how far God will go to be at the heart of the community of his people. He does this not by providing an escape route but by making it possible for him to dwell amongst the people he loves. The tents and screens have less to do with keeping people at bay and more to do with God figuring out how to live amongst them without destroying them. Oh, and by the way, that's not the church, it's much, much wider than that. To equate the church with the kingdom is to miss the point almost entirely of the narrative of scripture.
So I try to be 'grace'. I can't think of a verb that does the idea justice. Gracious, graceful, just don't cut it. Perhaps grace-filled is the closest. I try to be the kingdom not just preach the kingdom. It doesn't always work. I'm trying to partner with God by living as best I can in the midst of a community. I guess we'd call that incarnational and I guess it's what Jesus did and what he calls us to continue to do in his name.