C.S. Lewis said, “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.”
Each of us will live forever. We’re superheroes, yet severely flawed. Like superheroes depicted in movies and comic books, we each have a kryptonite. Even Superman has a weakness he can’t overcome. Ironman has a temptation he can’t resist. We likewise are all fallen – easily lured by ego, greed, lust or some other fatal flaw. But Christ-followers have more potential and power than any Marvel Avenger – because Avengers can be killed with no hope of resurrection.
Therefore, the biblical definition of a “church” is an assembly of “called-out”, Christ-following superheroes. A group of churchgoers in a particular building under a certain pastor may fade due to splits, factions, transitions or aging. However, born-again believers are immortal and their status as children of God is everlasting. Citizens of God’s Kingdom are those who permanently belong to His indissoluble family through faith in Jesus Christ.
Given those truths, a logical implication of C.S. Lewis’ quote is that…
Churches are mortal. Kingdom is not.
In other words, congregations are temporary and shouldn’t be emphasized more than Kingdom. Differentiators pastors emphasize to distinguish themselves from other congregations divide rather than unite the Kingdom. Attraction and retention practices churches employ to grow their congregation (often at the expense of other local fellowships) are rooted in worldly (which run counter to Kingdom) principles. However, the Kingdom of God, its foundational characteristics, and those who are part of the Kingdom are eternal. More specifically:
- Denominational differences are mortal. Truth is not.
- Leadership hierarchies unduly elevating pastors are mortal. Humility before almighty God is not.
- Building institutions through church growth strategies is mortal. Discipleship is not.
- Physical structures are mortal. Those sitting in the pews are not.
- Pouring into programs not specifically contributing to disciple-making is mortal. Godly compassion is not.
- Material prosperity is mortal. Treasures in heaven are not.
- Even relationships among churchgoers are mortal. The family of believers is not.
The universal body of believers (capital “C” Church), like individual believers, is permanent and will be victorious in the end. Jesus guaranteed that “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it”. In other words, congregations may come and go, but nothing can wipe out the ongoing community and gathering of those who worship Jesus. In fact, persecution in countries aimed at eradicating Christianity by shutting down churches typically has the opposite (of its intended) effect. Outlawing public worship eliminates institution-building, flattens hierarchies, weeds out fence-sitters, disperses Christians into homes and makes discipleship no longer optional – all fueling rapid growth of Christianity.
Jesus mentioned Kingdom over 100 times, but church only twice. However, one of those two statements was “I will build My Church”, indicating personal ownership by Christ Himself. So Church matters. But Kingdom always matters far more than any church. Kingdom is the point of church; church is not the point of the Kingdom. The parables of Jesus teach that Kingdom permeates everything, not just churches. The Kingdom is among us yet within us. Unseen yet infinitely impactful. Always growing and causing growth. Branching out yet tying together. Solidifying yet separating. The Kingdom of God, ruled by King Jesus, is the seed, the harvest, the treasure, and the yeast. It’s what we all should be seeking, hoping will show up today, and praying will come in greater measure soon.
However, most pastors in America prioritize their churches over Kingdom on a weekly basis:
- Kingdom orientation collaborates. Churches increasingly function independently.
- Kingdom orientation is generous. Churches today typically allocate less than 1% of their budgets to local missions or their persecuted brothers and sisters overseas.
- Kingdom orientation isn’t worried if a member goes to another Gospel-centric church. Churches cling and cater to keep the body intact and ensure viability.
- Kingdom orientation is concerned about depth. Churches track nickels and noses.
- Kingdom orientation convenes wherever and however is most effective for reaching the community. Churches invest heavily in centralized location(s).
- Kingdom orientation diligently trains and equips disciples for evangelism. Churches preach weekly messages and hope attenders will join occasional small groups (run by untrained leaders).
- Kingdom orientation relies on Jesus to grow the body of Christ. Churches subscribe to conventional growth models.
Kingdom is the destination. Church is a vehicle. Many who haven’t surrendered their lives to Jesus attend church regularly and serve diligently. Unfortunately, overemphasis on church attendance and engagement has implied that church is a viable destination. Not pushing evangelism, discipleship or sanctification has allowed churchgoers to stay comfortably parked in the garage, not risking an accident on the drive toward (seeking) the Kingdom.
A reliable mode of transportation is helpful in getting to any destination. However, pastors that stress church at the expense of Kingdom are putting members in the passenger seat of a car with engine trouble. Kingdom-focused pastors put members where they belong – behind the wheel of a high-performance vehicle, far more likely to get them where they need to go.
So Now What?
Church leaders should stop choosing the mortal over the immortal. But how? The answer lies in:
- Redefining – Debunk the common misconception that church is a place where people go on Sundays and promote its biblical meaning as an assembly of (immortal) superheroes
- Uniting – Put aside (mortal) differences between denominations, churches and pastors; instead rally around the (immortal) Kingdom goal of reaching the community for Christ
- Collaborating – Take more (immortal) Kingdom “ground” in a city through collective impact, working together to move the needle on important causes and issues affecting local families
- Coordinating – Consider how the strengths of each church and ministry map into the larger (immortal) body of Christ to develop a big-picture vision and strategy for city-wide transformation through prayer, care and share
- Deflecting – Refuse to turn compassion efforts into (mortal) branding opportunities, instead giving glory to God and credit to other partners who played key roles
- Giving – Expand the overall Kingdom footprint by redirecting (mortal) building funds to (immortal) disciple-making initiatives inside and outside your church
- Sharing – Cling to no one, even encouraging some to attend another church if yours does not provide them applicable opportunities for (immortal) growth, service, compassion and missions
- Measuring – Adopt only (immortal) metrics around Kingdom and disciple growth, which do not align with the (mortal) growth models of most churches today
- Reorganizing – To achieve (immortal) Kingdom goals, create leverage by flattening the org chart, decentralizing structures and equipping lay leaders (e.g. to be “pastors of their neighborhoods”)
God only has one plan for your city. His will is not divided. No doubt the Lord uses different churches to reach different people to accomplish His plan – but it’s still one (unified) plan. Churches should therefore be working toward the same outcome – seeing everyone in that city come to know Jesus. Unity around that goal would no doubt multiply the Church’s (immortal) impact in the community, but unity is impossible when any pastor is deeply concerned about his church’s mortality. Survival instincts lead to seeing members as “customers” to attract and retain – not as the embodiment of “church”. Striving for (individual) church growth keeps pastors from participating in joint efforts to pursue the intended target “customer” of the body of Christ – those who do not have a relationship with the Lord.
It’s Your Turn…
Where have you seen churches uniting year-round to demonstrate God’s love within a community, choosing shared (immortal) Kingdom goals over (mortal) impediments to collaboration?