As we train our Apprentices here in London, one of our main goals is to instill Kingdom values into the whole of their lives. We point to God’s Kingdom as the big picture story that God is weaving all of our stories into, and how viewing our lives through that lens can open our eyes to greater purpose and joy, in particular in the midst of difficult circumstances.
We also spend significant time teaching and discussing the role of the worldwide Church, along with the local church, in God’s Kingdom work. The language we use for this is something our London Field Director has taken from the British theologian Lesslie Newbigin who described the Church as a sign, instrument, and foretaste of God’s Kingdom on this earth. This description of the role of the church starts from a belief that God’s Kingdom is something that is coming ultimately in the future in the new heaven and new earth, but that God is also bringing glimpses of His Kingdom into this world in the here and now.
The Church serves as a sign of God’s Kingdom as we point people to the good news of the gospel. I have been reminded of how good that news is during my time in London and other parts of the world. I see people desperately trying to give enough of themselves to gods who will never be satisfied. This comes in many forms: financial sacrifices and endless prayers to Hindu gods who seem to always require more, service to Allah with no assurance that anything they do is enough, shoppers on the high streets trying desperately to be pretty, thin, and well dressed enough to be deemed worthwhile by the culture around them. Our news is good because we have a God who is satisfied, and not because of anything we have done or can do to fulfill an obligation to Him, but because He became one of us and paid the price himself through His own life, suffering, death, and resurrection. That is good news indeed!
The Church also functions as an instrument bringing God’s Kingdom in this world through acts of love, kindness, and justice. I see many examples of the church as an instrument in this city: homeless film club, kids camps, youth clubs, and our charity shops in the city. Those are the more programmatic ways of serving the communities around us, but my favorite moments are when I see Apprentices in our churches being an instrument through becoming friends with someone so different from themselves, taking the child of single mum out for bowling and ice cream or helping to find temporary housing and work for a refugee who just arrived in London. These are the seemingly small acts that have great and eternal purpose in God’s movement in this world.
The final, and I must say my favorite, way the Church helps to bring God’s Kingdom in the here and now is as a foretaste. This is my favorite because it brings great kingdom purpose to every part of our lives. We are a foretaste of God’s Kingdom when we have a party because celebration will be one thing that marks the Kingdom. We are a foretaste when we share a meal with people because one day we will all sit at God’s table in fellowship. When I see my pastor holding the 6-year-old son of a member of our church, I see the familial aspect of God’s Kingdom. When we dance, sing, eat together, laugh, enjoy one another, and love one another, we have become a glimpse of God’s Kingdom to ourselves and to the world around us.
Using this framework for how the Church serves the coming of God’s Kingdom in the world around us has given me great hope and joy in the midst of very real difficulty and the darkness that I see and experience. It reminds me that nothing is without purpose, and that purpose is about more than just my circumstances or those of the people around me. The purpose is God redeeming the entire world through the entirety of time and space for our good and His glory. It is a wonder that I, or any of us, get to be a part of that.
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