In my work with RealityBites I sometimes go into schools in order to provoke young people to engage with Jesus’ wonderful teaching about the kingdom of God.
In July 2011 I spoke to about 300 largely unchurched teenagers at a sixth form conference in Newcastle. Here is an outline of that conference.
For about fifty minutes I spoke about celebrity culture, consumerism and commodification. I told stories about Jordan, Cheryl Cole and Russell Brand.
I contrasted these vignettes with Christians who are serving God in many different spheres of life. In particular I highlighted the Neema handicraft enterprise which employs 123 deaf and disabled people. This redeemed business is a huge blessing to many people in Tanzania.
A Christian psychiatrist then spoke about his calling to love broken, 'difficult' people who are made in God's image.
And then another Christian spoke about human trafficking and how young girls are lured into a brutal life of enforced prostitution. He spoke movingly about two Christian policemen who spent Christmas day looking for a young girl who had been enslaved by a group of thugs. This girl was too terrified to leave her kidnappers; they had callously told her that if she tried to escape they would do terrible things to her sister!
You could have heard a pin drop!
I then brought the conference to a close by talking about:
- the kingdom of God
- the hope of the resurrection and the restored creation
- why human trafficking is so appalling and how secularism is unable to give us a moral basis to object to it.
It was really encouraging how intensely both the sixth formers and the teachers present were listening! The young people had lots of questions and were very animated. We had excellent feedback as well. And no complaints.
How does this act of mission relate to the institutional church and God’s calling to his people, the worldwide Body of Christ?
Notice that we didn't reduce God's kingdom merely to church activity and church programmes. We began by helping people to understand the world in which they are living. In biblical terms we are helping them to understand the distinctive idolatry of our western culture. Sacrificing our children to the gods of nonsense consumption and economic growth is just as pagan as sacrificing our children to the Canaanite gods of Baal and Molech.
In this kind of missionary endeavour we are contextualising the gospel message by denouncing the false gods that western people are so prone to worshipping. This requires an understanding of both consumerism and materialism.
We are also talking about a Christian psychiatrist who is embracing his calling to bring mental healing to a broken world. Notice this is the calling of a psychiatrist and not a clergyman.
We also need to notice that in our presentation of the gospel we are not merely pointing to individual faithfulness to God but we are pointing to kingdom structures.
And these kingdom structures (Neema etc.) are not churches! They are businesses that are bursting with the good news of the kingdom.
We must beware of any understanding of God’s kingdom rule that reduces God's work to the institutional church. Of course Christians should gather together for the purposes of hearing God’s Word, taking communion etc but Christian activity goes far beyond these ‘religious’ activities. God’s people can also gather together for many other purposes as well.
When Christians reduce God's work to the institutional church we will simply recreate the problems and miseries thrown up by the medieval Roman Catholic Church. Life inside the church becomes ascetic and otherworldly. Life outside the church becomes secular and godless.
The God of the Bible is busy rescuing his broken creation from sin and death. This calls for both individual and structural renewal. And in this context we can talk meaningfully about redeemed businesses and other kingdom structures.