The Gospel of the Kingdom

If you had 10 words to share with the world, what would be the most important thing you could say? Of course, in days gone by that would be a totally hypothetical question, but in today’s world, it’s a very real question. Everyday we are now bombarded with  hundreds of little 10 word sayings from social media, each of which have the potential to take off and get millions of views, if only we get enough other people to pass them on. So, if you had to reduce the most important thing in the world to just 10 words, what would you say? I want to suggest to you that we have 10 words from Jesus in Mark 1:15 which sums up his whole message. So, what does he say?

Jesus uses different language to the way we put things. We develop our own little Christian clichés and slogans to talk about Christianity- we talk about inviting Jesus to be our “own personal Saviour”, we talk about “Asking Jesus to come into your heart”, we talk about “going to Heaven when we die”. Some of these slogans are ok, some are better than others. The problem with Jesus’ slogan and His terminology is that I’m not sure it is an incredibly catchy slogan today. It’s not all that clear what he means, it doesn’t relate instantly to our culture. But if we are really going to understand Christianity properly, it really helps to go back to what Jesus was on about- even if we then adapt his language for our society today.

What is Jesus slogan? He says, “the kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the gospel.” Let’s think about these first 5 words – “the kingdom of God is near.” The gospel according to Jesus is that the kingdom of God is arriving. This doesn’t relate hugely well to us, because we don’t live in kingdoms anymore- well, technically we do- long live the queen- but really we have prime ministers, and elections, and senates, and double dissolutions- and kingdoms don’t really enter too much into our thinking these days. But the kingdom- this is Jesus’ gospel. This is really the message of the whole Bible- starting back in Genesis 1, where God tells man to rule the earth in his image- on through to the reign of King David in the Old Testament, whose kingdom was said to be an everlasting kingdom- Jesus in the gospels, Paul in Acts- right through to Revelation- where Jesus is said to be king of kings and lord of lords. If you look through Jesus’ teaching in the gospels- kingdom is the slogan used again and again, kingdom is the core concept which everything revolves around.

Jesus comes preaching the gospel about his kingdom. Gospel of course means great news- it was the word which was used by the Romans often to signify important news about the emperor- a messenger would come to a town proclaiming the latest important news about the king- our king has been victorious in battle; a baby has been born to the king; we have a new king who has been crowned today. It was the latest big news. So when the New Testament writers talk about the gospel of Jesus Christ, there is this in the background- there is a new king who has come- He is the greatest king of all- His rule will change everything- His name is Jesus Christ. But the other background to the word gospel comes from Isaiah 40, where Mark quotes from in verses 2-3.

Isaiah 40 starts a new section of Isaiah- and it starts with good news. “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.” What’s he saying? The hard times are over. Judgement is past. Verse 3: A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” God is coming. Look at v9. “Go on up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good news;lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good news; lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, “Behold your God!” 10 Behold, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. 11 He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.” There is it- the gospel is that God is king, and He is coming. One more verse from Isaiah. 52:6- “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”” This is the gospel. And so, when Jesus says- the kingdom of God is near- repent and believe the gospel- this is the gospel he is talking about, and He is claiming to be the one Himself who brings God’s kingdom to earth. The kingdom of God is coming- in Him, right now.

What did Jesus mean by saying- his kingdom was near? Because last time I looked,  our world is still a pretty messed up place. Let me summarise what Jesus meant by the gospel of his kingdom with 5 statements.

1. Jesus’ kingdom is a spiritual kingdom.
When people heard Jesus say- the kingdom of God is near- they probably thought of a soldier riding into Jerusalem on a warhorse. Jesus teaching of the kingdom is very different. In Mark 4- he explains how his kingdom will come- and he doesn’t use the image of a soldier, he uses the image of a farmer, planting seeds in a field- and those seeds slowly growing over time- until at the end of the world, there will be harvest time. Then there will be a public, physical kingdom- and there- evil, corruption, injustice, death itself will be done away with. But the present nature of the kingdom which Jesus was instituting was a spiritual one. Jesus was not coming to set people free from Caesar, or Herod, or any other earthly human ruler. Jesus was coming to set us free from our spiritual slavery- because that is our big problem- not our political system, or our educational system or our economy. The big problem we have is we have a heart which is enslaved- we worship idols of money, of sex, of religion, of status- idols which we don’t even know about- we are addicted to loving ourselves, we are in slavery to sin, and ultimately, we’re enslaved to Satan. Jesus comes to interrupt our world on a spiritual level, by setting individuals free- and bringing them into a new spiritual kingdom of freedom.

2. We need to enter into Jesus kingdom.
Jesus talks a lot about entering his kingdom. Usually, he talks about our entering the future kingdom- “going to Heaven when you die” if you like. Sometimes he talks about us being in his kingdom now. For example, Mt 11:11- “Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he”. Jesus talks about how we enter his kingdom- he gives several different images for how we do that. For example- Mt 18:3- “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn andbecome like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” Later Paul describes us who are Christians as being already in God’s kingdom- Col 1:13- He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”

So the question we need to ask ourselves is- do I belong God’s kingdom yet? Have I entered into it? Are you a citizen of Australia?  The answer is yes or no, not I hope so. Yet many people say they hope they are a Christian. You are either in God’s kingdom or you’re not in God’s kingdom yet. And if you never become a citizen of God’s spiritual kingdom in this life, then you will never enter into God’s physical kingdom in the world to come.

3. God’s kingdom enters into us.
Not only do we enter God’s kingdom, but God’s kingdom enters into us, and demonstrates its presence in our lives and in the world around us. Luke 18:17-  “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” We receive the kingdom of God- it comes within us- and Jesus starts to be Lord in our life. And the kingdom of God makes its presence felt around us. Mat 12:28- But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” Luke 10:8 “Whenever you enter a town and they receive you, eat what is set before you. Heal the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ 10 But whenever you enter a town and they do not receive you, go into its streets and say, 11 ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet we wipe off against you. Nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near.’” As God’s people live in our world, people should see the kingdom of God bursting out of us in all of its life, and so, they see the kingdom of God coming near to them.

Like in the novel- The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe- Aslan has arrived to rescue Narnia from reign of White Witch. The children are on a hike through snow to meet with Aslan- and what do they see? They see the snow melting, flowers starting to bloom, birds start to chirp, and signs of spring are everywhere to be seen. Why? Because Aslan is on the move. His kingdom is coming, his kingdom is invading. God’s kingdom invades our world now- the signs of the future kingdom are to be revealed in us right now- as God’s people show the beauty of God’s coming kingdom- in way we live, in compassion we show, in way injustice is dealt with. The kingdom of God is appearing, in our lives, and through our lives around us. A really good question to consider- what would it look like for the kingdom of God to invade my workplace? Where does the kingdom need to come? Where is there sin? Injustice? Sadness? Fear? How does God want me to announce his kingdom?

4. God’s kingdom is a subversive kingdom.
God’s kingdom operates differently to the kingdoms we are used to. Jesus says some fairly outlandish things. He says- in my kingdom- blessed are the poor in spirit- for theirs in the kingdom. Blessed are those who mourn. Blessed are the meek. He say- in my kingdom the first shall be last, and the last first. The rich will barely find a place in the kingdom. The religious will often be thrown out, and sinful no-hopers will be rescued. In my kingdom it is more important to serve than it is to be served. It’s more important to be generous than it is to be rich. It’s more important to be pure in your heart than correct in your theology. God’s kingdom is one which will challenge our natural way of thinking over and over again. It challenges our selfishness and the way we live.

It’s a little bit like Jarryd Hayne, Rugby League superstar, returns to break into the NFL- American football- for his second season. And when he returns, he gets interviewed by a reporter, and he says- I’ve got an important announcement. The days of the NFL are coming to an end. The NRL is coming to America. He says- at the end of this season, I’m going to return to Australia, I’m going to bring back an incredible team, called the NSW Blues, we’re going to play another fairly crummy team called the QLD Maroons, and when all America sees how we crush the Maroons, they will never play NFL again, they’ll all just start playing NRL. The NRL is coming. So now- Jarryd says- the time has come guys. I have come to set you free- from your shoulder pads and helmets. You need repent of all these forward passes you’re throwing. From now on, you need to stop all this constant subbing on and off- everybody gets to play all the time, except you get 4 on your interchange bench, but just 4, no more. And the ball, it’s going to change shape, it’s too pointy. A new era of true football is coming, and it begins now. God’s kingdom has invaded our world in the person of Jesus, and in Jesus people, the kingdom of God continues to invade and express itself, showing a glimpse of the future to come.

5. God’s kingdom is entered through death and resurrection.
The most surprising thing of all about Jesus kingdom- is that his kingship is inaugurated through the death of the king. The king dies for the sake of his subjects. Above Jesus head, there was the sign placed- this is the king of the Jews. Ironically, they were proclaiming a central truth of God’s kingdom without even knowing it- that God’s kingdom is begun and is experienced through the death of its king, and through his resurrection. And for us, we enter God’s kingdom and experience God’s kingdom through our death and resurrection- coming to an end of our old life, and beginning a new life through His Holy Spirit within us. Jesus says- “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.”

This is Jesus message for the world. His kingdom is near. And so, the mission Jesus has entrusted us with is to declare this truth- God’s kingdom is here. God’s kingdom is breaking in. God wants to pull us further into his kingdom, He wants to push his glorious kingdom deeper into us, and through us to the world around us.

Missional Communities- why I’m such a fan.

internet_man_personDefinition: A missional community (aka community group, gospel community, mid-sized community) is a group of 20-40 people living as a community of disciples on mission to a specific people group. It functions as a group distinct in its function in church life from that of the large congregational gathering on Sundays, and the smaller discipleship group of 6-10 people.

Here are 10 reasons why I’m such a fan of missional communities as a model of ministry:

  1. Provides an experience of the biblical style of house church alongside the larger congregational service experience.

There is a biblical basis for large gatherings of God’s people for worship and teaching. We see this for example in Exodus 19-24, 2 Kings 23, Ezra 9-10, Nehemiah 8-10, Acts 2. However, the most common experience of church gatherings in the New Testament was of a smaller household gathering around a meal, in which there was space for many to participate in prayer, teaching and worship, and which operated as a sense of family rather than a crowd. For example, we see this in Mark 13, Acts 2:42-47, Acts 20:7-12, 1 Corinthians 11-14.

The beauty of missional communities is that they allow both the congregational service style of church to operate side by side with the smaller household church style. The church experiences the benefits of both styles of church. Normal discipleship groups of 6-8 people usually lack the social dynamic that is present in the larger community sized group.

  1. Provides space for non-Christians or fringe Christians to find belonging and community.

Increasingly, more and more non-Christians are wary or negative about attending church services. Many will respond far more positively to being invited to a social environment, such as a bbq in the park, or a party. As they come to missional community activities, they will start to observe Christians doing activities such as praying for each other, sharing their life story, sharing from God’s word, and serving the community. This is a really helpful place for many non-Christians to experience Christianity in a friendly environment even before they come to a church service.

Church services are good places for some non-Christians to come to, if they are open-minded towards the church. They may attend a service and remain fairly anonymous. However, such people often will find it hard to make deep connections with people from church by merely attending services. They will need to develop genuine relationships with people if they are to keep coming.  Furthermore, they may feel rather intimidated by attending a small discipleship group in which they may have their ignorance of the Bible revealed. Missional communities are of the ideal size in which they may stand on the fringe of the group and observe the spiritual components of the community, while slowly becoming more confident on spiritual matters, and at the same time building deeply into relationships within the community.

It is also a great place for Christians who are new to church or on the fringe to connect at a deeper level with others. People can be easily invited along to community activities sometimes on their very first visit to church, whereas normally people wouldn’t normally want to sign up for a Bible study group on their first visit to church.

  1. Provides space for raising of new leaders in safe environment

Missional communities require leaders to run many activities such as:
a) sharing a devotional thought;
b) organising a social event;
c) co-ordinating prayer lists;
d) helping with pastoral needs;
e) lead discipleship groups
f) leading a time of worship

Because a missional community is only of a smaller size- ~30 people- it is ok for leaders not to be perfectly polished in their skills- for example- in sharing a devotion. They get to practice in a zone where they would not usually get so many opportunities to practice in the larger sphere of a normal church service.

  1. Provides an ability to create multiplying missional foci within a church that mobilizes individuals for mission and is sustainable.

Often a church may have no specific mission focus, other than just having a vision to reach everybody in the community around them. This may lead to a lack of intentionality in thinking about how to reach the specific people of that community.

Alternatively, maybe a church will have a specific mission focus- such as a school community. But because it is the focus of the whole church of ~100 people, many people within the church don’t really feel they are needed to get involved, and all the work is thus done by the small “faithful few” of the church, while a large number remain uninvolved.

Alternatively, maybe a church will have several mission focuses at the same time. However, this may often lead to the same faithful core of the church being pulled in several directions at once, and being unable to invest quality time in a single direction.

Missional communities provide a better solution to these alternatives. By intentionally creating groups of around ~30 people in the church, each of whom have a different major missional focus, this stimulates a greater mobilisation for everybody to have some active involvement in mission, as in a group of ~30 people, everybody is needed.

Although all people will be encouraged to think about how they reach out to the individuals they cross paths with in their personal lives, the group as a whole also has to consider how as a group they can focus on their specific people group. This gives people ownership in a joint mission, which teaches people the skills and thinking for their personal witness, and gives them a role in mission even if they have no personal strong connections with non-Christians.

Having multiple specific mission foci allows a realistic plan for reaching the specific pockets of the local community, rather than people bouncing between different opportunities of people groups in the community. Examples of mission foci could be: a geographical area; a school community; a sporting community; a workplace community; a people group such as disabled families or refugee community.

 

  1. Missional communities are “small enough to care, but big enough to dare”.

How can churches keep growing and yet keep the intimacy of community where people feel they belong and are just not individuals in a crowd? Missional communities provide a good solution. They allow a church to grow as large as they like, but also always provide people a community of ~30 people to find their place of belonging in, as well as their smaller group of ~8 to do discipleship in.

Rather than the pastoral care of the whole church being just dependent upon the pastoral staff, missional communities stimulate the provision of (low level) pastoral care being largely provided by the community itself, with this being overseen by the pastoral staff. A missional community of ~30 have the numbers to provide meals for those who are sick, visiting the elderly, helping the needy, when it is understood that the missional community needs to operate as a Christian family caring for one another. This is something which is often too big a task for the normal small group.

Conversely, a missional community of ~30 people is a group big enough to make a real difference and impact on a missional target. For example, a small group of 8 could hardly be expected to take on a state school of 500 as their mission target- they would quickly become exhausted. However, a group of 30 people which had several parents enrolled in that school could be the links with the rest of their community to inform them of opportunities to be involved in serving in the school, and have the manpower to make a real impact.

However, when a whole congregation of say 100 people all adopt the same mission focus, inevitably, many people will not feel as if their participation is really necessary, and the usual pattern will be that the majority of the work falls on the faithful core of ~20 people, and the rest of the congregation has little involvement. A missional community of ~30 means that everybody is needed to make the mission work.

  1. Provides an integration of discipleship in which all Christians are expected to be involved in discipleship, mission, serving activities, etc.

Often churches seek to provide a wide variety of ministries or activities for Christians to be involved in, such as Bible studies, social justice projects, social connection times, kids ministries, womens ministries, etc etc. These are all good activities and provide benefit for the church. However, the problem can be that they are often done in isolation from each other, and the effect is that they provide a smorgasboard which people can pick and choose from in what they want to get involved in. For example, some people will commit to doing Bible studies because they like to display their Bible knowledge, but not do any social justice activities because they aren’t very practical people. Other people will avoid Bible studies because they will feel insecure about their Bible knowledge, but may be happy to get involved in serving at a kids ministry. Some people will get extremely busy by being involved in nearly all of the activities on offer, leading to a problem of burnout over time.

Missional communities may provide a more holistic, simple and sustainable model. All Christians have one main commitment to a missional community- although they may also be part of other ministries if they wish to, such as music teams, mums ministries, etc. However, the missional community is the main tool for doing both discipleship and mission in the church. As part of life in that missional community, everyone is encouraged to be part of discipleship groups, as well as being involved in missional activities which the community organizes. Although you cannot force everybody to do everything, at least you can present an expectation within a community for everyone to be committed together to a common core of basics which is fulfilled in a holistic way within that community.

  1. Provides a simple and sustainable model of ministry, rather than one which fragments families and requires large organisation.

One of the challenges of our contemporary society is the busyness of life which many people get swept up in. Many forms of church life unfortunately only add to the problem rather than helping, by offering multiple types of event-focussed ministries which are done in isolation from each other and which require volunteers to run.

Missional communities emphasize a simplicity of lifestyle, in which people have only one main commitment to a missional community, within which different functions are met. Generally speaking, activities are done with families as a whole rather than seeking to cater for the needs of different individuals within families, so this leads to families being brought together rather than split apart. (Teenagers and young adults may be best served by having their own specific missional community to be part of).

The main focus of community activities is building relationships rather than running events, and the result is that while the community may have many connections happening within a given month, not everyone will be required to be at everything and the effort of doing these activities will be minimal. The result is that people have genuine time to spend deepening relationships and authenticity with one another.

  1. Provides a natural pathway for multiplication and church planting.             

Multiplying small groups can often be a difficult process as the 8-10 people form very close relationships, and become reluctant to divide in two to start a new group. After a group has gone through the process of dividing to start a new group once, they may be even more reluctant the next time to split another new group up again. The advantage of missional communities is that this process becomes easier as when a missional community multiplies to begin a new community, it may be divided using existing small groups within the community, and thus discipleship groups may stick together in the creation of a new missional community.

Another exciting benefit of missional communities is that it is a safe and risk-free strategy for church planting. Essentially starting a new missional community is a way of starting a new church without starting a new Sunday service, as a missional community begins to do everything that a church should do, other than run a Sunday service. When your church has multiplied enough missional communities, then church planting becomes a relatively simple and natural step forward, as it is simply a matter of sending 2-3 missional communities which are already operating as a healthy church family to commence their own church service as a new congregation.

  1. Allows the major focus of church life to remain on a healthy relationship with God, rather than running events.

Often a program-driven church has so many activities requiring organisation that sadly all the energy goes into ensuring a polished production of events and services which the public are invited to come and consume. Christian growth becomes an optional extra when there is time for it, as so much energy is required to run the programs the church is offering.

By contrast, a focus on missional communities provides a refreshing emphasis on the church simply living out their Christian worldview in community together in everyday life, and inviting their friends to be part of that. This is a process which is more focussed on seeing authentic Christian growth occur rather than just crowds attending impressive Christian programs and events.

  1. They work!

The all important question for many people will just be- but “does it work”? It would be obviously very silly to say that no other model of ministry can work. It would also be a big mistake to put one’s trust in a slick formula or model for ministry, rather than in the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit. There are challenges involved in seeking to establish effective missional communities which may make any numerical growth slower than a model which just seeks to attract a crowd through offering various programs. The reason for establishing missional communities needs to be because of conviction of its principles rather than out of pragmatism for its results, as such motivations may not be deep enough to provide the required persistence when things are not going to plan.

Nevertheless, it may be said that missional communities have a track record of success amongst those who have firmly followed through on such a model with discipleship and mission at the centre. I became intrigued initially with missional communities through reading of their success in secular Europe in the book “Launching Missional Communities: A Field Guide”, in which it is claimed they saw 725 new churches started in 3 years using missional communities. I quickly realised that the sort of incredible growth experience described there will not necessarily be reproduced elsewhere without the hard work required to place the necessary foundations in place, which will take quite some time, and who knows- perhaps the story there may not be as impressive sounding if it was given closer examination. However, my personal (limited) experience with missional communities is that they have been a breath of fresh air for myself, and I have seen more traction gained in mission and discipleship than in any other ministry tool I’ve been involved in.

Furthermore, it is interesting observing the general move towards them in many western churches over the last decade. The Baptist Union in Victoria is encouraging their development, with Crossway Baptist, the largest Baptist church in Melbourne, considering their use as “best practice”.[1] The Anglican diocese in Tasmania also has intentionally supported their implementation throughout parishes. In the UK, the Church of England uses them widely, as is seen in the “Fresh Expressions” movement and 3dm. Groups like 3dm and Soma are having a wide influence amongst church leaders in the US, with the largest church planting conference Exponential recently having a whole conference devoted to the topic of missional communities.

Similar models are also seen amongst other churches who do not formally use “missional communities”. Ed Stetzer, one of the most widely respected church growth consultants, argues for the importance of small groups having a missional component in his book “Transformational Small Groups”. Holy Trinity Brompton, encourages the use of large size groups they call “pastorates” as being the preferred method of integration of new Christians into churches after completing Alpha courses. Willow Creek Community Church implements “Sectional Groups”, where 4-5 small groups sit together in the same section of church and get together every month for a bbq together. Personally I have seen really encouraging traction in mission and discipleship in doing life this way, and have found them so invigorating and refreshing that it’s fairly deeply rooted in my DNA for ministry from here on in.

[1] https://www.buv.com.au/buvblog/entry/crossway-and-3dm

Jesus model of mission (Part 2)

See Part 1 here.

  1. Jesus proclaims the kingdom in word and deed. Mark 1:21-34.

ID-100259349When it comes to the crowds, Jesus proclaims the gospel in both word and in deed. There is a debate amongst Christians about the place of social justice in the proclamation of the gospel. There is also debate about the availability of the miraculous power of the Spirit for the church today in proclaiming the gospel. I don’t want to get lost in those discussions here, but the simple point to be made is that Jesus perfectly mingled his words and his deeds, as he preached.

The deeds of Jesus were not just deeds of compassion- they were deeds which symbolised the coming of the kingdom- blind eyes were made to see- symbolizing the spiritual sight which comes in the new birth; people were set free from evil spirits, symbolizing the power of Jesus to set us free from the kingdom of darkness. The deeds were right there beside the words, and the words are right there being spoken in the midst of the deeds. So often we are imbalanced; there are some sections of the church which are all about social justice, showing the love of Christ- they never seem to get round to declaring the truth of God in unambiguous terms which everyone can understand. There are other sections of the church in which it seems that people are so busy preparing for and delivering sermons, that they are barely ever seen as a church outside the church building.

A friend of mine took a non-Christian guy to church a little while ago, and his comment at the end of the service was, “Why do you spend so much time just singing each week, and sitting around in there? Why don’t you get out into the community and do something for others?”. It should never be the case that that criticism can be made.

This is particularly the case for us living in our post-Christian society. I think it was CS Lewis who argued that the way a young man will seek to convince a young woman to marry him will be rather different to the way a man tries to convince a divorcee to marry him. A divorcee might take more convincing. Our society believes that Christianity has already been tried- and it has failed. It may take more convincing than some countries which have never heard the gospel before. They may need to see the gospel before they will listen to it. This is the spirituality of Australia.

4. Jesus withdraws to recharge with His Father. Mark 1:35-38.

In Luke’s gospel, we have a very enlightening statement at the end- as Jesus faces his arrest, Judas has gone to betray him, time is very short, before the horror of crucifixion will come upon him- and it says- Lk 22:39- he came and went out, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives. Jesus had a custom, a habit, a practice, well used to doing, a rhythm of life. In the moment of greatest trial and challenge, he resorts to a well used practice- He retreats and withdraws- to the Mount of Olives- for recharging, strengthening, and empowering- as he communes with God in prayer. We see this pattern constantly throughout Luke’s gospel. For example, in 3:14- what does it say about the return of Jesus from his retreat? Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit. Then again in Luke 5:15- Great crowds gathered to hear him and to be healed of their infirmities. But He would withdraw to desolate places and pray. On one of those days, as he was teaching Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there… and the power of the Lord was with him to heal. There’s at least 4 of these preaching, prayer, and power cycles in Luke, and then several other occasions also where Luke reminds us of Jesus retreat to pray.

Jesus is a man in great demand- great pressures, everybody wants a piece of him, always more people to see, more crowds to reach. But here in Mark 1, we see Jesus priority on retreating to be with His Father. He is not driven or controlled by others’ expectations. Jesus lives according to His Father’s desires. His ministry is empowered by an intimacy with His Father.

The way many churches are set up, needs to change- because we take on this messianic complex- I am the saviour- everything depends on me- people’s eternal destiny depends on me- so therefore, I must hurry, hurry, hurry, work harder, work longer, put myself out there more- it all depends upon me. But of course, it doesn’t. It depends on Him, working through me and others- and so, that’s why it’s so important we are pulling back from the crowds- regularly- and spending time with the Father.

5. Jesus brings new life amidst dead religion. 2:18-22.

There was something wonderfully attractive to Jesus. The religious authorities complain- why doesn’t Jesus and his disciples fast? Why does Jesus associate with tax collectors and sinners? Why does his disciples do what is not lawful on the Sabbath? Jesus reply- new wine is for new wineskins. It’s a funny response to give to a religious legalist, isn’t it? To explain the nature of his ministry as new wine- the drink of celebration, joy, freedom. No wonder the religious authorities revile him. And no wonder the crowds flock to him, especially the tax collectors and sinners- because in Jesus they get something more than just a religious legalist, trying to subject people to their rules and judgementalism. There is a sense of life and freedom and beauty and surprise in the ministry of the Lord. That is what draws people to Jesus.

Where does this sort of freedom and authentic life come from? When people mingle with us, do they just sense we are out to make our church the most successful church? Do they just sense our mission in life is to outlaw gay marriage, or abortion? Do they sense our Christianity is about us feeling better than others, by being more moral or charitable? We would never say such things, but is it what people sense? Do they sense we are about winning arguments and are able to prove our worldview is far superior? Because we have lost sight of the wonderful grace of God, which frees us from judgmentalism and pride and self, and religion.

Jesus’ first miracle- John tells us- is the turning of water into wine. He takes the water from those water pots- which were used for ceremonial washing- and out of these cold dead religious water pots- he brings the most delicious wine anybody has ever tasted. And it says, because of this miracle, his disciples believed in him. Why did they believe? It wasn’t just that they saw the miracle, and said- “my logic tells me that water should not be turning into wine- my science tells me that is impossible- so therefore Jesus must be the Messiah and I should believe in Him.” There was more than that to it- those disciples tasted the wine. That’s why- they knew that this man was calling them to a life far richer than and far more beautiful than anything they had ever experienced in all their years of synagogue attendance and law keeping. And that is the key to mission, is it not?

Much more could be observed from the life and ministry of Jesus for our own model of mission. May God help us in taking the time to slow down and look at what we are so busy running around doing, and refocus our attention on the things which matter most which we see in the model Jesus gave us to follow.

Jesus’ model of mission

Jesus Model of Mission
(Part 1)

Most of us who are Christians are aware that there are all kinID-100259349ds of theories and models about the best way to reach Aussies for Christ. There is the “seeker-sensitive church” model, there is the “lifestyle evangelism” model, there is the “missional church” model, there is the “social justice and felt needs” model, there is the “get them before they reach the age of 12” model, there is the “one day you can come and join the band on stage” model, there is the “Billy Graham/Franklin Graham/Bill Newman crusade” model, there is the “Alpha course/Christianity explored/Introducing God/ Lifeworks” model, there is the “build a Christian school” model, there is the “why aren’t you getting out there on the streets and preach it on the street corner” model, and on and on it goes.

Of course there is nothing wrong with models of ministry. They are inevitable. We need to be willing to learn from methods used by others, and critically evaluate our own traditions we’ve been following. However, in this article I would like to reflect on the model which Jesus gives us. To be a Christian is ultimately to be a follower of Jesus, so I want to focus on what we can learn from Jesus ministry- this may not be an exhaustive coverage of all the important principles of mission- but I believe there are many very important principles which is easy to overlook.

1. Jesus arrives, preaching the gospel of the kingdom. Mark 1:14-15.

Jesus arrives preaching the gospel – and the key concept of Jesus’ preaching is concept of kingdom- it’s not having a personal relationship with God, it’s not asking Jesus into your heart, or going to Heaven when you die. “Kingdom” is the word which Jesus uses to summarise his teaching. What is the message of the kingdom?

Well, putting it simply, it is that Jesus is Lord. Jesus is King. In the first century, there already was a Roman emperor in place. People didn’t like having a Roman guy be in charge. They wanted freedom. The Jewish people were wanting a Jewish king to save them. And so, this is an attractive sounding slogan from Jesus. But the kingdom at hand which Jesus was talking about was one which was different from the one which people were expecting. Jesus was not bringing a kingdom which would bring deliverance from the Romans; Jesus is bringing deliverance from something far bigger; our sin, and the reign of Satan.

And of course, Jesus was not the king who had come on a war horse to fight the Romans. Jesus is the king who has come to lay down his life, as God’s perfect sacrifice for sin, and to rise again to open up God’s eternal kingdom. This is the kingdom of God according to Jesus.

The message of the kingdom which comes to us, is that there is a king who is able to save us from our slavery to our idols, to the sins which enslave us, to the god of this world Satan; Jesus is the Lord who can save us. And we can enter His kingdom, by following the same pathway of death and resurrection- where we take up the cross, and we say- my old life is over, its finished, its dead; and now, submitting myself to my new Lord in faith, I receive a new life to live in Him. This is the timeless message of the kingdom which we live and proclaim today. And we  of course must be so sure we are preaching the right gospel- not a self-help gospel, or a self-focussed gospel.

2. Jesus invites individuals to follow Him. Mark 1:14-20.
As Jesus goes proclaiming the kingdom to the crowds, what does Jesus do? He stops and calls out to certain ones, to leave their old ways, to start a new life to follow Him. Here in Mark 1, Jesus calls out to Simon and Andrew, James and John- and gives this invitation to follow him. In John 1, we find they had already been following Him, and had stayed a day with Jesus, observing his daily life. In Mark 2, it’s Levi, the tax collector, who is sitting at his tax booth, and Jesus issues the invitation- come and follow! In Luke 19, it’s Zacchaeus, amongst all the crowds, that Jesus stops specifically for- and invites himself home for a meal. What do we observe from this?

Well, Jesus has an interesting relationship with the crowds. He loves the people, He has compassion upon them, He cares for them, He teaches them- but on the other hand, Jesus seems to have little optimism for the crowds. Later in this chapter, the crowds are flocking to Jesus, looking for Him, adoring him, fawning over him. The disciples say- “everyone is looking for you Jesus”. Jesus says- “let’s go on to the next towns”. In Mark 4, Jesus teaches the parable of the sower, to the huge crowds – to the great majority, the truth of the parable goes straight over their heads; and they are a classic example of the first soil- the truth goes in one ear and out the other. Then, after telling the parable, what happens- 4:10- “when Jesus was alone, those around him with the twelve, asked him about the parables, and he said to them- to you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God.” Jesus didn’t get really all that excited about the crowds- he only invested his time with the ones who followed him home for the explanation. When Jesus gives his disciples instructions about what to do when they go out on mission- what does he tell them- “don’t go from house to house”. (Wish someone would tell the JWs that!) He says, ‘find the man of peace, stay there, and preach the gospel in that household’.

After Jesus’ ascension, the disciples of Jesus are gathered before Pentecost- how many disciples does Jesus have? 120. (Now of course there probably was a lot more, but allow me to use this figure to make my point!) That’s hardly a megachurch. But of course, we know from earlier in Luke, Jesus sent out his 12 disciples on mission, and then 72 others. So what does that give us? Jesus maybe only had a church of 120, but at least 84 of them had become itinerant missionaries. That’s not a bad success rate, is it? We’d be thrilled if 5% of our churches became full time missionaries- Jesus’ rate was 70%.

What am I saying? It’s easy for us to get obsessed with the crowds.  Of course, there is a place for ministering to the crowds. Jesus does it. But Jesus doesn’t get obsessed by the crowds, and think his job is done because he has thousands of people listening to him. Jesus invests most of his energy in a few, so that they will be enabled to reach the many.

We had at our church last summer our first outdoors Christmas carols night in the park. We were thrilled with the response. Hundreds of people came. A girl from church said to me, “now, if only we could herd them all into church there next Sunday morning.” If only. But that’s not enough. It’s the number of people that we have in discipling relationships that really counts, not the number of seats you have filled in Sunday church, not the number of teenagers filing through your youth group program, not the number of people queuing up for the church’s annual garage sale.

A second lesson we learn here is that Jesus invites people to follow Him. He invites them into his life. Don Carson tells the story of one of his mentors while he was at uni called Dave. Dave was witnessing to some bright non-Christians, and one of them said to him, “Dave, I’m a nice guy, always try to do the right thing- it’s just that I’m not religious. What difference does it really make?” And Dave said, “Watch me”. “Watch you?”. “Yeah, watch me. You can come and live in my apartment, see how I spend each day, have dinner at my table, watch my daily interactions, day in, day out, for 6 weeks, and you then you tell me if Jesus makes a difference.” As it happened, he turned down the invitation but nevertheless spent a fair bit of time becoming Dave’s friend over the next few months. He soon became a Christian and later a medical missionary. Are we able to invite people into our lives to watch us, and see Jesus in us?

Paul says numerous times: “imitate me, as I am imitating Jesus”. And so, it’s not just a quick 6 week Alpha course; it’s more than just a 1 night a week Bible study. Invite them into your life, invite them into your home, allow them to share meals with your family regularly, allow them to see how the gospel of Jesus shapes your parenting, how it shapes your marriage, how it shapes your finances. Remember 1 Thessalonians 1:4-6; “Brothers, loved by God, we know that He has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit, and with deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake. You became imitators of us and of the Lord. In spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. And so, you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia; your faith in God has become known everywhere…. Look at how Paul describes it in 2:8- “We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God, but our lives as well, because you had become dear to us.

Thirdly, the words “follow me” were not just an invitation to make a decision, sign a card or say a prayer. They were invited to follow Jesus. Some people may be pagans who we invite to follow Jesus- like Matthew or Zacchaeus. Some will be sincere and interested, but not really willing to pay the cost- like the rich young ruler. Some will be people who are young in the faith and they will need to be brought to maturity. There’s a range of people we will be inviting to follow Jesus along with us- but for all of them, it is never just a quick decision we are aiming at- it is a change of life, which begins with saving faith, and continues until that person is a missionary calling others to follow Jesus alongside you.

We need to go to the crowds- but why do we go to the crowds- to beat out of the bushes the few who God is calling us to invest time in, to share the gospel and to share our lives with. So, who are the few in your life you are investing in, and inviting to follow Jesus along with you? Who are you asking to imitate your life, as you imitate Jesus’ life? This is Jesus’ model of mission.

See Part 2 here.