So this past week David McQueen, the senior pastor at Beltway Baptist and I, swapped pulpits for one Sunday. I preached at Beltway, and he preached at Highland. It was a great experience for me, Beltway is a Kingdom oriented church, and I was so glad that David (someone who grew up in Churches of Christ, but hadn’t preached in one for decades) was able to bless the people at Highland.
The very next day, Ben Siburt (the Executive Minster at Highland) and I went on a pastors retreat for churches in the area, where we prayed, worshipped and dreamed together for the city of Abilene. And then we all took communion together.
At one point during breaking bread together, one of the pastors stood up and confessed that he had been jealous of another pastor’s success. For years, he had looked at this church across town with envy, he had wanted not just to have what this other pastor had, but he also didn’t want him to have it. He had wanted to build his own little parody of a kingdom, have everyone look at how successful he was, but that was not the lot he was given in life. So he envied.
And all the other ministers squirmed in their seats. Because the dark side of ministry is that all of us can feel like this.
But then the minister went onto say, but God has been working on my heart the past few months, and I’ve realized something. When this other minister succeeds, I succeed. When his church grows so does mine. Because there is only one church.
And this is at the heart of what it means to be a Kingdom church. Kingdom of God language is common in churches, it sounds great, it’s inspiring and taps into the deep recesses of our souls about belonging to something larger than ourselves. But underneath a lot of our language is a little talked about fact, that’s not very Kingdom oriented. Churches compete with one another.
In the business world, there is a metaphor that I think is appropriate. Strategist say that a market that is over crowded is like a red ocean, it is the known market space. Industries boundaries are clearly marked out and accepted, so different companies try to outperform. Competition becomes cutthroat and it turns the ocean bloody. That’s why they call it the red ocean. Sharks are fighting for survival.
That’s exactly what churches in our culture can easily become.
But what if it’s because we are asking the wrong questions?
The Abilene police chief addressed us all yesterday, and told us that in Abilene, somewhere around 70% of people are not connected to any church. In Abilene, there are an increasing number of people addicted to meth, cocaine, weed and heroin. The abuse of children is growing rampantly, and not by teachers or baby-sitters, but by other family members. Homelessness and poverty has grown to unprecedented proportions, and now so has burglary. My heart for Highland is that we do grow, but not primarily with people who are just coming from another church.That’s just swapping sheep and calling it Kingdom.
My heart for Highland is that we work in the mission field that is all around us.
Because that is a blue ocean.
A wide, wide world filled with God’s redemptive potential and nobody’s competing with one another for that kind of ministry. In fact, it kind of needs all of us.
See, one thing that we can forget as pastors, or church members, is that our churches are actually a part of something larger.John Wayne once said, “I like God, I just don’t like him under a roof.” I think what the Duke is getting at it is exactly this. It’s something that our culture realized and has called us out on it. The temptation for churches is to talk about the Kingdom of God, but then keep it within the four walls of our building. But that’s not the way the Kingdom of God works.
It’s wild and untamable, and sometimes untrackable. It’s mustard seeds and moving mountains, it’s the poor and the rich coming together for restoration, it’s where the whole is more than the sum of it’s parts. And when one of us wins. We all do.
It’s a deep blue ocean out there. And it’s time to swim in it.