Which Gospel? The Gospel of Community, Part 3 (Kingdom Parables)

Have you ever noticed how often Jesus begins a parable with the “Kingdom of Heaven is like …”? Well, replace “Kingdom of Heaven” with “church”* and re-read those parables. For example,

(Mat 13:31-32) He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. 32 Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches.”

How is your congregation a place where birds come and perch? How do you offer sanctuary to those who need it?

(Mat 18:23) “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. …

Is your church a place where servants forgive as they’ve been forgiven? A place that generously offers forgiveness to its own members?

(Luke 14:15-24) When one of those at the table with him heard this, he said to Jesus, “Blessed is the man who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.”

16 Jesus replied: “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. 17 At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’

18 “But they all alike began to make excuses. …

21 “The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’

22 “‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’

23 “Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and make them come in, so that my house will be full. 24 I tell you, not one of those men who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.'”

How is your congregation like man preparing a great banquet who invites many guests?

We live in a highly individualistic, highly consumerist society. Our members attend church looking for what services the church has to offer them. They feel far too little loyalty to their congregations, treating them like spiritual malls. And at just the time we need to be working against the culture and the self-centeredness of much of America and pleading with our members to become truly committed to our communities, I see a push toward a highly individualistic religion. It worries me.

Isn’t the central problem that we want to overcome with spiritual disciplines selfishness? Isn’t that the root of our problem with divorce? Isn’t that much of the struggle to be the church God called us to be?

And isn’t the solution to selfishness serving others? I mean, if the church continues to serve its members while not insisting that they become servants, how much like Jesus will our members be? And how can our members become servants other than by serving?

You see, I’m persuaded that much of the problem of our individual Christians is a problem of our churches as institutions. We aim too low. We coddle and cater to our members rather than placing before them a banquet of Godly mission to be shared with the world. Why are we surprised that they aren’t excited? We’ve trained them to be consumers, not servants, and one day, we leaders will have to answer for it.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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5 Responses to Which Gospel? The Gospel of Community, Part 3 (Kingdom Parables)

  1. Alan says:

    We aim too low.

    Amen!!! Amen!!!! Amen!!!

    Jesus said "Be perfect, therefore, as your Heavenly Father is perfect." Ok, someone will want to replace "perfect" with "mature" or "complete." Go ahead — it doesn't help. Is any of us as mature as our Heavenly Father? Is any of us as complete as our Heavenly Father? Of course not. The real problem is that we don't even aim that high.

  2. Amen, as well.

    And perhaps, even worse, too often our congregational leaders are afraid to hold up Jesus as the model for themselves, as well as the congregation.

    Selfcenteredness is the enemy of Jesus' disciples. And too many of us have the disease.

  3. nick gill says:

    Brethren, we preach a self-centered gospel, and then throw up our hands in shock when our converts remain self-centered.

    We don't preach, "Jesus is lord of the world, so get with the program."

    We preach, "Come to Jesus and he'll forgive your sins and take you to heaven as long as you keep yourself pure."

    Swing by http://fumblingtowardseternity.wordpress.com and read Introduction and Interaction, please. I'm looking for ways to help reverse this trend.

  4. Jay Guin says:

    Great post, Nick. Here's my response (posted first at Fumbling) —

    All right, Nick. You mentioned over at http://oneinjesus.info that we are guilty of presenting the church as place to get rather than to give. And you asked how we might change that.

    Here are a few ideas:

    * Require new members/converts to sign a membership covenant, as Saddleback does.

    * Tell the new member/convert that Christianity is all about service to others, self-sacrificial service where you wind up on the giving end more often than not.

    * Ask the new member/convert to commit to a life of service in the Kingdom.

    * Develop a congregational ethos of saying yes. "When we at XYZ church are asked to participate in something, we always say yes!"

    * Service, therefore, takes priority over many of the things that take up the time and energies of the world. We schedule life around service, not the other way around. Where we work, what activities we participate in, what we sign our children up for … everything that seems normal and every day is sacrificed on the altar of taking up our cross for Jesus.

    * We raise our children with a service mentality. In fact, we encourage our members to raise their children to be missionaries, ministers, church planters, or vocational ministers who work outside the church but dedicate time to world-changing programs.

    * We expect to lose 20% or more of our congregation from the transition but believe that God will bless our work —

    (Luke 6:38 ) "Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you."

  5. Nick Gill says:

    Look at that! Practical steps towards living out the ethos taught and modeled by Jesus, an ethos of compassion, at the congregational level.

    The only thing I would add is demanding from ourselves a commitment to cease “bait & switch” evangelism. We’ve got to stop hooking people with “look what Jesus will do for you” and then, after we get them wet, hitting them with “ask not what your Savior should do for you….”

    Thank you, Jay, for participating in my Fumbling journey.

    In HIS love,

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