By Vance Pitman, Pastor of Hope Church in Las Vegas, NV
From the late 1960s to the turn of the century the dominant missiological movement in North America was known as the Church Growth Movement (CGM). Pioneered by men like Donald McGavran and C. Peter Wagner, CGM focused on re-energizing the declining church in North America. There are many positive results of the movement that have had tremendous impact on reaching people for Christ. But there is at least one tragic result. Many Christians came to view their local fellowship as the finish line of the mission. Because of this, many pastors are more concerned with building their own empires rather than expanding God’s kingdom. The real aim of any one church—or our convention as a whole—is so much bigger than one church in one location, no matter how big it is.
It’s All About the Kingdom.
If you’d asked me for most of my Christian life, “What is the book of Acts about?” my answer would have been, the birth and growth of the local New Testament church,” and would have read most of the lessons through the lens of, “How does this apply to our church in this community?” But when God called me to relocate my family to Las Vegas to plant a new church, I came to a new and life-changing discovery through that journey related to the book of Acts: it’s all about the expansion of God’s kingdom! Consider how the book opens:
“To these He also presented Himself alive after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days and speaking of the things concerning the Kingdom of God.”—Acts 1:3, NASB
Did you see it? Luke is describing the last 40 days Jesus lived on earth. For 40 days Jesus made appearances to His followers and for 40 days He only talked about one thing, “If you forget everything else I’ve taught you, don’t forget this!” That one thing? The kingdom of God.
That shouldn’t be surprising. Earlier in his ministry Jesus commanded his disciples, “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). The passion of Jesus’ life and ministry was the expansion of God’s kingdom.
The Apostle Paul, consumed with Christ’s life, lived out this same passion. That’s why when you get to the very end of the book of Acts, as Paul awaits execution, we find him doing what Jesus did:
“And he stayed two full years in his own rented quarters and was welcoming all who came to him, preaching the Kingdom of God.”—Acts 28:30-31a
The book of Acts opens with Jesus spending 40 days talking about nothing but the kingdom. The book of Acts ends with history’s greatest church planter talking about nothing but the kingdom.
What is the Kingdom of God?
There are many ways that people define the kingdom of God. Here’s a definition we’ve landed on at our church: The kingdom of God is God’s sovereign activity in the world resulting in people being in right relationship with himself.
Of course, people getting into right relationship with God always ends with those people forming into local churches. But the kingdom of God is the big picture of what he’s doing all over the world. God is on a mission redeeming a people to himself. The glorious finale of this mission is described like this:
“And they sang a new song, saying, ‘Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom.’”—Revelation 5:9-10a
There is the goal. There is the finish line. Eternity is all about God’s kingdom. That is what the mission is all about!
Church Planting and the Kingdom of God
When we begin to understand the importance of God’s kingdom, it changes our view of church planting. Here are just a few thoughts about church planting in light of the kingdom.
- The finish line — The church being planted is not the finish line. The church is the starting line. The finish line is God’s kingdom expanded to every tribe, tongue, people, and nation.
- Why plant a church? — The local church is the gathering place to teach people about the King, disciple them in kingdom living, and it is a launching pad for God’s kingdom to be expanded locally and globally, which will, of course, result in more churches until the King himself comes to take over
- Think city, not church — God’s call is ultimately not to a church but to a city. A church being planted is simply a platform to engage the city and expand God’s kingdom, which will result in a lot more churches besides just yours
- We need a pronoun revival — It’s not about growing “my” church (which can easily become about growing “my” empire). It’s about expanding “his” kingdom.
- Something bigger — When God births a church he always has the nations on his heart. It’s never just about one church or one city. It’s the kingdom!
- Measure of success— The measure of a successful church is not its seating capacity. The measure of a successful church its sending capacity. How many people are we sending to join in God’s mission of expanding his kingdom locally and globally?