Issue Two: A Fresh Hope Horizon Paper – May 2020          

 

Introduction:

Fresh Hope has five strategic themes emerging from our ethos within a 100-year horizon framework. One of these themes is ‘Transformation’. The primary objective is:

 To promote kingdom living as normative within the Fresh Hope network as embedded ethos.

This article is proactively offered as a ‘training and education resource’ to assist your church to understand and discuss ‘transformation’ together. You will notice that the primary objective presumes and asserts that ‘transformation’ (both personal and corporate) is a direct consequence of ‘kingdom living’.   

Please feel free to access the references within the attached bibliography. They will holistically expand your understanding of transformation as essential for the mission of the church. The reference to ‘embedded ethos’ is tied to a hope and desire that every follower of Jesus, every church and every leader will realise how critical kingdom living is for the culture or ethos of our movement, as well as for holistic discipleship development.

In Romans 12:2 we read:

Don’t copy the behaviour and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect’.

The Greek word for transform is ‘Metamorfono’ from which we derive our English word – ‘Metamorphosis’. We know from nature that a caterpillar undergoes a complete transformation within its cocoon to subsequently emerge as a beautiful butterfly. To be transformed is to change from the inside out.

Similarly, the more we immerse ourselves into the reality of God’s kingdom, we begin to experience changes in our mindsets that reshape and transform the way we live. Within this article I hope to articulate the importance of the ‘kingdom of God’ in framing our biblical awareness so as to adopt a new ‘Weltanschauung’ (worldview) for Christian living. 

Profoundly, true transformation is tied to the reality that God is actively at work, bringing his Kingdom to bear ‘on earth’ as it is ‘in heaven’. God’s kingdom is not some future hope or trite intellectual idea that we are simply ticketed into heaven; rather, it is the reality of a life lived in the all-encompassing, all-penetrating interactive world of God, where we can always be totally at home and safe regardless of the visible dimensions within the universe.

A God centred worldview speaks into the human condition as we seek significance and purpose in all we do.

‘Most men and women lead lives at the worst so painful, at the best so monotonous, poor and limited that the urge to escape, the longing to transcend themselves if only for a few moments, is and has always been one of the principal appetites of the soul.’[1]  

When our personal ‘engines’ suggest we are finished, there is but one place to turn – God. He provides hope through Jesus, as the kingdom of God is pronounced and demonstrated as the activity of God at work in our world.

In the church’s current genre of thinking and practice, little is written on the priority of the kingdom of God for our movement, for local church leaders or for the believer. If anything, the kingdom has been relegated to the backblocks of nebulous value, assumingly because of general misunderstandings or ignorance.

Kingdom living is an essential orientation and posture necessary for genuine transformation – both personal and corporate. We each have an opportunity to discover our ‘kingdom destiny’ to the extent that we study the messages of Scripture powerfully articulated in the Judeo-Christian story and then seek to explore how we live in this ‘ever-advancing’ kingdom.

 

Understanding Kingdom Living:

In the Psalms, David records a profound Psalm of praise, as he testifies to both the character of God and the reality of his Kingdom….

‘The Lord is merciful and compassionate, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love.
The Lord is good to everyone. He showers compassion on all his creation.
All of your works will thank you, Lord, and your faithful followers will praise you.
They will speak of the glory of your kingdom; they will give examples of your power.
They will tell about your mighty deeds and about the majesty and glory of your reign.
For your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom.
    You rule throughout all generations.’ (Psalm 145:8-13 NLT)

There are many examples throughout both antiquities and the middle ages of kings and kingdoms that reigned and ruled with power and control, subverting their subjects to tyranny and oppression. David understands and affirms (as both king and warrior), that his heavenly King is profoundly worthy of adoration and praise due to the inherent nature of his love, his mercy, his compassion, his works and his goodness.

He attributes his allegiance to the character of God, thereby prompting and reminding those who follow, of the majesty, glory and reign of this everlasting kingdom that will continue throughout every generation. It is a profound insight that frames his leadership and worldview, yet unequivocally keeps the focus on God, as Yahweh – Lord of the Kingdom! This kingdom is a safe kingdom, a place of empowerment and of soul expansion.

 When Jesus the Messiah begins his public ministry, he confirms the reality of God’s kingdom by proclaiming:

‘At last the fulfillment of the age has come! It is time for the realm of God’s kingdom to be experienced in its fullness! Turn your lives back to God and put your trust in the hope-filled gospel.’ (Mark 1:15 The Passion).

‘From that time Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent [change your inner self — your old way of thinking, regret past sins, live your life in a way that proves repentance; seek God’s purpose for your life], for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”’ (Matthew 4:17 Amplified)

A closer examination of Jesus’ ministry and message can be consolidated as three complementary elements; namely –

He proclaimed the kingdom (the initiation of his public ministry);

He taught about the kingdom (as evidenced so regularly in his parables); and

He demonstrated the kingdom (with signs, wonders and miracles).

Having established a beachhead of divine life in an ordinary human existence, Jesus finally stepped into the public arena to expose his life publicly and to make it available to the world.’[2]

No wonder then Jesus exhorted us, when we pray to ask the Father – let your kingdom come and let your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  (Matthew 6:10).

So, what exactly is the ‘kingdom of God’ or the ‘kingdom of Heaven’?

‘Now God’s own ‘kingdom,’ or ‘rule,’ is the range of his effective will, where what he wants done is done. The person of God himself and the action of his will are the organising principles of his kingdom, but everything that obeys those principles, whether by nature or by choice, is within his kingdom.’ [3]

‘The kingdom is both presence and promise; both within and beyond history; both God’s gift and (the believer’s) task we work for it even as we wait for it.’ [4]

For followers of Christ, this means we awaken each day to the reality of the everlasting kingdom, seeking to align our lives with God’s presence and promises. This is more than an intellectual exercise; instead it’s a transformative lifestyle where the word of God, the Spirit of God and the community of God compels and encourages us to see our lives embraced by a story which goes beyond our own story and reminds us that Yahweh continues to extend and advance His kingdom.  

Within this reality, God welcomes us as his sons and daughters to participate in His kingdom; seeking to restore and redeem his creation. 

An important distinction is inevitable. We were never created to become ‘slaves’ to serve God or the church. Rather, we have been granted citizenship in the kingdom economy, itself a startling revelation! God has treasured and loved us as his creation in order that we proactively help participate in the advancement of his kingdom. It is worth noting – we never build or grow the kingdom; it’s not ours to grow or build as it belongs to the King. Importantly, it is already in existence, and our roles are to partner with God in his agenda and to discover our unique contribution in life.

This is an exciting quest that every Christian is encouraged to explore with commitment and passion.

 

The Antioch of Syria Church:

The book of Acts is the most important historical record outlining the ignition of the Gospel through the early church with dramatic consequences. Each chapter of Acts testifies to the power of God through the Spirit, transforming lives and communities as the Apostles responded in faith to Jesus’ commissioning and call to mission.

The new burgeoning church was at pains to frequently reference the elders at the Jerusalem church, more so from a ‘governmental’ perspective to ensure their development was seen to correctly reflect the doctrine and practice of the early church. While this was critical to ensure the church multiplied within the parameters of the ‘ways’ of Jesus, the narrative shifts profoundly as we encounter the Gospel impacting the Gentiles in the Antioch church (See Acts 11:19 ff). For the first time the believers were referred to as ‘Christians’.

 

Ancient Antioch on the Orontes River

 

In Acts chapter eleven, we are introduced to the ‘Antioch of Syria’ church which is now referenced as the city of Antakya, Turkey near the Syrian border. This church is an important example of a church that is ‘transformational’ in its outlook and functional mission. While much of the New Testament, concerning Paul’s pastoral letters seek to provide encouragement and correction, the Antioch church represents the mission of the early church expanding from the Jewish world into the broader world of the Gentiles. The dynamics displayed are compelling and, in many ways, unpolluted by corruption or political agenda.

The Antioch church is an example of a dynamic church that was initiated through genuine mission. As a case study, unlike other churches referenced in Paul’s pastoral letters, it is a prime example of an early church that is ‘life-giving’ and ‘transformational’ in design and function. 

Readers are encouraged to examine the following passages from scripture to glimpse the dynamics evident within the life of this early church.

  • Acts 11:19-30

  • Acts 13:1-4

  • Acts 14:21-28

  • Acts 15:30-35

Critical Mindsets and Dynamics from the Antioch church:  

The story surrounding Antioch is fuelled with testimony and reflection; particularly as both Paul and Barnabas began the first missionary journey to take the Gospel into the surrounding cities and regions. This extraordinary church had several dynamics that shaped the mindsets of new believers enabling Antioch to become a major hub for the Gospel and a critical benchmark for transformation and kingdom living.

Spiritual Power (Spiritual Potency was Compelling):

Within the Antioch church, great spiritual power was evident. God’s presence and potency created many conversions to Christ. Lives were transformed as hearts acquiesced from sinfulness to righteousness. The believer’s faith surged, and spiritual gifts emerged with supernatural consequences.

Innovative Capacities (Future Orientation):

Within Antioch, God birthed the first gentile church that was extraordinarily innovative in establishing the first teaching ministry and first missionary movement. Church leaders were eternally curious, prophetic and nimble.

Transformational Discipleship (Holistic Ecosystems):

Within the Antioch church, its leaders understood kingdom living and were intentional in strengthening the lives of the believers. (Acts 14:22). They shared as family and settled in for a long time helping, supporting and encouraging one another.

Spiritual Leaders (Different Economy):

Within the Antioch church, leaders were chosen on the basis of wisdom and character, and not simply elected through democratic processes. This distinction was profound as the community understood how important and necessary it was, for the community to be led by spiritual leaders of high trust, integrity and capacity. 

 

A Final Word about Transformation:

In the life and focus of Jesus’ teaching there are insights to show that true change happens beyond the simple impartation of  ‘information’. The acquiring of information does not guarantee or trigger genuine transformation. Jesus’ use of parables highlights this.  His reference to ‘he who has eyes to see and ears to hear’ is a poignant reminder that true change goes beyond seeing and hearing: it has to, otherwise we simply become ‘armchair’ Christians who are inept at transformative kingdom living.

Parables come from the original Greek ‘Paraballein’ meaning to throw one thing down alongside another. Parables are more than simple stories; they help us understand difficult truths by comparing to, placing beside something which is familiar to make the truth concrete or specific.

Parables speak of the nature, growth and value of the kingdom within the strategic orientation of mission.  They always remind us that our story involves the ‘other’ – loving God and loving others. Jesus constantly backs up his teaching by demonstrating the reality of the kingdom. His teaching style was more than action and reflection – it was a full immersion into an apprenticeship of spiritual transformation. True discipleship (which is always transformational) is a life lived as an apprentice to the Master, seeking to follow faithfully in obedience by offering one’s life in service. It casts off in reckless abandonment the old life in the pursuit of a new life found in God.

Sadly, and sometimes, our ‘tradition’ within the Western church has to focus on ‘salvation’ as the endpoint for living. Constantly we become infatuated with the ‘salvation of souls’ without realising two important truths:  it is Jesus who does the saving, and our salvation is the starting point on a journey of discipleship and kingdom living. 

Undoubtedly, we need to be saved from our own shortcomings and sinful nature: thank God he initiated our salvation through the life and work of Jesus. However, our salvation begins a journey of transformation. It is for this reason that Paul reminds us: continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling.

‘It is not revolutions and upheavals

that clear the road to new and better days,

but revelations, lavishness and torments

of someone’s soul, inspired and ablaze.’ [5]

Towards a different endpoint. 

Significantly, the local church is the design architecture that God has orchestrated, where as a faith community, lives are transformed. I suggest to you that this cannot happen without a new mindset that proposes kingdom living as the primary orientation for discipleship. Similarly, churches need to promulgate God’s kingdom for renewal, restoration and redemption. This is more about being Gospel agents or ambassadors of transformation in our world rather than making us feel good about ourselves.

‘I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me.’ (Luke 22:29) NIV

 

Discussion Starters for Church Leaders

Discuss together how you understand and interpret the ‘Kingdom of God.’  As you read the section on Kingdom Living what stands out to you as important for the life and wellbeing of you personally, and of your church?

How might your leadership community understand and practise kingdom living?   What are you doing well?  What might you need to change?

Quite often, churches articulate in their mission or purpose statement that they intend to ‘build’ or ‘grow’ the kingdom.  Given Psalm 145 suggests the kingdom is everlasting, do you need to rethink your understanding of the kingdom?   Discuss this together. 

Why do you think Fresh Hope is working (on a 100-year horizon timeline) to promote and embed ‘kingdom living’ as a priority in our network?   How prevalent is ‘transformation’ seen as mission practice for churches?

In Matthew 4:23 after proclaiming the kingdom, Jesus goes throughout the region teaching in the synagogues and announcing the good news of the kingdom (the Gospel of the kingdom).  Share your insights concerning Jesus’ message.   What was he doing?

As you read the Scriptures relating to the Antioch of Syria church, what did you notice?    This article suggests that the Antioch church (in its purest form) is the best example of a New Testament church worthy of copying or benchmarking.  Discuss why many have not often seen or focussed on the Antioch church?   Do you think the Antioch church is a good example of kingdom living?

You may like to examine the mindsets and dynamics of Antioch church over 4 weeks (given there are 4 listed).  During this time, allow ample opportunity for facilitated conversation particularly around the focus of these dynamics.   Are they still applicable?   What might you need to consider flowing from these dynamics?   Is your leadership team as functional as it needs to be if you were to use these dynamics as a benchmark to determine how leaders are appointed?

The shift in Acts 11 from the church in Jerusalem to the church in Antioch marks a significant change in focus.  Some suggest that the Jerusalem church was more ‘governmental’ or regulatory, concerned with correct doctrine and the internal functioning of the church.  Others suggest the church in Antioch was much more life-giving, energetic and committed to mission.   Where might your church sit on a continuum between ‘internal and regulatory’ versus ‘external and life-giving?’   Are you surprised by your conversations?  

Discuss this phrase: Information does not = Transformation.   Why do you think this is so?

How much energy do you think churches expend on the pursuit of salvation versus the cultivation of discipleship communities?   Based on your understanding(s) of salvation verses ‘sanctification’ how might the Western church reframe its functionality and focus going forward?   Is it important we change, and if so why?

If you were to engage with your church community around the issues within this paper, what could you do to create learning opportunities beyond simply sharing this as information?

Spend some time in prayer asking God to change your hearts and minds and keep you teachable with respect to following Jesus.

 

Helpful Reading:

  • Alan Andrews. The Kingdom Life: A Practical Theology of Discipleship and Spiritual Formation. © 2010. 

  • Ruth Haley Barton. Sacred Rhythms: Arranging our Lives for Spiritual Transformation. © 2009.  IVP Books.

  • Matthew W. Bates. Gospel Allegiance: What Faith in Jesus Misses for Salvation in Christ.  © 2019.  Brazo Press.

  • Brene Brown. Daring Greatly:  How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead.  © 2012.  Gotham Books.

  • Jeff Evans. Inspirational Presence: The Art of Transformational Leadership. © 2009.  Morgan James Publ.

  • Kevin Ford. Transforming Church: Bringing out the Good to get to Great. © 2007.  Tyndale House.

  • Arthur Glasser. Announcing the Kingdom: The Story of God’s Mission in the Bible.  © 2003.  Baker Books.

  • Jeff Iorg. The Case for Antioch: A Biblical Model for a Transformational Church. © 2011. B&H Publishing.

  • Scot McKnight. The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited. Revised Edition. © 2016. Zondervan.

  • Scot McKnight. Kingdom Conspiracy: Returning to the Radical Mission of the Local Church. © 2014. Brazo Press.

  • Miles Munroe. Understanding Your Place in God’s Kingdom: Your Original Purpose for Existence. © 2011.  Destiny Image.

  • Rob Reimer. Soul Care: 7 Transformational Principles for a Healthy Soul. © 2016. Carpenter’s Son Publ.

  • Bob Roberts. Transformation: How Global Churches Transform Lives and the World. © 2006. 

  • Peter Scazzero. The Emotionally Healthy Leader: How Transforming Your Inner Life Will Deeply Transform Your Church, Team and the World. © 2015. 

  • Matt Smay & Hugh Halter. The Tangible Kingdom: Creating Incarnational Community.  © 2008. Jossey Bass.

  • Paul Sparks, Tim Soerens & Dwight Friesen. The New Parish:  How Neighbourhood Churches are Transforming Mission, Discipleship and Community. © 2014.  IVP Books.

  • Ed Stetzer & Thom Rainer. Transformational Church.  © 2010.  B&H Publishing.

  • Mark Strom. Lead with Wisdom: How Wisdom Transforms Good Leaders into Great Leaders. © 2013. Wiley Press.

  • Eric Swanson & Sam Williams. To Transform a City: Whole Church, Whole Gospel, Whole City. © 2010. Zondervan.

  • Dallas Willard. The Divine Conspiracy:  Rediscovering our Hidden Life in God. © 1998. 

 

Dr. Andrew Ball
Executive Ministry Director

Churches of Christ in NSW & the ACT.

© Fresh Hope Resources 2020.

Level 1 No 3 Rider Boulevard Rhodes NSW 2138

www.freshhope.org.au

 

[1]   Huxley Aldous, The Doors of Perception © 1970 (NY. Harper & Row) p.62

[2]  Willard Dallas.  The Divine Conspiracy. p. 22

[3]   Willard, Dallas. The Divine Conspiracy Chapter 1.

[4]   Harkness, Georgia.  Understanding the Kingdom of God.  © 1974. Abingdon Press. p. 115.

[5]   Pasternak, Boris. After the Storm – A poem translated from the Russian.  1958.