A Search for Kingdom Churches

Every day I drive past church parking lots and admire the church buses and vans that sit collecting dust while we attempt to address the transportation crisis in our city. Across this city, congregations gather for meals that resemble a feast as I watch my urban friends scrap together a meager meal so that they can enjoy the same kind of table fellowship.  I read church bulletins about the upcoming missions trips and the thousands of dollars being raised to help send members to the other side of the world for a one week experience while our local urban missionaries fail to find the support and encouragement they need to transform our own backyard.  We currently have four desks crammed into one office and two team members per desk while many inner city churches sit empty all week.  I get letters from churches asking for funds to support their next mega-building campaign while I watch families become homeless because they do not have the $200 they need to maintain their housing.  When we approach churches about using what should be God’s resources to advance God’s Kingdom or care for God’s children, we hear the following:

“We can’t use our van to help you take inner city kids to the park because of “liability” issues.”

“We can’t host your fellowship event because our people are just too busy.”

“Members of our church really like going away to foreign countries to do missions.”

“Our policy is to only use our building for “church-sponsored” activities.”

“We only provide financial support for “members” who are in crisis.”

These comments point to the fact that Christ’s church has become totally focused inward on its own needs, likes and wants. Churches with this mindset think that the gifts and resources they are blessed to have are theirs, they paid for them, they “own” them, the gifts and talents their members possess are theirs to use.  They operate out of a scarcity mentality, thinking there is only enough for them.  These same churches preach the message to their congregants that “Everything you have is God’s. God gave you the ability to earn that paycheck.  God gave you those assets and expects you to use them for the Kingdom. God will provide for all your needs.”

I have never had a church say, “God does not want us to care for those in need in our community.”  Or “We don’t believe Embrace’s mission is in line with the mission of our church.”  However, I have had churches qualify their rejection with the following requests:

“We would be able to help you if you were “Methodist, Baptist, or fill in the blank.””

“If your missionaries sign our statement of faith, then we might be able to help them.”

“If you are willing to put our denominational name on your project and count it as “our” project, then we will help you.”

I know this post sounds very negative, and I am sure you can feel my frustration — which is exactly what I am hoping.  I went to a conference a while back and the presenter stated that the only way to bring about change is for people to feel the tension of “the gap.”  The gap is the space between God’s Kingdom and our reality.  I believe in God’s Kingdom, every asset is God’s asset and every child of God is equally worthy of benefiting from what is God’s.  The reality is that the wealthy have all the assets and give them to wealthy churches while the impoverished children of God make due with what they have.  The same inequality that exists on an individual level also exists at the communal level.  There is a gap and I feel the tension of that gap every single day as our urban missionaries ask me for the resources they need to do what God has called them to do, but the resources simply are not there.  It is not that God has not provided for all his “missionaries.” It is that those resources are not flowing into the gap.  In other words, we are so busy investing our time and resources into building our church, we have no time or resources left to build the kingdom.  I must confess, after standing in this gap for more than six years, I am losing my faith in the local church.  I need you all to help me regain it.

I have decided to stop begging at the gates of the “church building” congregations and instead seek out the “kingdom building” congregations.  I know they are out there.  I have caught glimpses of them and have met a few of them over the years.  I shared the story of one such church in my post “Recycled Churches” and hope to share many more stories with you in the coming months as God leads me to more Kingdom Churches but I need your help to find them.

So here is what I am looking for:

  1. Churches that seek to release their people and resources out into the world instead of consuming them for their own needs.
  2. Churches that are truly investing in the kingdom for the long-haul as a way of life, not simply doing missions events.
  3. Churches that are doing more than giving money or stuff, but that are building relationships that are transforming not only our city, but also the church.
  4. Churches that are supporting Kingdom work without getting the credit or having some other ulterior motive like trying to recruit church members.

Are you a part of a church that seeks to fill the gap and build the Kingdom?  Is your church willing to sacrifice the comfort of its own members in order to build a city that reflects God’s Kingdom come?  Is your church courageous enough to invest in local missionaries not just for a week but for the long-haul?

I once heard a pastor say “I would rather have 10 fully devoted disciples than 10,000 lukewarm Christians” and I think God can do more with 10 Kingdom minded churches than 10,000 church-centered congregations.  I long to meet the Kingdom-minded church leaders in our city. Please help me in my search. Help restore my faith in the local congregations.  My goal is to find 10 Kingdom minded churches over the next year.

Will you help me with this quest?  Where do you think I should start?

I wrote the above post on Saturday night and spoke at a church this morning.  All I can say at this point is God is going to have fun restoring my faith in the local church.  Stay tuned…God is on the move!

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13 Comments

Filed under missional church, Stories from the Street, Top Post's of All Time, Urban Ministry

13 responses to “A Search for Kingdom Churches

  1. Howard P

    Great post Wendy. My observation is that the biggest problem is the reality of a church based in a religion “about” Jesus more than the religion “of” Jesus. The church invites people to profess beliefs about Jesus and sign on a dotted line that qualifies them to be called ‘Christians’ without ever actually making the choice to yield their lives to God, thereby inviting and empowering Christ to actually live in and work through them. As a result, and very sadly, the church is largely defined by and saddled with a worldwide association of people using Christ’s name to experience a myriad of psychological and social benefits without ever actually losing their lives for his sake. All that said, I am optimistic that an increasing number of people are in fact answering calls to yield their lives to God and thus are indeed “coming alive” in “the body”. I continue to pray that it happens fast enough to avoid this same body being given up for dead. Keep doing what you are doing. As churches come to mind who may me be up to your challenge I will look for opportunities to share your post.

    • wmccaig

      Thanks Howard,

      What is strange to me is the number of fully devoted Christ followers who are sitting in the pews and feeling the same way I do. I shared my frustration over the church van issue in a Sunday school class Charles and I taught in on Sunday and the man came up to me and said, “I am on the church leadership council and every time I drive past this church and see that van just sitting out there, I think “Why aren’t we using it for good?”” He then offered to approach his church about using it this Sunday. Still don’t know if they voted to let that happen or not but it helped me realize that it is not the people, it is often the structures that are locking things inside the walls. I think many people want permission to go beyond but they are not finding it.I believe when we find kingdom churches, we will find permission giving structures.

      • Howard P

        Most of the world’s structures are rooted in fear……liability issues, fear that someone might steal something, etc., etc. Structures reflect predominant consciousness of the people and transactions they exist to organize. Put 1000 people on a island together who look alike and want to show love to each other, certain types of structures will emerge. Put 1000 people from different tribes on the same island, most of whom are suspicious of each other, and the society and structures that will emerge to organize them will be completely different. My observation is that God’s heart for all people is beginning to come alive in many people, but the structures that we live, work, and worship in were not designed to facilitate the flow of love, which in turn has much to do with the seemingly slow rate at which peoples’ hearts are coming alive. The emergence of God’s heart in the world must go hand in hand with the evolution/emergence of the structures to facilitate God’s desires for how we relate to one another. Just as one example where social and legal structures meet, consider the example of the van liability issue you mention. Right now, a pastor and church business manager may occasionally be criticized for not leveraging all the church’s resources to love the poor more effectively. This is a criticism that they can handle. On the other hand, if they loan out the van and there is an accident, the church may be sued, which in turn would result in their being accused of being negligent and irresponsible. This is not a risk they are willing to take, and this risk is determined by the social (peoples’ perceptions) and legal frameworks that determine the lenses through which they will be judged and evaluated. The challenge, it seems to me, is very well represented by your friend’s intentions to speak up at his charge. If the question at the top of the church’s list is “how well are we leveraging our resources to serve the community?”, then eventually the conversation and energy will turn toward changing the structures in order to facilitate better performance (relative to the top question). “How to change things when change is Hard” has a lot of good ideas about stuff like this.

      • wmccaig

        Great point about the perceived risk and reward. I do know a few pastors who see one of their church’s goals as leveraging their assets but I never thought about framing the issue that way. THANKS!

        BTW – Salisbury Presbyterian approved the use of their van to transport kids to Maymount on Thursday…YEAH!

        Now pray the weather man is wrong and that it does not get to 101 degrees.

  2. Howard P

    Yay for Salisbury Presbyterian!!!

  3. Irving

    Wendy,

    I’ve read your article and the subsequent dialog between you and a good friend of mine (Howard). I recently presented an idea to Howard concerning using vans to transport kids to practice, camps, etc (for sports). So many inner city kids cannot take full advantage of these offerings because they just can’t get to them. Providing access to quality training in the “alternative sports” of tennis, lacrosse, volleyball or golf (not to mention the traditional ones (football, basketball, baseball)), could lead to financial empowerment for many families (i.e. college scholarships). Closing note: though have not visited this “church”, there is an organization who may be on to what you and Howard have dialoged on. It’s “The ROC” in southside Richmond. The Richmond Outreach Center is a non-traditional church that is extremely focused on youth. Notice that “outreach” is a part of their name, not “church.” Here’s a question on the liability issue: when a church picks up folks to take them to church on Sunday, do they sign a waiver or does the riders’ church membership cover that?

    • wmccaig

      Hi Irving,
      I think it is great that you guys are working out transportation for kids to sports camps. Can you email me more info about that? I would love to get some of the kids in our communities connected. I am familiar with The ROC and they do bus kids from our communities to their programs. I don’t know a lot about them but I do know they are very outwardly focused and one of the few churches active in the communities where Embrace serves. I really don’t know the answer to your liability question. I honestly hate that we even have to think about such things but it is the world we live in. Glad Howard shared the link. He is fun to debate such things with.

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