“Now having been questioned by the Pharisees as to when the Kingdom of God was coming, He answered them and said, ‘The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is.’ For behold, the kingdom of God is in your midst” (Luke 17:20-21).
Those who believe that every human is indwelt by God–and therefore, everyone is divine–love to quote (misquote) this passage. “The kingdom of God is in you.”
“I have god in me,” they will say, and reference this saying from our Lord.
The clear meaning of this teaching is that rather than God’s kingdom being something earthly, visible, and measurable, it’s spiritual and inner, and therefore invisible and immeasurable.
Now, look at the context.
Staying with the earlier portion of this 17th chapter of Luke, a marvelous collection of teachings, we come out with something like the following:
The Kingdom of God is seen when the strong help the weak (17:1-2), when the faithful minister to the unfaithful with high standards of righteousness and prompt forgiveness to the penitent (17:3-4), when the Lord’s workers serve faithfully and humbly expecting no recognition nor earthly reward (17:7-10), and when we are driven by gratitude to the feet of Jesus (17:11-19).
Or, put another way: Wherever the kingdom of God is, look for faith in the Lord Jesus at work.
Is that visible? Is it measurable?
Denominations are always wanting everything to be quantifiable, meaning “measurable.” Otherwise, these religious bureaucrats will ask, “How will we know if our time is well spent and our resources well invested?”
Answer: You won’t. You will do this by faith or you will shut it down.
Our denomination has shut down hundreds of ministries across America in the last generation because they were not doing measurable work. If you feed the hungry and teach the inner-city children after school, how is that helping our denomination? How does that increase our numbers?
It doesn’t. All it does is bless God and help people.
That is not enough for the bureaucrat. (“Bureaucrat,” incidentally, is a good modern translation of “Pharisee.” It was the Pharisees who wanted the kingdom to be earthly, visible, palpable, and measurable.)
So, our denomination shut down those ministries and threw its resources into the quantifiable and measurable, and yet our numbers continue to go south. Wonder why?
No one unwilling to serve God by faith will stay with the work for long.
To serve God by faith means a thousand things, including…
–We will look to Him for direction as to what we should be doing. And this means we will not look to the business models, to the latest findings of someone’s polls, or to the criticisms from outsiders who never have gotten spiritual things.
–We will seek his supply for our resources of personnel and finances, etc. And this means we will not count on the stock market or banking system for money or the hottest leadership books for ideas on how to recruit workers!
–We will offer up our labors as sacrifices of righteousness. And this means we are not laboring for approval from one another, for recognition from some group, or for plaques for the wall.
–And, we will recognize that kingdom work is frequently not measurable. And this means we will shut down the statistical departments of our denomination and no longer play the games of who has the largest churches or gives the biggest contributions.
We. Will. Not. Even. Try. To. Measure. What. We. Have. Done. For. The. Kingdom.
I’m smiling. Having been in this denomination–that would be the Southern Baptist Convention, y’all!–since 1959, I know how it works and love ten thousand things about it. But to change its modus operandi? Ha. Not in my lifetime.
Still. One can hope.
A friend told me something his father does.
“My dad carries a little book with him wherever he goes. Everytime he does a good deed for someone, he pulls out the book and records it. His little book is a record of all the things he has ever done for other people.”
I cannot think of a greater recipe for misery than keeping up with all the good I have done. It implies that I hope to buy something from God by my deeds and/or that others owe me for my generous gifts.
Best to do what we’re going to do, then leave it with the Lord, trusting Him to use it however He pleases.
My beloved denomination shut down the Rachel Sims Mission in New Orleans a few years back. Sometime before, they had done the same with the Carver Center, both inner-city ministries to the poor and needy. Denominational leaders wanted to put their limited resources into planting churches.
No one is against planting churches and building strong congregations.
I think of Dr. Bill Murfin, a dear brother in Christ who has been in Heaven for some 5 or 6 years now. Bill was the associate pastor of the First Baptist Church of Kenner, Louisiana, for 16 years, and a faithful warrior for Christ. Brother Bill was a product of the Rachel Sims mission.
Growing up in the Irish Channel neighborhood of New Orleans, he had been reached for Christ and nurtured by that ministry. Later, he went on to college and seminary, then logged 50 or 60 years in the Lord’s service. He and Wanda produced a large family of children who grew up to serve Christ. Several of their children became ministers in churches or married pastors. Daughter Brenda, the one I keep in contact with, has served on staff of some of the larger churches in our denomination.
Brenda says what I believe, “The ministry of Rachel Sims Mission–and of Bill Murfin–is continuing today.”
Brenda told me, “I never knew a man who loved Jesus the way my daddy did.”
Try measuring that.
Not long after the passage of our text, our Lord asked a question that deserves our full attention: “When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:8)
Will He indeed.
My heart breaks for the lack of Kingdom vision that some of our SBC leadership has. NAMB is a primary concern. If the can’t see a church plant or a lot of “souls saved” (measurable by baptismal stats) within a few weeks or months, it’s not on the charts. You gave examples of what I see often. I would like to see something now, a new leader/pastor/church planter mentored will plant a church nearby with quantifiable results. Instead, he is heartbroken for his own people, returns to a far-away land and plants a church, not officially related to Southern Baptists (most folks don’t seem to know that Southern Baptists only exist as a denomination in North America–they might be Ecuadorian Baptists or Chinese Baptists, etc.). We are so turfish that we don’t seem to rejoice if the results don’t fit into OUR plans. I regret that so many compassion ministries, so many campus ministries, so many all kinds of ministries are terminated from funding by NAMB.