The church is not the goal, the advancement of the Kingdom is.
If someone came up to you and asked you how many churches existed in your city, how would you respond? Would you immediately try to do a running inventory of all of the many individual churches that comprise your geography? The answer to this question is that there is only ONE CHURCH in your city – the Church of Jesus Christ. We see the Apostle Paul write letters to The Corinthian Church, or The Church of Philippi, or The Colossae Church. Paul knew there were many churches in these cities working together for the advancement of the gospel. If this were true then, could the same not be said of the churches in your city today?
Jesus says in John 17: 20-26, “May they be ONE.” Jesus has only ONE BRIDE. When we survey our own cities we see The Church meeting in many locations, with many expressions and traditions. Yet all have been given the same Great Commission. In order for the gospel saturation of every man, woman, and child in a defined geography to take place, unity and collaboration have to be imbedded in the DNA of our thinking and practice. We must understand that unity is both for the sake of the mission, as well as a byproduct of the mission. Unity doesn’t exist for unity’s sake. It exists for the mission. Over the years as a church planter and pastor, God has radically confronted my thinking around this truth. Namely, do you want to pastor a church or reach a city?
So what keeps us from being one? Tribalism and territorialism have sadly become the norm in many places, and tragically, collaboration is not yet normative for the American church. This is an operating system problem that many of our churches need to confront. Many churches operate as a collecting community, not a mobilizing community. A collecting community focuses on protecting its assets, viewing other churches as competitors, and building an organization. A mobilizing community focuses on releasing its assets, viewing other churches as friends and partners in the gospel, and multiplying disciples, leaders, and churches. One pursues a church-centered vision and views other churches as competitors; the other pursues a city reaching vision viewing other churches as companions. No one church can reach a city.
The church is not the goal, the advancement of the Kingdom is. The church is simply the vessel by which the Kingdom of God is advanced. Many leaders have become “church-centric” in their thinking. When we do, we become more concerned with pursuing success inside our four walls, rather than taking responsibility for every man, woman, and child in our city. If reaching our city is our focus, we will view collaboration as a necessity rather than a nicety. With God’s Kingdom in view, pastors and planters will realize that God’s glory is more important than their story, and the advancement of the Kingdom of God is more important than building our empire.
What would it look like to see the whole church bring the whole gospel to the whole nation?
Will Plitt is southwest regional director and executive director of Christ Together. Connect with him on Twitter @willplitt.