As we look forward, after a break during the summer, to the next phase of our outreach programme, it is good to pause and ask ourselves what we are seeking to do, and why. Over the last few years there has been such a transformation both in our parish and in the age-profile of the church that we have had to take stock and seek God’s wisdom on how to reach our new constituency. With the recent demolition of more of the old tenements, a petrol station and a wood yard, yet more halls of residence are being constructed, which will bring the student population living around the church to some 3000. Sandyford is in this respect in a quite distinctive position, being an all-age church on a student campus. There are, however, two major challenges: the first is not to neglect building up the church base, without which our growth cannot be sustained; the second is to fulfil one of the four tenets of our mission statement: ‘to offer Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour’. Now these two aims are not mutually exclusive, and can be brought together in our focus on kingdom building.
As we clarify our aims and objectives for the coming outreach it is good to remind ourselves of the nature of the kingdom we would seek to build. One of the problems is that we can sometimes think of kingdom building in spatial terms and concentrate all our evangelism on extending the visible church. We can all be tempted to play the numbers game (though we are very thankful to God for all the additions to our congregation). Kingdom building should never be modelled on the way that some companies consider the construction of high towers. Their overriding ambition is to claim the world’s tallest building. A recent example of this is the aptly-named Kingdom Tower to be built in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, which was initially planned to stand one mile high and be called the Mile-High Tower, overshadowing the 2,717 feet high Burj Khalifi in Dubai, and forming the centre-piece of a 57 million square feet development called Kingdom City.
There can, sadly, be a competitive edge in church evangelism.Such kingdom building is centred on ourselves, with the result that God is reduced to a means to some other end, our own self-fulfilment. There is, however, a huge difference between kingdom building and empire building.
The kingdom of which Christ speaks is within the believer (Luke 17: 21). As Paul makes clear, the word ‘kingdom’ does not refer to a territory but to the authority, rule or sovereign power of King Jesus. When a person becomes a Christian (s)he comes under new management:
For he [God the father] has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1: 13-14)
Membership of this kingdom therefore goes beyond that of the visible church. However, while our major concern would be to extend the invisible church, it is through the visible church that this can largely be achieved.
Now, it may be that some of those whom we reach out to and who come to our church will profess faith in Christ long after they have left us. That is one of the challenges in our ministry to the parish. Many of the young people will be with us for a limited period; some for 3 or 4 years; others, perhaps for only one year. We would all like them to be with us for a longer period of time and to make a lengthy contribution to the work and witness of Sandyford. Yet, for our encouragement, the impact we can make during their brief stay can have significant benefits to churches both in the UK and in various parts of the world. The dividends from our investment of time spent with the largely mobile population of our parish are not short-term but will, please God, have a major yield in eternity.
It is probably unnecessary in Sandyford to restate that our first task is to recognise the sovereignty of God in salvation. Yet so much of the current literature on evangelism would seem to focus more on methods of reaching people than on the content of the message. We would not deny that it is important for us constantly to rethink our strategies with regard to approaching and contacting people. And we are so grateful for all the very helpful suggestions, and, in particular, for the hard work of Louise Trelogan and John Torrens. However, all these initiatives are set against the backcloth of our recognition that only the Holy Spirit can bring about that new birth which marks the entry point into Christ’s kingdom. Jesus had to spell this out to the religious leader Nicodemus:
I tell you the truth, unless a man is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. (John 3: 3).
God alone can effect such transformations. Only He can implant that life principle within. Conversion is not just changing our system of thinking. It is God establishing his sovereignty in our lives, or, as the Scottish theologian Henry Scougal suggested in what is still one of the best descriptions of a Christian, ‘The life of God in the soul of man’.
What can we do?
But we can sometimes use the doctrine of God’s sovereignty to justify spiritual inertia and lack of engagement with outreach. Our role in the rebirthing process is an important one, as that of a kind of spiritual midwife. John Calvin, one of the foremost of those theologians who extolled God’s sovereignty in kingdom building, was highly critical of Christians who passively sat back and waited for God to do everything. In fact, he exposed those who would misinterpret God’s sovereignty in this way:
[Isaiah] shows that it is our duty to proclaim the goodness of God to every nation. While we exhort and encourage others, we must not at the same time sit down in indolence, but it is proper that we set an example before others; for nothing can be more absurd than to see lazy and slothful men who are exciting other men to praise God. (Calvin’s commentary on Isaiah 12:5)
The great privilege for us is that God invites us to be kingdom builders with him. It would be impossible to enumerate all the ways in which we may help, but a few bullet points might serve as an aide-mémoire.
- Prayer. All of us, whatever our age or particular situation, may pray daily, with intent and belief, that petition in the prayer which Jesus taught his disciples: ‘Your kingdom come’. While the petition has also a future aspect, as we ask God to hasten the day when Jesus returns in glory, we are also asking that God’s kingdom will be set up in the present in people, both near and far. Prayer is foundational to kingdom building. It is significant that in revivals, both local and national, prayer has been of paramount importance.
- Preaching. In so many churches preaching has been devalued. Yet, as Paul said to the empire-building Romans, preaching the gospel is ‘the power of God unto salvation’ (Romans 1:16; see also 1 Corinthians 1: 21). While not all will be preachers, we may help those who preach through our prayers, asking God to extend his kingdom Sunday by Sunday and at all meetings where the Word of God is opened.
- Friendship Evangelism. Sandyford remains committed to this method of outreach, as we seek to earn the right to speak to friends and relatives about the faith. Once again, prayer is central for all the initiatives to welcome people, from the Wednesday Drop-In, the Tuesday Afternoon Fellowship, the Student Café to lunches, street conversations, ceilidhs, and one-to-one meetings.
- Availability. We talk much these days about gifting. However, for kingdom builders, one of the best gifts is the ability to be available. Admittedly, some of our members have very crowded diaries, with work commitments and other responsibilities. But how refreshing it was in a recent enquirers' class, which dealt with the question of the use of time, talents and money, to have from people with very busy lives the spontaneous offer of help, not just in what they thought they would like to do, but in whatever area in which help was needed. Now much help will indeed be needed as we try to reach out to those arriving in our parish in the next three weeks. Let us not leave just to older members (whose contribution is still invaluable) the task of staffing the gazebo just outside the church, the distribution round the parish of our welcome literature or the offers of hospitality.
Why should we be kingdom builders?
Reasons here could fill many congregational letters, as could indeed the subject of kingdom building. The fact that kingdom building is a command of Jesus should be enough to engage us in service. But perhaps two other reasons will suffice. What a privilege and honour it is to assist in the growth of the kingdom! With his characteristic gift for imaginative illustration, D. L. Moody, who 121 years ago founded the Bible Training Institute in Glasgow (now ICC), suggested that an angel in heaven would give 70 years of misery on earth just to be involved in the salvation of one individual.
However, above all other motivations should be our concern for the glory of God. If we are truly passionate about God’s glory we will want to help with the building of Christ’s kingdom. As Calvin, who would gladly put his own life on the line for God’s glory, urged with his challenging interrogative negatives:
When we know God to be our Father, should we not desire that he be known as such by all? And if we do not have this passion, that all creatures do him homage, is it not a sign that his glory means little to us? (Sermon on Deuteronomy, 33: 18-19, translation by Michael A. G. Haykin).
God has opened a great door for us (1 Corinthians 16: 9; 2 Corinthians 2: 12) to introduce Christ to our parish and beyond and thereby to extend his kingdom. Let us all wholeheartedly take up his invitation to work with Him.
With very best wishes
Noël Peacock, Session ClerkView All Letters