Ryan, Josiah, and Brian discussion cultivating a broad kingdom imagination. Church must be seen as more than two hours on a Sunday morning in a particular kind of building. Join us as we dream of what the church could do today to prepare for what we can be doing tomorrow.
 Cultivating a Broad Kingdom Imagination – Guerrilla Pastors
Josiah (narration): Welcome to the gorilla pastor podcast. My name is Josiah and I am a gorilla pastor. On our pilot episode, you were introduced to not only me, but my co-conspirators Ryan Fasani and Brian Wardlaw who helped define what it meant to be in Guerrilla Ministry? If you haven’t, please be sure to listen to our pilot episode, especially if you want to know what the name Guerrilla Pastor means to us.
On today’s episode, we plan to dive deeper into what we envision the future of ministry looking like here in the Pacific Northwest. It’s crucial for us to take steps today so that tomorrow we are ready for the opportunities God may have for us. We call this preparation for what may come, the cultivation of a broad kingdom imagination.
In essence, this is our response to the one size fits all sort of ministry that we were all trained in and eventually rejected. The question is this, is there more to church than what we see for a couple hours on a Sunday morning? Join us as we dream about how much more God has in store for His people.
The Introductory Hook (features numerous voices):
“What I noticed was that Christian’s could not have conversation with each other if they disagreed with one another.”
“It’s all about entering in to the textured presence of lived lives. The sanitation of it just broke for me. Like, church can’t be sanitized.”
“I always feel like I’m not what people think of when they think of a pastor.”
“I went to school for youth ministry and have now figured out how to do Construction work. It’s good stuff!”
“The Church is struggling and declining in ways that we’ve never experienced in the United States and Canada right now.”
“We have to like allow ourselves to embrace new way of being in a place.”
“Insurgent revolutions, i.e. guerrilla warfare, is 20% bullets, and 80% blessing the people.”
“How do we be eternally faithful? Like, literally, how do we be faithful in a way today that in 20 years people aren’t going, ‘He was evil!’”
“Why are we so afraid? We believe that God is at work in all places, in all people at all times, and that is amazing. That should give us hope!”
We are the gorilla pastors join us as we explore a world of ministry founded on subversive presence!
Josiah (Narration): Let’s talk about Lifeway bookstores. As a young evangelical, Lifeway was where I went to buy music books and sometimes clothing. It’s also where you would find Mother’s Day gifts and graduation presents, and it might be associated with being the go-to place to buy Bibles. It was also a cornerstone of evangelical culture.
It even had an online news outlet with associated research wing. In 2018, they published an article by Tom Rainier titled “The number one reason for the decline in church attendance and five ways to address it.” The name says it all. The problem is clear and here are five easy ways to fix it. As you might imagine, the problem and its subsequent solutions are a feeble attempt at addressing symptoms to an issue that lies far deeper below the surface.
Ironically, the very next year, Lifeway would end up closing all brick and mortar locations due to its annual losses happening year over year since 2013. Lifeway is the perfect example of what happens when you operate with a narrow kingdom mindset. Within such a mindset, things are always very black and white, perspectives are dualist in nature and almost always end in us versus them.
Problems are simple and solutions are easy. Just put on your Sunday best show up five minutes before service. Be ready to contribute your tithe when they pass the collection plates around and pray of the pastor’s sermon doesn’t cost you your best seats at your favorite lunch. With such a narrow view, evangelicals may have missed that these problems have been going on for a while.
Research groups like Gallup have been tracking church attendance and membership trends since the 1930s and have clearly chronicled how numbers have steeply dropped off over the past two decades. However, instead of getting to the heart of the issue, we were content with treating symptoms. One easy problem with five simple steps to fix it.
In a moment, Ryan is going to share with you this broad kingdom imagination and what it looks like from his perspective. We will also hear from Brian and I as this is yet another round table discussion, but before we play that conversation, there is a crucial distinction that needs to be made between the terms kingdom and Church.
Ryan name’s it well in this clip:
Ryan: A narrow kingdom imagination is restricted by our imagination of what the church is. A Broad Kingdom imagination necessarily includes the reach of all creation, which incorporates the Church.
Josiah (Narration): To be clear we believe the church is part of the kingdom of heaven when it’s in alignment with God’s will. However, the church as it is now is seldomly in such an alignment, and it often exists for its own benefit instead of for the benefit of others.
This is the root cause for problems that don’t have as easy a solution as Lifeway may suggest. T he human condition is such that we default to being self serving while the kingdom of heaven calls for those within it to be self-sacrificing. Here lies the tension we operate in and the reason why our imaginations for the church could look like are so very narrow.
Here’s the rest of the conversation Ryan had with us on what it looks like to cultivate abroad kingdom imagination.
Ryan: One of our commitments is to a broad kingdom imagination because of experience. And here’s a quick story to encapsulate what I mean. About 10 years ago, I was running a board meeting and by all measurements, the issue on the table was very Kingdom centric. It was actually a good issue we were taking up.
We weren’t bickering about carpet color or whether we should tear the wallpaper down or what the new renovation was going to cost and how we were going to pull off a capital campaign, on and on. None of it was that. We were actually wrestling with the shape and scale of a particular ministry we were going to do in the local community.
It was good…
…and it kept going… and the arguments intensified… and two and a half hours later, we had not made any decisions… and all that had happened is different factions began to split off and people were arguing for their particular iteration of that ministry in the neighborhood… and egos flared up… And people were sensitive and getting hurt… and we made no decision.
We ended up revisiting it a month later. I think it ended up taking four or five months to actually drill down how we were going to pull off this kingdom based ministry to the community. And I remember in that season, as it sort of wound down to the end and we had allocated the monies, and I remember thinking to myself, if the kingdom, if the kingdom is anything it has to be more than this.
In other words, what we’re doing may be inspired by the kingdom and may even be deeply convicted that the kingdom is at hand or within reach or dare we say here as it is in heaven, but what we’re doing is remarkably narrow, we are trying to whittle it down to make sense on our spreadsheet.
To be consistent with our own unique set of beliefs, to be flavored in a way that’s palatable and tasteful for my walk of life or my personal interests. Before you knew it, because of all of those forces at the table, that sort of kingdom possibility was entirely narrow and it became something to me that was distasteful.
And to that question “is there more?” is where we come up with a conviction, an explicit conviction that we give our lives to a broad kingdom imagination which means it’s always expansive. And the diversity of possibilities is always growing. And any time our offense is taken, and any time our particular interests drive the agenda, we’ve immediately pirated it and made it about Ryan’s Kingdom.
The kingdom of Jesus is a kingdom that’s ever expanding and always reaching more or another metaphor that I like is it’s always adding chairs to the table.
Josiah: In classic deconstruction traditions, have an example of what a narrow kingdom focus is in my own story. Wonderful kingdom minded ministry of helping, chop, stack, split, deliver wood at a, at a place where, what is the primary heating source, especially for those that are a little less fortunate. So this church did this amazing ministry, delivers wood to helps meet a real life need holistically speaking.
And this conversation comes of it where the head of this ministry, a Saint, a person that is doing things, I think from a good place with some of the right convictions, the angle on their mind was clearly, clearly articulated in this one-off conversation. Well, I keep inviting people to come to church on Sunday morning and they don’t show up.
I keep inviting them. And so in the crass way that I responded like, so is the end goal butts in pews? Is that it? Is there more than that? The response was complete silence. Like it wasn’t even, it wasn’t even on the radar that maybe there is more to it. This broad kingdom of imagination for me is what, what is, what is the church offering that’s more than just an hour or two on a Sunday morning in one physical space.
There’s just, if, even if we talk about the quantity of hours in our week, in the different places we can be as people. And the fact that where we gather that is the church and we, we are the church, the church goes where we go like that, that in and of itself opens up an endless possibility for what it looks like to have a broad kingdom imagination.
But yeah, I love everything you said.
Ryan: So I have another quick anecdote. I have a small farm that I’m responsible for stewarding, and I thought it would be kingdom oriented to go connect with other small farms and think how we could do some collaborative work. Well, a very large church in my county actually has a food ministry where they cultivate several acres of land and produced something like 30,000 pounds of produce that they give away every moth. Excuse me, annually.
So I coordinated a meeting with their leadership team and I went onsite to their farm, um, to explore how we might partner and the conversation went, something like this. They told me how great their ministry was, which I affirmed. They told me the hours that I could come volunteer in their space, which I told them that I wasn’t interested because I was busy on my farm.
And then they asked me if I knew anybody else that could come help them on their. To which I didn’t. And that’s why I was trying to collaborate to see if we could build our pool of resource. You know, anyhow, I insisted at the end of that conversation, that there was more, there was more to the dynamic that went like this: big church with lots of money and resources does really chair good charitable work for poor people in the community. And they had no idea what I was suggesting.
And so I said, well, let me give you an example. Have we can have you considered the possibility of giving this produce to small food, food, preparatory enterprises? Maybe there’s a restaurant in town that could use your produce, that they could then profit from, or maybe you could be training small farmers and then give them a corner of this property so that they can take their produce and sell it and generate income. All of their eyes glazed over in confusion, because for them kingdom work is centralized power in a community, centralized attention in a community and centralized branding in a community. Doing the good work of charity for the community. Now that’s not bad, but that’s narrow kingdom mindedness. A broad kingdom mindness starts asking questions like what do profitable enterprises look like? And how do we empower the less fortunate where the poor or the chronically ill or what, whoever to have the access to the resources to start those businesses.
What’s job training look like, what do trade training look like? How do we use this produce to fuel a farmer’s market that we employ young kids from the neighborhood, you know, to start their own businesses and get experience and you know, and money management and retail experience and such. All these are questions about expanding kingdom mindedness right?
The classic charitable delivery of goods to our neighbor and in return, hopefully we can grow our Sunday attendance is absolutely motivated by narrow kingdom mindedness.
Brian: I’m glad you went there. So let me ask you a question just for distinctive purposes. Is there a significant difference between the church and The Kingdom?
Josiah: I feel like that’s a whole other podcast. Oh my, that’s a whole other episode.
Brian: I think it’s important that, because I don’t think, I think small kingdom mindedness does not define those two differently.
Ryan: Oh, interesting. Okay. I see what you’re asking.
Josiah: Are you, are you asking big “C” church or little “C” church?
Brian: I’m trying to ask it in the mindset of again, movement. So someone who’s moving out of a church.
Ryan: Well, maybe Brian, you could just articulate that a narrow kingdom mindedness conflates the church with kingdom and abroad. Like just name it without Unfolding all the nuance. And a broad kingdom mindedness begins to explore how, you know, the breadth of the kingdom, as opposed to the reach of the local church, something like that. Right?
Brian: Yeah. And I think the American church… a friend of mine said this, but I’m pretty sure he read it somewhere. So I’m not sure where he came from, but the statement that the church doesn’t have a mission, the mission has a church. That statement right there speaks to just, I think the small imagination, um, most people I think do there, there is no significant, in fact, I think I would say many American evangelicals believe that the mission is to grow the church.
And I think historically, I think even scripturally, we don’t, you just don’t hear that at all. It’s almost all about the kingdom of heaven. Um, and I think that, again, the distinction that we made early on about that, that the difference between the body of Christ and the institutional church, that is even more convoluted when, when church, institution and body, are held synonymously together.
That kingdom mindedness just get squeezed out because it all functions within the abilities for the institution to make it happen. Um, and I think that’s that… So not only do you have to separate those two, but then you make the distinction of the work of the Triune God in our world through all of creation and what that looks like.
Scripturally, traditionally, we’d go through the Wesleyan quadrilateral if you want of, you know, of experience and reason all for all that, for all that God is doing in the world…
Josiah (Narration): “It is not so much the case that God has a mission for his church in the world as that God has a church for his mission in the world. Mission was not made for the church. The church was made for mission, God’s mission.” This is a quote from Christopher Wright’s “The mission of God’s people, a biblical theology of the church’s mission.“
It’s the perfect place to begin if you too want to cultivate this broad kingdom imagination. Once you realize that the church exists to fulfill God’s mission the possibilities for church expression become endless. No longer does the church solely need to be confined to a building or a Sunday morning time slot.
There is no format for what a worship service has to look like that is a one size fits all.
The church, or people of God gathered to live out his will, can orient themselves around what it looks like fulfill God’s will, here on earth, just as it is in heaven.
While the classic Sunday morning worship gathering will still most certainly take place, so too will kingdom minded farms, like the one Ryan tends too. As will the sacred neighborhood spaces that Brian offers to his community and the benevolent work that I lead as a director of a nonprofit.
The beauty of a broad kingdom imagination is the inclusive nature it embodies. All are welcome to participate in the work in all can feel a sense of belonging, knowing that they are part of good work that is bigger than their individual wants and desires. What’s more is that it can happen in a coffee shop, on a mountain bike trail or a living room just as easily, or as often as it might happen in a church facility.
This is because it starts at a place where we acknowledge that God just might be at work anywhere and everywhere. All we need to do is keep our eyes open for a chance to participate. Otherwise we may miss out on the beauty of participating in his mission.
When Jesus taught us to pray the words he shares, as an example include the phrase “your kingdom come and your will be.”
Our actions within the American evangelical church may speak to an updated model that goes something like “my kingdom come and my will be done because I vote, or I think, or I act and look the way that I choose to believe God wants me to.” This friends is what is at the heart of a narrow kingdom imagination.
But as we close, we go back to our original question of whether there’s more to church than what we see for just a couple of hours on a Sunday morning. The answer is a simple and resounding yes, but it’s challenging because it convicts us to take a closer look at the communities we live in.
To truly cultivate a broad kingdom imagination we must start by humbly looking for where God’s mission is already happening, knowing full well that it’s not always in the sanctuaries full of butts in pews. Once we see with fresh eyes, we can never fully unsee or unknow, just how broad and incredible this kingdom truly is.
Join us next time as Brian leads our discussion on what it means to subscribe to a generous orthodoxy.
After that, we will wrap up our introductory episodes with a conversation on celebrating diverse practice. Stay tuned and thank you so much for listening to the Guerrilla Pastors Podcast!