This message was given on Tuesday, September 3, 2019 at Christian Word Center International in Lusaka, Zambia.
I have come to encourage you, no doubt, but I have also come to challenge you. Gold is not purified without some level of heat, and your sanctification isn’t going to happen without a little bit of pressure. We tend to learn the most in the furnace of affliction, so I intend on placing you all in the fiery furnace of examination for just a little while in order to help all of us grow in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. And since most of you are pastors and leaders, you can be assured that I’m going to touch on that very issue during our time this evening.
The reason I want to address this particular topic is because I believe that much of what I see in Africa is a reflection of what’s been happening in my country. There’s a lot of positive things we could say about the United States of America, but you should know there’s a lot of problems with America, too. When it comes to the American church, the same thing can be said.
In some ways the American church has done a remarkable job at global missions, developing book publishing companies and universities, translating Bibles and so forth. These are all good things, at least they can be as long as they are faithful to the gospel. But there’s something that has crippled our efforts at accomplishing the Great Commission, and I believe it will cripple your attempts, too, and the only way to stop it is to address the problem and correct your course.
The problem I’m talking about is actually fairly difficult to identify, and that’s because once we’re accustomed to doing things a certain way, it’s hard to change. When you’re used to doing things one way, that familiarity can be hard to evaluate, after all, “We’ve always done it this way.” Which is to say, the closer you are to something, the less you know it. The more familiar you are to something, the greater chance you’ll have of losing your astonishment of the thing. If a madman knew he was mad, he would cease to be mad, as one writer has said. I think you understand what I’m getting at. I will tell you about this great problem in a minute.
When we consider the great undertaking of discipling the nations, that is, baptizing and teaching obedience to all people groups, we are oftentimes staggered and confounded at the task before us. After all, there are 7 billion people on the planet right now, and just over 2 billion are Christians. This means that 5 billion people are slated to be converted and discipled in the Christian faith, and we have a lot of work ahead of us. This great enterprise of converting the world seems like an unfathomable thing.
However, something needs to be said here: Discipling the nations is supposed to feel like an insurmountable task, otherwise we might be tempted to think that our strength, authority, and wisdom is what did it. What seems like a daunting responsibility to us is nothing for the Lord Jesus Christ. Which means that we must be diligent in keeping our focus, trusting that God is at work, not just in the big events and crusades and revivals, but also the day-to-day work you do in being salt in light in Lusaka, Zambia. And please know that God is at work in the world, even in the way he brings judgment to nations. When bad things happen, it’s not as thought God is not working; he’s working in the judgment, too! But there’s a problem as it pertains to the Great Commission and I told you I would tell you what that problem is, so here we go.
The greatest hindrance to spread of the gospel isn’t liberals or humanists or atheists. The biggest obstacle to the advancement of the Kingdom of God isn’t Islam, nor is it Statism. Our greatest adversary isn’t Satan and his work of deception. Believe it or not, the greatest setback we face right now is our self-induced, stiff-necked rejection of the Holy Spirit, and thus, the blame is our own incompetence. The Church’s primary combatant right now is not the world or Satan, but the Holy Spirit. We have by and large neglected justice and failed to take care of the stranger and orphan, and because of it, the Holy Spirit of God has brought sanctions against us using the very law of God we are commanded to obey.
In other words, the reason we can’t seem to accomplish the Great Commission is because we think we know better than God. We think we know better than God! We really think that our strategies and our plans are better than God’s strategies and plans. Instead of faithfulness to the Word of God in every area of life, we’d rather come up with our own program. And let me tell you how this works itself in my country, and then I’ll tell you how it works itself out in yours.
In America, we have what is called “The Mega Church.” The mega-churches have thousands and thousands and thousands of people who attend their weekend “services” in order to feel good about themselves. They have “expert communicators” who tickle their ears, never uttering words like “repentance,” “justice,” or “sin.” This is a fast-food spirituality that serves as an easy way to check the religious box off of your list. But it’s not just mega-churches that have a problem.
A lot of evangelical churches in my country are completely content to stay within the four-walls of their buildings. They compartmentalize the faith: show up on Sunday, and do whatever else you do the rest of the week. All of it is divorced from the Kingdom. Injustices like abortion and racism and Statism are never spoken of, at least not in any meaningful way. Pastors depend on the tithes to pay their salaries so they have to be careful not to speak out about things like taxation and the role of the civil magistrate to punish evil, not sponsor evil. They pay lip service to injustices like abortion.
What happens, then, is the Church becomes slowly desensitized and numb to the world around her and as a result, she is no longer able to speak prophetically to a world in desperate need of guidance. As Jesus warned: don’t put your light under a bushel. Lights are to be set free out in the open, not put underneath a basket.
The same can be said here in Africa. This is my third time to Africa, second time in Zambia, and I can see the same sorts of things happening here. You have conference after conference casting out demons and getting that blessing. Are there demons in need of exorcism? Sure. Does God give blessings to those who seek to do his will? Sure. But the problem comes in when we think that the height of Christian experience is the activities of the church rather than the Kingdom of God.
If I were to throw a rock outside right now, I might hit a church that’s having a special service about getting the extra blessing for giving more money to the church. Can the Church use money to bless others? Absolutely. But don’t think you have a successful ministry because you had 200 people show up to your event. That does not define success. Satan has plenty of conferences on deception, with plenty in attendance, so don’t think you’re something special.
The biggest concern I want to address here tonight has everything to do with you, pastors and elders and bishops and apostles and prophets and so on and so forth. Here’s my warning: STOP BUILDING YOUR KINGDOM. Stop it right now. King Jesus doesn’t need you to occupy his throne for a little while. He doesn’t need you. He’s not going to ask you to take over the sovereign, predestinating control of the world. The advancement of the gospel to the nations doesn’t require you and it doesn’t require me. Stop building your Kingdom.
You might say, “Pastor Mutale*, how am I supposed to know if I’m building my kingdom? I don’t think I am, but I want to be sure.” First, if you can humbly ask that, good job. A lot of pastors would never, ever ask such a question. There are a lot of ways you can build your kingdom on the backs of your people, and I’ll mention a couple examples, however, I want to focus on one way in particular.
Some examples: You spend more time preaching about showing up on Sunday to tithe than you do encouraging your people to press the Kingdom of God into their day-to-day lives. Or, you neglect the widow and orphan. Perhaps your ministry spent more time talking about your ministry than the Kingdom. Maybe you refuse to work with other Christians to collaborate on Kingdom initiatives because you want to protect your image. Worse yet, perhaps you think that there are two mediators between God and men, you and the man, Christ Jesus.
The particular way that this man-focused Kingdom building works itself is both in the neglect of the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers, and the insistence on a superior class of clergyman over against the “laity.” Recall to mind the statement made in 1 Peter 2:9 — “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”
The Apostle Peter’s point is that what was said about Israel is now true of the Church, the New Israel. The Church is a chosen race with King Adam II as its head; the People of God as a whole is a holy nation which infiltrates all the nations. The Church of God is a priesthood which consists of multiple priests, just like Israel. Which means that every single professing and baptized Christian is a priest underneath the direct supervision and authority of Jesus Christ the Great High Priest.
Now, do I believe that there are gifting and offices that God gives to the Church? Absolutely. Elders and pastors, teachers and preachers—these are qualified men, and depending what we’re talking about, women, who are set apart, acknowledged by the Church, to serve the Church for the goal of the Kingdom.
Jesus did not establish the church so that unruly men with a lust for power and control could take authority into their own hands, create their own rival Kingdom, and build it on the backs of God’s people. The reason that you are a pastor or elder is for the means of serving the Church, not controlling or domineering or lording it over the church. The point of being a teacher is to teach; the point of being a pastor is to shepherd people; the point of being an elder or deacon is to pour yourself out in service to others. And the moment you stop doing this, and start seeing your position or title or function as a means of serving yourself and your little kingdom, that’s the moment Christ will break you and shut you down.
There is no possible way we can ever achieve the Great Commission when we think that the point of the church is to serve the church. The church is an institution created by the blood of Christ to serve Christ and his Kingdom project.
You should see the nonsense that happens in my country. We have massive church buildings that sit empty Monday through Saturday. Instead of a social order with righteous business and commerce, economics and education, the building where the church gathers is only used for a handful of hours on a Sunday morning. We literally spend millions and millions of U.S. dollars on seeing to it that we have world-class facilities for 3 hours a week.
By and large the church in America is more concerned with fresh coffee and a comfy seat than it is with justice and righteousness in the public square. And this is damning. It’s absolutely, unequivocally damning. And I must warn you not to follow our lead in this way. Don’t do it. When it comes to the weightier matters of the law, things like justice and mercy, don’t follow us. Ignore us. Don’t listen to us when we talk about how to grow a big church. Don’t listen to us when we talk about how to get more money from your tithers. Don’t do it! If the tithe is not utilized for the Kingdom of God, but is instead used for the kingdoms of the elders and pastors, stop it. Leave these churches because they are false churches.
Do not drive a wedge between your gifted service and role as a pastor or leader and the people of God. You are not the “first class” of God’s Kingdom while everyone else is in the back of plane in economy seating. You are not acknowledged to be a pastor or elder so that you can pretend to be the sovereign lord of the universe.
And let me say this: you’re really not that special. And neither am I. I’m not. You’re not. We’re not. Because we’ve treated the church like a business model, there’s a great temptation to want to be at the top. There’s a great temptation to want to be recognized, to be heard, to be popular with the masses. It’s a very real temptation, and if you can’t admit it’s a temptation, you’re already doomed. And if you are not repenting of this lust for power, the Lord Jesus will bring his judgment against you. He will blind you and then break you. He is not jealous to have others fill his spot on the throne.
And if I had to bet money on what it is that sets us back in accomplishing the Great Commission it’s this: we are far too busy trying to recognized. The People of God do not need you to be High Priest and Mediator. The Church doesn’t need you in order to be the Church. God does not need your thirst power, he wants your thirst for righteousness.
Encourage the people of God to be priests: to acknowledge the privilege of being brought into covenant with God as a special people, a chosen generation. Encourage them to access the throne of God through Jesus because that’s the new reality. Spur on the Bride of Christ towards the end of offering spiritual sacrifices to God, proclaiming the praises of him who has called us out of darkness. You are the Temple of the Living God, and together, we are the Temple of the Living God (1 Cor. 6:19-20). Which means that God has called us to serve in this Temple for the sake of the world, being living sacrifices (Rom. 12:1-2). As priests of Christ, we have been made clean, made holy, in order to press the holiness of God into every area of life.
And this means that we do not have time to waste on rival commissions. We do not have the time build our own little kingdoms in hopes that God will bless it and acknowledge it. We do not have time for any of us to put the spotlight on ourselves. The modern church is oftentimes at odds with the Kingdom of God because the modern church is obsessed with being its own Kingdom. And there is no possible way we can disciple nations this way.
We cannot teach the nations to obey Christ if what we really mean is, teaching them to obey us. So my encouragement to you tonight is this: preach the Kingdom of God. Teach people how to press the crown rights of King Jesus into every area of life. Teach about biblical law and matters of justice and if you don’t know how, learn. Teach men how to start and grow a business. Teach women how to be good wives and men how to be good husbands. Learn a trade and do it well.
And remember, the Great Commission requires the Church to be seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness/justice. When we do this, when we pursue the ethics of the Kingdom in every single crevice of life, we honor Christ and work in concert with the Holy Spirit, instead of working against the Holy Spirit.
*Mutale means “strong, or strength.” It’s my Zambian name given to me last year by Bishop Mulenga.