Kingdom Vs Empire
Some days I wonder what I’m building… His Kingdom or my empire.
It’s easy to confuse the two if you’re not paying attention, especially as a pastor. Since I lead Liberty Church for a living it could easily be assumed that I’m always building His Kingdom. But am I?
Is my viewpoint earthly or eternal?
I recently had the opportunity to purchase a web domain for our church. Our old domain had served us well but with new communities on the horizon in California, Florida and Swaziland it was clear that libertychurchnyc.com wasn’t going to cut it anymore. As we were in prayer one day I felt prompted to reach out to the church that owned libertychurch.com. I had first reached out to them in 2009 before Andi & I even visited NYC for the first time after the Holy Spirit gave us the name of our church separately. They graciously declined to sell it. Many others had asked before they said. So instead we bought the domain we have today.
Fast forward seven years and by the grace of God we’ve pioneered four communities in NYC, and have four more at various stages in the planting process. So I reached out again, if nothing else to share the good reports with them since we’d last spoken. There was a glimmer of hope in their reply! Their circumstances were changing, they had fresh vision they wanted to finance, the founding pastor was transitioning the church to his son… but this would be no small price for either of us.
I’d bought domains before, but only from nameless, faceless entities reselling them. This was a man of God. A pastor just like me. A visionary who had bought this domain at the prompting of the Holy Spirit when many pastors were probably still wondering if the internet was just a fad. Here was a leader trying to care for his community like I was for mine. I wondered, “What does a ‘negotiation’ look like in the Kingdom?” Naturally, I was hoping for the lowest price possible. Naturally, he was hoping for the highest. But the more we prayed and talked together the more we sensed the Holy Spirit at work, and the watchful eye of our Father.
I became acutely aware that my Father was also his Father. That the same Father knew what I had and knew what they had. He knew what was a sacrifice for me, and what was a sacrifice for them. So eventually we sat together, he and I and his son sharing some good old fashioned cajun food near their church in Louisiana, and we listened to each other’s journey of faith as pastors. Like family.
Yes, we bought the domain and we’re excited to launch our new website on it next month. Yes, we were both generous and made sacrifices. But my favorite part was this persistent sense that the Father was smiling on us through it all. Like one of those moments I have occasionally as a parent when I overhear my kids loving and honoring each other well when it seems like no-one is looking.
Who am I building this for?
Is my motive really the King and his Kingdom? How much am I thinking about myself and my agenda, instead of Him and His?
In my heart is this about His Kingdom, or my empire?
That’s where the difference is most clearly seen, in my heart… but am I willing to be honest about my heart?
The truth is I have an ego like the bad guy at the end of every action movie. Just when you think he’s dead he takes one last shot. You’d think by now after 27 years of following Jesus and teaching all those messages about humility, dying to self, and following Jesus that I wouldn’t have ego problems. But I can still find myself getting discouraged by some other pastor’s praise report on Instagram. Ugh. Their stuff is better than ours. That crowd looks huge. They have more people on launch Sunday than we have after six years! I suck.
Can I wholeheartedly celebrate other people’s successes?
Can I play passionately the part the Father has for me? (Or would I rather be the star of my off off Broadway show, than let Him be my agent and director?)
Can I die to myself and my own agendas again today?
Your will be done.
That’s the mission. It’s not supposed to be about winners and losers… that’s the framework of empires. It’s supposed to be about His will being done. I’m meant to be seeking a simple, “well done good and faithful servant”.
“Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” Mt6:10
Some of my favorite moments leading Liberty Church have been the ones that hardly anybody saw. These almost unnoticed, behind-the-scenes, gritty moments of truth. I have a feeling they’re more likely to be on heaven’s highlight reel for our community than the fanfare moments with crowds and cheers and cameras. To me, they were Kingdom moments.
Like adopting a campus of Christ Fellowship just over a year ago, that became what is today Liberty Church Upper West Side. Behind the scenes I was stunned by the generosity and humility of their leadership as we navigated what could have been some soulless version of “mergers and acquisitions”. I wish that kind of mutual honor was not so uncommon.
Or like sitting with the pastors in Manzini last year and submitting to them our dream to establish a Liberty Church community in their city. Transparency and honor go a long way to building unity. They formally welcomed us to the city and prayed for our success. In the heavens something shifted.
Or like sending some of our best to Seattle this week as we released our Brooklyn Pastors of these past three years to plant a new church. We’ve determined to be sowers. We’re a church planting church and if it’s Kingdom and not empire it won’t matter whether it’s a Liberty Church our not, as long as the Father is happy. 2Cor9:10 is a good promise for pastors: that if you’ll sow He’ll supply.
Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. 2Cor9:10
I want to keep on celebrating Kingdom wins. And to keep on fighting the empire agendas in my heart.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts Isa55:9
Sure, we believe our mandate is to be a church planting church. But what if the Father asked us to press pause and not plant another church for ten years? Am I still OK? Is my identity intact? Can I heed “the still small voice” and risk the displeasure of the crowd?
It all depends whether this is Kingdom or empire.
I’d love your comments
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