Came in a few minutes late today (actually 30), and entered an ongoing discussion about time. Jesus' proclamation of the anticipated kingdom of God as HERE in his day fundamentally shifted a widely-held expectation. We dovetailed a bit into a discussion of time in modern and post-modern societies, before asking the question of what a community would look like that proclaimed the in-breaking of the future into the present, and lived within said message.
To speak candidly from my group, this was hard to get our minds around, since we tend either to not have deeply-held hopes for the future or to have increasingly pessimistic views of what will come. As for the first, when you grow up with a mindset of entitlement, what's to hope for? Spinning the coin around, we look at the things that have been promoted as worth hoping for and the ways in which we've been let down...and the phrase 'hope deferred makes a heart sick' comes to life. Quite frankly, if the American Dream's all there is, we might as well just go home now, since that doesn't really inspire me.
Yet the perspective in the church isn't much more inspiring. Since the advent of dispensationalism in the nineteenth century, evangelicals have tended to take a very pessimistic view of the future, in keeping with a premillenial theology that paints a picture of things getting worse and worse, and an apocalyptic future of gloom in which the church plays no part, since it's been raptured, given a virtual 'get out of hellonearth free' card.
How's this play out? Widespread pessimism regarding our societies, and a tendency to see the worst in things, despair, and dig into a trench where the mortar shells won't get in.
This is so deeply ingrained in much of Christianity in America that to proclaim the sort of message we're starting to think about requires all sorts of deconstruction before we can even get to ground zero. Similarly, the nonsynonymous relationship between the church and the kingdom of God subverts our mindsets, and forces us to ask the question, 'what if individual churches were to see themselves in a more decentralized position, both within society and the activity of God? If we're at our best when we participate in what God's doing, might that mean that redirecting our resources, giving away our buildings, and similar activities are actually kingdom focused, even if they mean the death of a church or a thousand?
Now the corrollary that comes immediately to mind is the closing of churches which've been co-opted by megas, 'are they not participating in what God is doing?' Yet there's such a strong resemblance to the Wal-Mart effect that I can't but protest my thoughts as they escape my lips!
Here's where the kingdom question comes to bear. What if the numbers don't necessarily serve as adequate measures of kingdom activity?