An Unexpected Phone Call
I had a great little moment yesterday afternoon courtesy of a phone call from the Uniting Church Moderator from one of the Australian states. The Uniting Church was the denomination to which I previously belonged. I spent approximately twenty-two years working as a leader in various churches within that movement. When we decided to separate from the Uniting Church, most of the members of the congregation left to form what is now Grace Canberra. At the time, it was relatively controversial and in some cases acrimonious. I think I can say that we didn’t bear any resentment or bitterness toward that denomination and kept working to make and keep our hearts pure as part of the post-separation process. The criticism from some Uniting Church leaders was difficult at the time. We tried to follow the call of God as much as we could. We sought to relate with people who were displeased with us with as much grace as we could. We were responsible for numerous imperfections as we tried to find the road ahead.
An Unexpected Journey
It was along this track that Crosslink Christian Network came into being. It was a Network based around “kingdom of God” values. It was relational, flat-structured and outwardly focused. As far as I can see the emergence of the Crosslink Network is a reflection of something that has been happening for some time. I think God is working to see the church as a testimony to the kingdom rather than and idea of “kingdom” defined by some “badge-wearing” church or group of churches. The very many different denominations and groups around the world are all built on distinctives which, although they sourced from the Bible, have been exaggerated to the point where they become abhorrent monsters having the capacity to self-elevate, separate, criticise and even hate other Christian movements and groups.
Crosslink is just a tool to promote the kingdom. It isn’t worth dying for. There is little to protect and nothing to defend. That’s the usual status for tools. I know because I am a bloke who likes using better tools. So the thing that will make Crosslink obsolete will be when it is no longer useful in promoting the kingdom of God. We can all send it to the place where all good-but-superseded-tools” finish up. Being a non-harder by nature, and because my shed is small, mine usually end up at the rubbish tip. I feel no nostalgia about it nor do I have any loyalty to a poor tool when I can have a better one. Sadly the movements that seem to generate such exalted significance start out as tools and end up as badges that we wear to distinguish ourselves from others.
Crosslink is no more immune from this challenge. It can easily become the “next badge” that we wear. I will be more than happy as long as Crosslink continues to do things that exalt Jesus as King and that make his Kingdom accessible to everyone everywhere. The kingdom of God doesn’t get proclaimed because of a particular structure and no structure can stop it from being proclaimed. The demonized religious system that Jesus came to didn’t prevent the kingdom of God being proclaimed. Not a bit. If we ever presume that the particular structure we left is the reason that the kingdom of God did not come, we deceive ourselves. It may well be full of obvious shortcomings, but it doesn’t have the power to stop a kingdom person from doing kingdom things.
A Kingdom Moment in a Tribal World
So, back to my phone call. The leader of this part of the Uniting Church in Australia rang me because he was trying to help an ethnic-based congregation in his city to be able to function better as a church. There were difficulties in this particular church being adopted by the Uniting Church but he wanted to see them helped. It was the kingdom heart of this man that deeply impacted me. I can think of a few Uniting Church leaders in past days who would never have countenanced the idea. The reasons would have had nothing to do with Jesus or the kingdom. They would have been grubby “tribal” reasons. And if I, upon discovering that this was a Uniting Church leader, decided to gain some grubby satisfaction about the fact that he was talking to me, when a few (and just a few) of his colleagues said things about me that were unfair I would be imbibing the same “grub-ery.” How pathetic.
What was important was the fact that a group of followers of Jesus were seeking to serve the kingdom and needed support. What was profoundly satisfying was the fact that we could talk together about trying to get some tools that would help them without tiptoeing around subliminal issues of whose “name tag” would be attached and who was going to get bragging rights. From the beginning of the conversation to the end, I was profoundly impacted by the “kingdom-ness” of what we were doing together and heartened by it. It had that distinct heavenly flavour about which I have developed a much keener discernment in recent years.
I am sure it was the fact that it was Uniting Church that accentuated this for me. I have an abiding sense of gratitude for everything that church gave to me and a deep longing for our relationship to be healthy and useful to God. The same would be true for any other group of Jesus-followers, for the same set of reasons. The challenge is to find tools that will help get the job done. Who owns the tools is not a kingdom of God question. Who gets to use them is more the issue.
Crosslink has been in operation for nineteen years. In that time, I have had many encouraging interactions with Uniting Church leaders and people. Not until yesterday did I feel that I had talked with anyone from my former denomination who understood what Crosslink was about or how we could use the tools God has given us to work together for an outcome that would honour Jesus and serve the kingdom. Maybe there are more such moments out there. Bring them on I say. The more we do, the less power to our adversaries.
 I have taken up using the word “tribal” as the antithesis of kingdom only because it seems to do the job better than any other metaphor I can think of. The best way to think about “tribal” is to think about e.g. rugby league. I follow the Canberra Raiders. I am convinced we are better than anyone else. I can’t imagine why anyone would want to offer their sporting loyalty to any of the other fifteen teams in the NRL competition. Week by week, when I go to a game, I can easily tell who to like and who to dislike. Who to cheer and who to abuse. I don’t need to have rational reasons for doing this because it’s a tribal thing. I am from Canberra and we are the Raiders. That’s the end of the subject whether we are first or last in the competition. When people treat their movement or denomination or preferred theological system as I treat my loyalty to the Raiders they are operating in a tribal way and this will always result in them, and us, hindering the work of the kingdom of God.