The Church as a Community of the Kingdom of God

November 4, 2004
Kingdom Living Conference - The Church of the Open Door - Maple Grove, MN

This one day mini-conference (part of a two-and-a-half day event) focused on The Church as the Community of the Kingdom of God. It was led by Todd Hunter and Dallas Willard and held at the Church of the Open Door, Minneapolis, MN, November 4, 2004.

  1. Context & Story: The Relationship of the Kingdom to the Church (Hunter)
  2. Kingdom Communities: Basic Concepts (Hunter)
  3. The Kingdom as Reality (Willard)
  4. Vision: The Cooperative Friends of Jesus (Willard)
  5. Rethinking Church: Missional Communities (Hunter)
  6. How Spiritual Formation Empowers and Informs Kingdom Living (Willard)

Resources

1: Context & Story: The Relationship of the Kingdom to the Church

In this insightful session, Todd Hunter challenges traditional views of Christianity and the church by placing them within the expansive narrative of God's kingdom. He argues that understanding our role in God's ongoing story transforms how we live, worship, and engage with the world, fostering a kingdom-oriented mindset.

2: Kingdom Communities: Basic Concepts

Explore a transformative vision of church as a kingdom-centered community. Todd Hunter invites us to realign our lives with God's rule, challenging traditional views on discipleship and community. Discover the essential role of the Holy Spirit in embodying the gospel in a deeply engaging and missional way.

3: The Kingdom as Reality

Explore the reality of the Kingdom of God with Dallas Willard. Dallas guides us through a transformative understanding that the teachings of Jesus are not unreachable ideals but living truths accessible to everyone. Jesus invites us all to a life of practical obedience and learning, where loving your enemies and living out the Sermon on the Mount become tangible realities.

4: Rethinking Church: Missional Communities

Todd Hunter invites us to re-imagine church, within the context of the Kingdom of God. He encourages believers to weave their faith into the fabric of everyday life, fostering communities that become vibrant manifestations of discipleship and mission.

5: Vision: The Cooperative Friends of Jesus

Explore the transformative journey where spirituality transcends systems, inviting you into a vibrant relationship with the divine. Dallas Willard challenges conventional views, positioning prayer and meditation as intimate conversations with Jesus, redefining the essence of being in the Kingdom of God.

6: How Spiritual Formation Empowers and Informs Kingdom Living

Dallas Willard explores the transformative power of spiritual formation, anchoring his insights in 2 Peter 1. He challenges believers to cultivate inner change through practices like solitude and silence, arguing that true spiritual growth enables us to naturally embody Christ's teachings and live authentically within the kingdom of God.

Context & Story: The Relationship of the Kingdom to the Church

In his talk, Todd Hunter begins by expressing his anticipation for the conference, emphasizing the value of discussing the kingdom of God and its relationship to the church with both the audience and Dallas Willard. He introduces the core idea of rethinking what it means to be a Christian and the church by placing these concepts within the broader narrative of God's kingdom. Hunter stresses the importance of context in understanding biblical concepts and uses various analogies to illustrate how the same words or ideas can have different meanings in different contexts. He suggests that understanding our role as Christians and the church's role in the world requires aligning ourselves with God's ongoing story rather than confining our identities to narrow, traditional views.

Hunter delves deeper into the concept of the kingdom of God, explaining it not as a static place but as the active rule and reign of God where His will is done. This understanding of the kingdom challenges traditional notions of the church and encourages believers to see themselves as secondary, yet vital, participants in God's work. Hunter argues that recognizing the kingdom of God as preeminent allows for a healthier perspective on our individual and corporate identities as Christians. By adopting this kingdom-oriented mindset, Hunter believes that we can overcome disputes and misunderstandings within the church, reframe our mission, and engage more effectively with the world around us.

Concluding his talk, Hunter expands on the relationship between the kingdom of God and the church by drawing from biblical narratives and theological concepts. He uses the metaphor of an hourglass to depict the flow of God's promises through Jesus to the church, emphasizing the transformative impact of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Hunter encourages his listeners to view themselves as cooperative friends of Jesus, living out the kingdom's values in everyday life. By aligning our stories with God's larger narrative, we find our true purpose and identity as Christians and as the church, tasked with spreading the kingdom's influence through lives of creative goodness and service to the world.

Kingdom Communities: Basic Concepts

In Todd Hunter's talk "Kingdom Communities: Basic Concepts," he explores the notion of redefining the church as a community centered on the kingdom of God, drawing on Jesus' proclamation of the gospel in Mark 1:14-15. Hunter emphasizes that the essence of the gospel, according to Jesus, revolves around the present availability of God's kingdom, which requires a response of repentance and belief, not just in terms of doctrinal assent but as a transformative realignment of one's life towards God's rule. This reorientation invites individuals to reconsider their understanding of church and discipleship in the context of the kingdom of God, rather than merely adhering to religious practices or institutional affiliations.

Hunter further discusses the practical implications of forming communities focused on the kingdom of God. He argues that such communities should not be seen as clubs one joins for personal benefit but as missional movements one commits to for the sake of participating in God's redemptive work in the world. This perspective challenges the consumeristic approach to church engagement, advocating instead for a model where members view themselves as partners in a collective mission. This shift demands a reevaluation of one's vocation, understanding it not merely as a job but as a calling to live out the teachings of Jesus in every aspect of life, thus integrating one's faith with daily living and community involvement.

Conclusively, Hunter emphasizes the critical role of the Holy Spirit in enabling individuals and communities to live out the principles of the kingdom of God. He advocates for a balanced approach to spiritual gifts and holiness, encouraging believers to pursue a life marked by the character and power of the Holy Spirit. This entails embracing both the inward journey of spiritual transformation and the outward mission of loving and serving others, suggesting that authentic discipleship involves a dynamic interplay between personal growth and missional engagement. By fostering a supportive and loving community, believers are equipped to undertake both the inward and outward journeys of faith, ultimately contributing to the manifestation of God's kingdom on earth.

The Kingdom as Reality

Dallas Willard's talk, titled "The Kingdom as Reality," emphasizes the tangible reality of the Kingdom of God and its accessibility to everyone, right where they are, with no need to become someone else to approach it. Dallas underlines that the teachings of Jesus, such as those found in the Sermon on the Mount, are not lofty ideals meant for a select few or just for the biblical era, but are attainable and applicable to our lives today. He shares his realization that for a long time, he viewed scriptural promises and commands as distant ideals rather than something he could actually live out, suggesting that this mindset needs to change for true engagement with the Kingdom of God.

Dallas discusses the notion that living in the Kingdom of God requires a learning process, a life of stepping into God's actions on earth, and actively seeking to do His will. This involves seeing commands like "love your enemies" not just as nice thoughts but as practical, actionable directives that require learning and practice to implement. He highlights the importance of the church's role in teaching believers how to live out the teachings of Jesus, pointing out that there's often a gap between acknowledging these teachings and actually practicing them in everyday life.

Finally, Dallas expands on the concept of the Kingdom of God being a realm of learning and growth, accessible to anyone willing to engage with it through obedience and seeking God's will. He encourages his audience to reflect on what they desire to achieve spiritually and to consider how they might have already been living out these aspirations, perhaps without recognizing it. This involves a reevaluation of our understanding of humility, success, and our identities as part of Christ's body, urging a practical approach to living out the principles of the Kingdom in everyday life, underpinned by a reliance on God's presence and power.

Rethinking Church: Missional Communities

In his talk titled "Rethinking Church: Missional Communities," Todd Hunter introduces the idea that reimagining the church and Christian life necessitates prioritizing the Kingdom of God. He emphasizes the importance of understanding the church not merely as an institution but as a community actively participating in God's work. Hunter highlights a paradigm shift where Christians are called out and sent into the world as God's representatives. He argues that seeing the Kingdom of God as both a present reality and a verb—emphasizing God's ongoing work in the world—can fundamentally change how Christians live out their faith and engage with their communities.

Hunter delves deeper into the practical implications of this Kingdom-focused perspective, suggesting that Christians should live as "cooperative friends of Jesus," aiming for a life marked by creative goodness for the sake of others. He critiques the conventional approach to church and Christian life that often compartmentalizes spiritual practices and missionary work as separate from everyday life. Instead, Hunter proposes a vision where Christians' entire lives—encompassing all mundane activities—are seen as opportunities for discipleship and mission. By reorienting towards a Kingdom-centered life, Christians can transcend the dichotomy between the sacred and secular, making every aspect of their lives an act of worship and mission.

Towards the conclusion of his talk, Hunter outlines a transformative approach for Christian communities to embody their missional calling. He envisions local churches as vibrant outposts of the Kingdom, where believers practice their faith in the context of real-life communities, including their neighborhoods, workplaces, and schools. This vision challenges traditional church models by suggesting a more integrated and life-encompassing approach to being the church. Hunter's message is a call to action for Christians to live out their Kingdom vocation holistically, fostering communities that reflect God's love and justice in every sphere of life.

Vision: The Cooperative Friends of Jesus

Dallas talk begins with an exploration of the Kingdom of God as a spiritual reality centered around a personal relationship with God rather than a mechanistic system to be manipulated. He contrasts the approach to spirituality in the Kingdom of God with that of Christian Science, where the focus is on identifying and tapping into spiritual laws. He emphasizes that in the Kingdom of God, spiritual practices like prayer and meditation are not methods to work a system but are means of engaging in a dialogue and relationship with a person, specifically Jesus Christ. This distinction highlights the importance of personal engagement over systemic manipulation in spiritual disciplines.

Dallas further clarifies that the Kingdom of God, being rooted in a relationship with Jesus, fundamentally alters how believers approach spiritual disciplines and their understanding of them. Rather than viewing practices like prayer as techniques for obtaining desired outcomes, these are seen as opportunities to deepen one's relationship with Christ. This perspective challenges believers to shift their focus from seeking benefits to cultivating a personal connection with God, underscoring the relational nature of the Kingdom. Through this relationship, followers of Jesus are invited to live in alignment with God's will and participate in His Kingdom in a meaningful way.

The essence of Dallas’ message revolves around the transformative power of viewing the Kingdom of God through the lens of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. This approach fosters a deeper understanding of spiritual practices as channels for genuine connection with God, rather than mere tools for spiritual advancement. By emphasizing the personal and relational aspects of the Kingdom, Willard invites believers to engage with God in a more profound and meaningful manner, encouraging them to become cooperative friends of Jesus who live out the reality of the Kingdom in their daily lives.

How Spiritual Formation Empowers and Informs Kingdom Living

In this talk Dallas Willard begins by highlighting the concept of spiritual formation and its significance for living in the Kingdom of God, anchoring his discussion in 2 Peter 1. He emphasizes that spiritual formation, while not explicitly mentioned in the Bible, is implied through the transformative process of becoming like Christ in character. Dallas stresses that the kingdom of God provides all that is necessary for life and godliness, challenging the notion that the church's needs are more people, money, or credentials. Instead, he posits that the church thrives on transformed individuals who live out their faith contagiously, implying that spiritual formation is foundational to missional living and the spread of Christianity.

Dallas delves into the specifics of spiritual formation, describing it as a process that involves adding virtues such as moral excellence, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love, as outlined in 2 Peter. He asserts that spiritual formation leads to becoming partakers of the divine nature, escaping the corruption in the world caused by lust. This transformative journey is not just about external compliance to religious norms but an internal renewal that empowers individuals to live out the teachings of Jesus effortlessly and naturally. Dallas underscores that true spiritual life flows from the resources of the kingdom of God, not from human effort or religiosity, thus enabling believers to embody the character of Christ in their everyday lives.

Towards the conclusion of his talk, Dallas focuses on practical aspects of spiritual formation, stressing the importance of disciplines like solitude, silence, and rest in fostering a deeper relationship with God. He suggests that spiritual disciplines are not just about willpower but involve a holistic approach that includes the mind, body, and soul, aiming to align every aspect of one's being with the character of Christ. Dallas encourages his audience to seek transformation through disciplined practices that lead to a life marked by love, peace, and the ability to naturally do the things Jesus taught. His message culminates in a call to understand spiritual formation as the pathway to truly empowered and informed kingdom living, where the life of faith becomes an expression of one's internal transformation.