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Friday, July 29, 2011

Implications of a Kingdom Mindset

A Kingdom Mindset is neither American nor European; it’s not the product of twentieth century, first century, or ancient thought; nor is it the property of a particular religion.

A Kingdom Mindset is in a category all its own. It stands in stark contrast to all cultural mindsets because it was neither conceived of, nor developed, in the heart of man.

Cultural mindsets, on the other hand, are very much the product of man. Whether it be:
a Religious Mindset or a Western Church Mindset;
an American Mindset or an Asian Mindset;
a Corporate Mindset or a Political Mindset;
an Academic Mindset or a Military Mindset;
a Modern Mindset or a Medieval Mindset;
an Urban Mindset or a Small Town Mindset;
All cultural mindsets are, understandably so, conceived of and developed in the mind of man.

Furthermore, whereas cultural mindsets change and adapt over time, a Kingdom Mindset remains the same regardless of cultural context. There's no mystery here - the two mindsets are simply as different as, well, apples & oranges!

In fact, if anything does change about a Kingdom Mindset, it's simply our awareness and understanding of how to live out the implications of a Kingdom Mindset within a particular cultural context.

But what happens when a kingdom mindset intersects with, say, a religious mindset, or western church mindset, or even a first century Jewish mindset?

Can we assume that the former will be represented accurately and with high fidelity by the latter?

2000 years ago we got the answer to that question and found out exactly what happens when a kingdom mindset intersects with a particular cultural mindset, in this case, within a Jewish context!

Mentioned 121 times in the four Gospel accounts, Jesus spoke about the kingdom nearly as much as He spoke about belief/faith (125 times); yet surprisingly more than He spoke about love (56 times) and the church (3 times).

The kingdom was central to His teaching, and, if there’s one thing we can learn from Jesus’ perspective, it’s that a kingdom mindset stands in stark contrast to all other mindsets, particularly when compared to a religious mindset.

When God became flesh and “moved into the neighborhood,” He entered a culture that already possessed not only a particular mindset but a host of "required practices" born out of that mindset.

The Jewish context that Jesus entered did not develop their particular mindset and tradition overnight. It was the result of incremental changes and adjustments in their thinking made over many generations. It essentially started with all that God revealed through Abraham & Moses and slowly took on a life of its own from there.

By the time Jesus arrived on the scene, God’s people appeared oblivious to even the "concept" of the kingdom, let alone that a kingdom mindset was to be the trademark of their identity as the people of God.

In fact, the people of Israel were so caught up in the parallel religious system that they built over the previous four centuries before Christ, that they completely missed the heart of God on these matters.

Though their mindset and traditions did not negate God’s promise to them or their overall standing as God’s people, it did, however, reveal how far they had strayed from the mindset that God intended for them to have as His people.

When God became man, an opportunity surfaced to tell His people anything He wanted to tell them and do it in person. Not just another prophet revealing the things of God, but God Himself telling His people what was on His heart and what was most important to Him.

In God’s mind, then, just how important was this “concept” of the kingdom? Would He use this unique moment in human history to set the record straight on this matter or would He come to the defense of the existing mindset?

Clearly, in His mind, it was essential that He set the record straight, and Jesus therefore used His presence on the world stage to compare, contrast, and correct the prevailing values and mindset of His people with the values and mindset of the kingdom.

He was intent on refocusing His people on the things that really mattered from a kingdom perspective and frequently used just two simple statements to frame His message and get His point across:
The first: “You have heard that it was said [from the perspective of your religious system]…...But I tell you [from a kingdom perspective] that what truly matters is….[love, mercy, humility, the heart, etc]

The second: “What shall I compare the kingdom of God to? It is like….[a mustard seed, treasure, a landowner, yeast, etc]”
All one need do is reflect on Jesus’ teaching found in the Sermon on the Mount (the "Constitution" of the Kingdom) and the stark contrast between the prevailing mindset of the day and a Kingdom Mindset becomes blatant.

The values and mindset of His people became so focused on outward appearances, that He refocused them on the inward matters of the heart.
They became so focused on what goes into a man, that He refocused them on what comes out.

They became so focused on strict rule-keeping, that He refocused them on love and mercy.

They became so focused on rituals, that He refocused them on relationship.

They became so focused on position and authority, that He refocused them on servanthood.
In short, they were so focused on a “religious mindset” that Jesus literally went out of His way to refocus them on a "kingdom mindset."

To some, like the religious leaders of the day, it was taken as a direct assault on all that they held dear. But to others, like the everyday common person, it was wholly unlike any other message that they had ever heard before, and they were drawn to Him.

By the time Jesus’ work on earth was done, the values and mindset of the kingdom were so clearly articulated and so visibly demonstrated that it would seem unimaginable that God’s people would ever again confuse a kingdom mindset with a religious mindset.

Fast-Forward 2000 years. When we take a closer look at the prevailing mindset of God’s people today and the values and practices that the western church system has given birth to, what do we find? How about when we take a look at our mindset over the centuries?

After Jesus set the record straight during His time on earth, did we “get it” never again to confuse a kingdom mindset with a religious mindset?

If Jesus walked on earth today and used the same brutal honesty to compare and contrast the predominant mindset and practices of God’s people today with the values and mindset of the kingdom, how would we do? Would we hear the words “well done?”

For those of us who generally consider ourselves to be "evangelical" (including those who share the same deep conviction on core doctrine and the Great Commission but choose not to describe themselves as "evangelical"), it’s easy to dismiss the notion that we could possibly have anything in common with a religious mindset.

Typically, religion is defined by us, and rightly so, as anything that attempts to seek God, eternal life, or fulfillment through self-effort. Any belief system that is “works based” and ignores, diminishes, or repudiates the person and work of Christ on the cross is viewed by us, and rightly so, as religion.

From our perspective, since we don’t hold to a belief system that is based on works, we can’t imagine how we could possibly have anything in common with a religious mindset. We simply don’t see ourselves as religious and, in fact, go out of our way to point out that “ours is a relationship, not a religion!”

Though there is nothing inherently wrong with this perspective, the problem is that it paints only half the picture. It does an excellent job at making a clear distinction between correct and incorrect doctrine, but it gives us no reason to examine our mindset and practices beyond a core set of beliefs.

That’s not at all to infer that correct doctrine is somehow unimportant, it is undeniably essential, but simply adhering to correct doctrine does not necessarily mean that a kingdom mindset dominates our thinking.

Let me try to illustrate it this way:

God is the King, and He is building a Kingdom that is not linked to any particular culture on earth. In fact, the Kingdom Culture that He is committed to promoting and preserving is able to function in any culture; anywhere in the world; regardless of the religious, political, or cultural beliefs and values of a given society.

Kingdom Culture cannot be legislated, nor can it be legislated against.

Whether a particular society is free or slave; Muslim or Hindu; Democratic or Communist; Kingdom Culture is not only capable of existing within these cultures, it is capable of thriving. It knows no bounds because it is not bound to any particular earthly culture or religious system for it's survival or existence.

It can exist in any culture on the face of the earth because citizenship in the Kingdom of God does not require the "believer" to take on the values and mindset of a religious system; only the values and mindset of the Kingdom.

Adopting the forms, practices, and mindset of the western church system is simply not a prerequisite for proper standing in God's Kingdom. Each "believer" remains in the culture of their "first birth" and is simply transformed by the Holy Spirit into a whole new identity - Kingdom Identity; a whole new mindset - Kingdom Mindset; and a whole new set of values - Kingdom Values!

To be able to survive, even thrive, in a hostile environment is no small task. A foreign religion, and the "system" attached to it, would never stand a chance, but the Kingdom that Jesus spoke of is another matter entirely!

Clearly, the implications of a Kingdom Mindset are immensely significant. As such, it compels us to inquire further and ask the type of questions that bring the implications of a Kingdom Mindset more clearly out in the open and into focus. That's what this blog is all about. Our aim is to think through the implications, and, as we do so, to keep a few questions in the back of our mind along the way:

What exactly are the implications of a Kingdom Mindset? Since a kingdom mindset originates in the heart of God, what kind of thinking, attitudes, perspectives, practices, methods, forms, relationships, and modus operandi can we expect to naturally be born from a kingdom mindset?

How about the "other" mindsets? Since these originate in the heart of man what can we expect their offspring to look like? What do these mindsets, say, a religious mindset, or a Corporate Mindset, naturally give birth to?

As the people of God, is our overall mindset more reflective of a kingdom mindset, or is it more reflective of one or more of the "other" mindsets? How would we know if we're not even asking the question?

What can we learn about ourselves and the prevailing mindset of our western church system when we compare and contrast it to a kingdom mindset? Is "correct theology" the only measurement needed to determine the presence of a kingdom mindset? What about the actual practices and perspective of our western church system?

Is it possible for a kingdom mindset to be theologically embraced in our churches and Christian Organizations and yet, in practice, still take a back seat to a different mindset, such as, a Religious Mindset, a Denominational Mindset, or even an American Corporate Mindset? If so, how? In what way? If not, why not?

And finally, how do we, as the people of God, more fully align ourselves with Kingdom implications in our personal lives, in our relationships with others, and within our churches and Christian Organizations?

No easy answers, for sure, but our willingness to ask, grapple with, and go back to the Scriptures with these types of questions is, in my opinion, a very necessary prerequisite. For the sake of the Gospel, I honestly don't know how we can do otherwise!


  1. Bill, great post. I am really enjoying the questions you are asking. I imagine I am getting ahead of where you are going, but I will ask it anyway. You have stated what the Kingdom Mindset is not, will you be taking a stab at what the Kingdom Mindset is? I like your calling to the Sermon on the Mount the Constitution of the Kingdom, but I would really like to hear you flesh that out some more. I have another question, which I will put in a separate post.

  2. OK, my next question is about your comment that the Kingdom Culture can thrive within all the cultures of the world. Do you think it is the goal of the Kingdom be merely the leaven, or to eventually become the whole loaf? What should happen when a majority of people of any culture become converted and the implications of the Kingdom begin to transform that culture? (Note-apart from any Western influence). PS- I have an opinion about the first part of this question but don't have a ready answer to the second.

  3. I'll follow your lead, Kris, and write two separate posts in reply to your two posts. Right now I’ll reply to your first comment about fleshing out the kingdom mindset further, and then on Wednesday I’ll get to your second comment about leaven and the loaf, etc. (by the way, you said you’ve already been pondering this and have some thoughts so, by all means, fire away).

    Yes, I plan to discuss a whole range of topics on this blog that we personally had to consider, study, and grapple with from the Scriptures during our time in the “rocky soils.” Some of what I’ll be writing about will be intensely practical, some will be more conceptual in nature; right now I’m trying to lay the conceptual groundwork (which includes, of course, a scriptural consideration).

    If there’s one thing I learned from all my interactions with colleagues and friends over the years, it’s that it’s extremely difficult to build the conceptual base. In fact, the three most common responses to this stuff tend to be:

    1) Business as usual: We simply can’t see how any of this matters and see no reason to do anything about it.

    2) Strategy tweaking: We see how this matters and decide to make some changes to our “strategy” but we don’t take the time to deeply consider these implications in the light of scripture. Ultimately the changes that occur end up being only cosmetic in nature and nothing really changes at the core.

    3) Grappling with the issues: We see how this matters and choose to enter into a lengthy, perhaps even lifelong process of identifying and examining the validity of our deeply rooted assumptions on these matters in the light of scripture.

    Though it’s probably way too idealistic, I keep aiming at #3 with people. I can’t do anything about #1, which is fine, but I’m really uncomfortable with #2.

    My purpose is to encourage people, and groups of people, to enter into the lifelong process.

    This process has already been going on for over 2 decades in my life and I’m still wrestling with the implications. The only difference is that it’s constantly on the radar screen for me.

    If this doesn’t quite answer your question let me know and I’ll try again.

  4. Great, I'll look forward to the coming installments...