By Frank Tully, first published in Compass, Autumn 2019
In order to follow God’s calling in our lives – To advance the Gospel of Jesus and His Kingdom – we need to have a context. For Navigators, that context is authentic community deeply rooted in the Kingdom of God. We don’t consider community as an optional fringe benefit from sharing life with other believers – enjoyable but not always essential. No, instead we regard kingdom community as a vibrant expression of the Gospel itself.
As followers of Jesus, not only are we saved from sin and death, but we are also saved into a shared life with other believers living out kingdom values together. A core value of the Navigators worldwide reminds us to pursue “love and grace expressed among us in community.” A solitary Christian life is an oxymoron – it’s impossible to obey Jesus’ command to “love your neighbour as yourself” (Mark 12:31) and the multitude of New Testament “one another” teachings in isolation. Solitude can be a healthy short-term discipline for maturity in Christ; after all, “Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed” (Luke 5:16). Yet the purpose was to refresh and re-engage in community.
The Holy Spirit works to bring about Christlike transformation in our lives. This occurs in each one of us and in all of us together. The vision statement of The Navigators speaks of kingdom labourers who “both personally and in committed communities, seek to know and pursue the purposes of God.” Later our vision describes these communities as “multiplying and bringing joy and hope to their surrounding environments … and move the Gospel into the nations.” Without kingdom community, we will fail to see the Gospel flourish and advance in our lives.
So, what does a kingdom community look like? How will we know if we are on track towards what God calls us into? We identify three biblical attributes which shape a healthy Christ-centred community:
The Apostle Paul wrote to new kingdom communities, reminding them to take responsibility for each other, especially in developing Christlike character. “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing” (I Thess. 5:11). Our mutual encouragement fosters a community which welcomes people just as they are – warts and all. Then we build up men and women as God makes them into the new person He desires they become. Kingdom community embraces both acceptance and changed lives.
Yes, we genuinely care for one another; yet a true kingdom community always seeks to extend the boundary, to bless those apart from Christ. Most New Testament commands are given in the plural to the entire community rather than to individual believers. This is especially true of the exhortation to be a witness to the Gospel, such as Peter’s words: “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (I Peter 3:15). A kingdom community is ideally positioned to demonstrate God’s hope to the surrounding world who are seeking answers.
As Navigators, we long to see successive generations of kingdom labourers, not just in our natural families but also spiritual generations whom we lead to Christ and then prepare to reproduce themselves in another person. Australia is an increasingly mobile culture – students graduate from university and find jobs in new places, young workers relocate interstate as they pursue their careers, and even in retirement couples move into new regions. Those who see themselves as kingdom labourers have a great opportunity to replicate the fellowship they previously enjoyed. At the same time, those who remain in the sending kingdom community have a great opportunity to support, pray, and encourage the emerging community.
God exists in perfect community – Father, Son, and Spirit enjoy pure and selfless fellowship for all eternity. In our fallen world, our attempts at community are marred by envy, strife, deceit and a whole range of other sins. What a difference! Then along comes Jesus offering a new approach to life together – an abundant and full life (John 10:10). As followers of Jesus, we enter into this life – yes, as an individual but also as a member of His Kingdom Community. The message of the Gospel is best demonstrated and proclaimed in this context – a healthy gathering of men and women seeking to grow together, go together, and ultimately reproduce together. This is the heart of a healthy kingdom community.