Many Christians make the mistake of evaluating the “success” of the church’s mission based on the latest news headlines or on what we can see with our eyes. Hearing about the persecution of Christians around the world is discouraging. Then, closer to home, our own culture seems to have less and less tolerance for a faithful Christian witness. The feeling that we are rather small and insignificant can leave us feeling deflated.
This is precisely why we need to remember that, when it comes to the church’s mission, things aren’t always as they seem. I was reminded of this on a recent trip to Uganda when I heard Pastor Raphael explain why he planted King Jesus Church in Busega, a small town just outside of the capital city of Kampala. Busega has a significant Muslim presence, helped in large part by money pouring in from outside the country. There are also a number of churches in the area that teach some form of the prosperity gospel. Busega hardly seems like a “hot spot” for a church plant.
So why would Pastor Raphael choose to plant a church here? Because he wanted to see a distinct gospel witness in this town, and he wanted this witness to come through a body of believers committed to “the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship … the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42). Nothing flashy or innovative, just an ancient and biblical pattern for the church. Of course, God used this pattern in powerful ways during the early years of the church (see Acts). Still, as I sat on Pastor Raphael’s porch listening to his vision for King Jesus Church, I was struck by how counter-intuitive and, from the perspective of the world, unimpressive it is. Yet it’s for this very reason that I (and I’m guessing others) need to be reminded of how Jesus advances His kingdom.
Resetting our Expectations
Most Israelites in Jesus’ day were likely expecting the Messiah to establish His kingdom in an impressive fashion. Their Roman oppressors would be defeated and God’s people would once again experience His blessing. It must have come as a shock, then, when Jesus compared His long-awaited kingdom to a tiny seed:
It [the kingdom of God] is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown on the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth, yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and puts out large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade. (Mark 4:31–32)
Instead of arriving with grandeur, Christ’s kingdom would initially look small and insignificant, like a mustard seed. Yes, it would eventually grow and spread its branches, overthrowing God’s enemies and bringing great blessing to His people, just as the prophets foretold. But in the meantime, those looking for the world’s version of a kingdom would miss it.
Christ’s “upside-down” kingdom, as it’s been called, is often ignored or ridiculed by the world, but this should not come as a complete surprise. After all, the One whom we confess as Lord was laughed at, rejected, denied, beaten, mocked, and crucified. Even His own disciples fled during His final hours.
It’s little wonder that the world sees the gospel and those who proclaim it as foolish. However, the apostle Paul tells us that this is not a bug in God’s plan. It’s a feature:
“God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:27–29)
God wants to make it clear that He accomplishes His will not through human effort or ingenuity but through His power and His wisdom. And this is not a new strategy.
God chose a young shepherd boy to slay Goliath (1 Samuel 17). He used a marching band to tear down the walls of Jericho (Joshua 6). He delivered an unarmed host of Hebrew slaves from the most powerful fighting force on earth (Exodus 14). And He still works this way today. It’s the “meek” who inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5). The gospel is carried about in “jars of clay” (2 Corinthians 4:7). God’s power is “made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
This is how Christ is advancing His kingdom in this present age, and when we forget this, we inevitably end up doubting and discouraged. The light of the gospel is shining forth, but it’s imperceptible to those without spiritual eyes to see. It often comes through weakness, not power. This is a truth King Jesus Church has embraced through a unique ministry to the most vulnerable in their community.
Getting a Glimpse
In 2011 King Jesus Church (with the help of ministry partners) started the Busega Community School for the Deaf and Blind. Blind and deaf children are often ignored or neglected in this community, as many consider them to be cursed. But through the ministry of this school these precious children (now about thirty of them) are taught the gospel as well as a variety of life skills that will help them flourish as they grow older. By God’s grace, the surrounding community is getting a glimpse of a different kind of kingdom.
Sure, the events held by prosperity preachers attract larger crowds, and the well-funded Muslim school looks more impressive. But this is not how the church determines its “success.” God carries on His work of redemption in ways that surprise and confound the world. Therefore, we should not be discouraged when our witness seems unimpressive. In this present age, Christ’s kingdom looks less like worldly wealth or power and more like vulnerable children hearing of a crucified Messiah. It looks less like a giant oak and more like a mustard seed.
–Editor’s Note: Since this article was written, a financial need has arisen related to Pastor Raphael’s housing. You can help support his ministry by going here and designating your support to Pastor Raphael through Lifeline’s (un)adopted program.
See, for example, Isaiah 9:6–7; 11:1–10; 40:3–5; 61:1–4.