How is it that Kindergartners have managed to capture a balance that so few Christians seem to hold? We all remember that favorite day of the week, the “Show and Tell” day in Kindergarten. You prepared for weeks. You knew days before what sweet little gem of a toy (authorized by your teachers and parents which made it even better) that you’d carry to the school. You couldn’t wait to show off to your friends what you were convinced was the greatest toy EVER! See Kindergartners get it! You don’t just bring in the toy and set it on the shelf hoping everyone will see it. Likewise, you don’t forget it at home and just try really hard to describe it. No! You bring it and you talk about it. The two go hand in hand. Let them see it, feel it, experience it, right? But then tell them about it. Ohhhh, to be more like children.
I’ve spent the last 13 years of my adult life running in multiple Christian traditions. I call home a conservative evangelical tradition. I’ve got an advanced degree from perhaps one of the most liberal divinity programs. I’ve been enriched by the various voices I’ve listened to and been challenged by. However, I find myself wanting to yell (too often I might add), “Quit telling me it’s either/or! The Kingdom of God is both/and!”
The Loss of Balance
There are many in Christian circles that want to suggest that the Kingdom of God is about Local Social Transformation. They are the pioneers of social activism, racial reconciliation, economic equality, and distributive justice. They get things done. They start food pantries, shelters, orphanages, and social movements to challenge the powers of injustice. They are often both socially and politically liberal (and a lot of fun to hang out with I might add). However, the thought of “getting someone saved” makes many of them a bit nauseous. They believe that’s the residue of a misappropriated understanding of Jesus’ gospel. They would prefer the often attributed statement of St. Francis Assisi, “Preach the gospel always, use words if necessary.” Though they’d tweek that a bit. They might say, “Preach the gospel always…through what you do. Shut up and just do it. Quit trying to ram Jesus down their throats. Transform communities and that will suffice.” They are big on the “Show.”
Then there is my native tribe, the evangelicals. We prefer a different route. All that liberal, social transformation seems to miss the point. Unfortunately, much of this reluctance toward the “liberal agenda” is based on a misunderstanding of the Kingdom of God and the future of all things. Anyways, there is a tendency to believe among evangelicals that to focus on the “show” part of the equation is nothing more than gospel that feeds people but leaves them stuck in their sin. Getting them saved is what’s important! We are big on the “Tell.” Evangelicals talk A LOT! We talk A LOT about EVERYTHING! We tend to be more conservative socially and politically (this current election season notwithstanding…we Evangelicals have lost our minds and abandoned all good sense). We are passionate about prayer and the Word (and some are a lot of fun to hang out with because we’ve got great stories of people’s lives transformed by the power of God.)
But “show” and “tell” don’t often know how to play well with one another. You either sit it on the shelf hoping everyone sees it or you leave it at home and try really hard to describe it.
Two Sides of the Same Coin
When we lose balance, I fear we cease to be the church that God called to give witness to His Kingdom in this world. I believe that Gospel Saturation and Local Social Transformation were meant for one another. I was grabbed at a recent conference by the language of Gospel Saturation. We’ve got really good news as Christians! It’s really good! Our story is one of redemption and the power of God. It’s a story that suggests that the forces of evil and darkness have been conquered by the love and power of God. It is a story that makes space for every outside and outlier. It’s the story of Jesus, the one who proclaimed the coming of a Kingdom where God makes right what’s wrong…and then…He invites us to join Him in that venture. He calls us to leave behind our old lives and join Him in the New Story…by which we are “saved (or being saved)” and becoming followers of Jesus! Gospel Saturation is courageous telling. It’s the belief that the broken and sinful need a better story. Why on earth would we keep that story to ourselves. We got to tell! We got to share! We got to invite!
participate in the Local Social Transformation of our communities. We are talking about a Kingdom folks. That’s big news. The invitation Jesus offers is not just to fix my soul. It’s the call to join Him as he fixes the world. Living in the balance is the belief that Jesus has a bigger vision than just getting a few isolated souls out of hell. He wants to remedy the hell on earth that so many live constrained by. We might even suggest that only by participating in Local Social Transformation, by “showing” the Kingdom will people be able to hear what we seek to “tell” them. By participating with Jesus in healing a broken world, feeding hungry people, standing against racial, social, and economic injustice gives powerful witness to the full ramifications of redemption here on earth. This is not social activism. This is Kingdom transformation. We got to act! We got to work! We got to feed!
extend the invitation that could literally transform a life.
The Power of Show AND Tell
The confusion of which we ought to do has left too many churches confused about their identity. One preacher tells them to help at the soup kitchen. Their next preacher tells them to learn methods of personal evangelism. For preachers that lose their way, they focus too much on the administrative and organizational efforts of the church and whine incessantly because of all the obstacles preventing them from growing their little kingdoms.
But!! When the church recovers the both/and of “show and tell,” of Gospel Saturation and Local Social Transformation, the church becomes a powerful vessel through which the love and grace, the passion and power of God can spill out into communities. Both/and helps the church recover its Missional Identity in this world! It ensures that both actions and words are offered to the glory of God. It ensures that those whose external circumstances are transformed by the generous faithful actions of God’s people also have the opportunity to have their internal circumstances transformed as they are liberated from sin’s clutches.
We have much to learn from kindergartners.