(Part five in the Recovering Missional Moxie series from Alan Hirsch. Read part six here.)

If we are to be effective agents of God’s kingdom in this world, we need to be freed to see His kingdom express itself everywhere and any place.

Here’s a biggie and one most believers seldom, if ever, stop to think about even in a lifetime. It goes something like this: We tend to identify the church so completely with the kingdom of God that we end up with what we might call ecclesiocrasy (rule by the church). If this sounds like a rather absurd notion (that the clergy once ruled the world), be assured it has dominated European understandings of the church for a long, long time. In fact, this dangerous error of category lies at the root of false ideas of the church. For instance, when the Roman Catholic Church talks about the pope as Christ’s vicar, they mean he is Jesus’ sole, authoritative representative and that Christ rules his world through the medium of the church, of which the pope is the unquestioned boss! I kid you not. As far as I am aware, this basic understanding of the doctrine of the church is still held by the Catholic Church.1

But we all continue to get the distinction between kingdom and church very wrong and with disastrous consequences. Let me suggest that the basic mistake here is to make a complete correlation of the church—the redeemed community of Jesus’ people—with God’s Kingdom—His active government or rule in the world.

Is the Kingdom of God simply to be equated with the church? I sincerely hope not. As much as I love the church and believe it is a nonnegotiable part of God’s plan, it is to King Jesus and not any human agency I must give my ultimate allegiance. The church is not simply the same as the Kingdom. The church is an expression of the Kingdom, perhaps even the most consistent expression of it, but the Kingdom (God’s active rule in and over His universe) is much larger than the church—in fact, it is cosmic in scope.

Reggie McNeal wisely suggests we need a Kingdom-shaped view of the church, not a church-shaped view of the Kingdom. In other words, as God’s people we must always assess ourselves in the light of God’s active rule in the world and not the other way around. Theologian Richard Neuhaus is right when he says,

Our restless discontent should not be over the distance between ourselves and the first century Church but over the distance between ourselves and the Kingdom of God to which the Church then and now is the witness.2

Why all this church-Kingdom stuff? Well, because if we are to be effective agents of God’s Kingdom in this world, we need to be freed to see His Kingdom express itself everywhere and anyplace—as indeed it does. God turns up in places where we might least expect to see Him, but we need the eyes to see what He is doing if we are going to join Him in the redemption of the world. A complete association of the kingdom with the church locks up God’s activity and links it exclusively to organized church activities such as Sunday school, communal worship services, and the like. As wonderful and necessary as these are to Christian community, the diminished view of the kingdom that results from this will never get us beyond the four walls of the church so we might fulfill our mission of discipling the nations.


The Kingdom of God can’t be institutionalized in this way. To the contrary, it challenges all these idolatrous attempts to control it—be it churchly and otherwise! Besides, it’s not about simply getting more church-based services up to scratch; it is going to take the whole body of Christ as a fluid, dynamic, witnessing agency, active in every possible arena of life, to bring the gospel of God’s love into his world. This, in fact, goes to the heart of our mission in the world.


  1. Eminent philosopher Karl Popper traces the basis of this ecclesial structure to Plato’s idea of the Republic as the mediating institution between the real world of ideas and the false world of senses. The church assumes the role of mediating agent between God and the people. He, I think rightly, sees it as one vast negative that led to an oppressive authorizing of the institution over the people. See Karl Popper, The Open Society and Its Enemies: The Spell of Plato, vol. 1 (New York: Routledge, 2002).

How do you train your eyes to see what God is doing in His Kingdom?

–> Join the online community, ask questions, and get answers from seasoned practitioners.

–> Check out some of our video content:

Related Content



  1. I still am not sure what church Hirschites have in mind that they are reacting to, or opposed to, or had such a bad experience with/in? Catholic? Protestant? Main line? Independent? Mega? Mega hopefuls?

    I know there are many/most churches that are not effective at reaching the lost. They have not the Eyes of Jesus. But making me responsible for reaching the whole world is unrealistic and impractical. Maybe make me responsible for just those around me? We know that the primary way to reach the Lost is friend to friend. so we have to know some non-Christian lost people. Where I live that is about everyone. And have a the Heart of Jesus for them. But unless you have all the gifts (only one guy did) you will need other Christians. So, having your lost friend come to Christ in the context of the Local Church family seems like a good even Biblical approach. Christ did establish His church so eschewing His Bride may not be all that Christ honoring.

    any insights you can pass along?

  2. @Alan, can you give an example of what you’re talking about? An anecdote or example of how wrong understanding of the Kingdom will/has caused problems?

    @Steve, I definitely agree with Hirsch that there is a HUGE difference between the Kingdom and churches. I do not think he is eschewing the Bride. He’s cautioning against shrinking the Kingdom to simply a church. I agree with him that many christians in america (in my limited experience in church culture in America, I’ve more than most I think) equate following Jesus with simply attending & serving in church programs, perhaps inviting neighbors to church. I agree that this is severely limiting.

    I agree with you @Steve that we should reach out to our neighbors, and that we can’t do it alone. This is why I like the “missional communities” idea as described by Saturate. They are about believers reaching out to those around them, and doing this as a group (a committed family). The outreach is not just inviting them to church. It’s building relationship, it’s serving and loving them, and inviting them in to see how their missional community loves each other.

    Having heard Hirsch speak several times, I think he is simply trying to argue that God works in so many vast ways, in ways that even seem heretical to us at times, because he is that wild and outside our box! Jesus was wildly outside of the box of the Pharisees, so much that they missed the very God they professed to serve and killed him. I think Hirsch would simply caution to not be so focused on church meetings & programs and miss what the Holy Spirit is doing in our not-yet-believing neighbors all over, amidst the mess of drug addiction, homosexuality, and all kinds of stuff we don’t normally want to deal with. Hirsch might argue that people can come to saving faith in Jesus, grow in their obedience to him and perhaps even make disciples without attending a church meeting in the traditional sense.

    To be sure, The Church is something quite different from a non-profit 501c3 organization that has a building, and some leadership and some meetings. The Church is composed of all the members. There are many pastors & teachers among the body that are not paid staff at a 501c3. There are many meetings that can be had outside of a 501c3 building which may be just as or more valuable than those meetings held in a 501c3. I don’t think it is bashing The Church to say it is much more than the “churches” we have around. In fact, it might be dishonoring The Church by limiting it to the programs & meetings of a collection of broken 501c3s. Whether it’s dishonoring or not, as I’m writing, I’m seeing more how damaging it might be to limit The Church to mere churches.

    What do you think, Steve? All this is so vague, it seems hard to discuss, and I don’t think I have the language.

  3. @Steve I know that Alan is not eschewing The Bride at all. I’ve been with him long enough to know that he truly loves the Bride. If he did not, he would not continue to serve her like he does.

    He is mainly calling us to see all of life as under the domain of Christ. Paul says it this way in Ephesians 1:22-23: “And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.” God put all thing under Christ’s authority and as we walk in submission to him, we get to experience his kingdom rule over all things everyday. And, even if we don’t recognize it or submit to it, it is still true – He is the King over it all. To live with that belief and have eyes to see Him at work around us changes how we go to work, engage in recreation, interact with neighbors, etc…

    The more formal and public gatherings of the church, though very important, are not the totality of Christ’s reign and rule and it is not the leaders of the church only who get to oversee the work of Jesus in the world. He is the head of his body, we are not. The church, under his leadership, should be as Alan states, the best experience of his rule an reign, but it is not the only place where it can be experienced.

  4. Thanks for your all’s thoughtful insights. Very helpful.
    Can I bother you for 2 more questions? I recognize terminology like methods & strategies change over time and for good reason.
    1. The “Lost” how does StW refer to that category of people?
    2. Priesthood of Believers,
    I will likely read some StW material tonight and see it plainly stated.

  5. @Jeff! Since you’re making comments on here…. We are finishing the Saturate Field Guide now with another couple (Bob & Linda), figuring out our covenant. Although our mission is to where my wife & I live, Bob & Linda met a not-yet-believer named June they are inviting to dinner. My wife asked, “So, how does June figure-in to all this.” Do we join them in reaching out to June? Do we invite June into our mission to our neighborhood? Or do we just pray for June and ask Bob & Linda how it’s going?

  6. Hello Jesse. I know you directed your question to Jeff (who is out of the country until later this month), but I’d love to answer. Yes! All three. If Bob & Linda have joined you on your mission in your neighborhood, that’s a perfect way for June to be introduced to what it looks like to live out of our gospel identity as Family, Servant, Missionary. She will see what it looks like when a group of people who love Jesus (and one another) and move out into everyday life loving and serving others.

    And, then support Bob & Linda by asking questions about June and her needs. Decide together how your MC can serve and pray for her while also including June in the mission of your MC. Additionally, if you think Bob & Linda may one day lead an MC of their own, this is a perfect opportunity to begin to allow them to apprentice under your leadership.

  7. Thanks for answering, Amy! You are a blessing.

    I’ve got a further question if you can bear it (if not, I honestly understand) – one thing that has confused me a bit about the Saturate/Soma MC model: the MC has a mission to a people group, how can I invite not-yet-believers on this mission? Wouldn’t it be super awkward to invite non-believers to join us in studying the bible and praying and trying to disciple people? When you say to include June in the mission, what does that look like?

    I think I might have an answer, please let me know if this is correct or not: in our mission to a people group, we do some service actions (a volunteer project for example) and that’s the kind of thing we can invite June to join us in (it’s something that’s spiritually neutral-ish, anyone can be join us in a volunteer work project). And while she’s there, she sees us as an MC loving others and loving each other.

    Is that right?

  8. Yes! And, I don’t necessarily think there is a formula, but I think it’s subject to each person and their readiness to both hear the gospel and participate in a gospel community. There are definitely times when non-believers be open to joining you and your MC on service projects, but some will also be open and curious about joining your family meals/bible study. It’s something you’ll need to assess on a case-by-case basis.

Leave a Reply