Lately I've been giving some thought to what it means to be a people who are about the ministry of the inbreaking kingdom of God. As a member of the Vineyard movement, this conversation is central to who we are and as such merits reflection and conversation. (The Vineyard USA website defines the Vineyard as "We are a people of the Kingdom of God who...").
One of the most direct expressions of the inbreaking kingdom is visible in the miraculous ministry. The Scriptures repeatedly link the ministry of Jesus to his healing ministry in particular:
And [Jesus] went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people. Matthew 4:23
The link between these two comes down to the biblical definition of the term "kingdom of God" - which points to an action or an activity (as opposed to a location). The kingdom of God is about something happening: specifically the God acting as the king. The phrase "kingdom of God" might represented most clearly as "the kinging of God." When God is kinging, often the landing point for that looks like salvation, healing, deliverance, prophetic declaration and so on. No to be sure, there are many outworkings of God's kinging: issues of mercy, justice, race or ecology are also caught up within the kingdom's activity, but for the purpose of this article, I will focus on the elements that manifest themselves within what we commonly call a "ministry time."
One thing I've observed across the body of Christ is that there are many people who value the inbreaking kingdom who have very different mental pictures as to what that looks like. Each one of them does indeed value the kingdom (kinging) of God, it's just there is a spectrum of what we understand God's activity happening to look like. The fact is, when God's kingdom is breaking into our reality, it doesn't work the same way every time, and there are matters of degree involved. Not every kingdom inbreaking is equal to others. The Scriptures bear witness to this in Jesus' or the apostles' ministry: for example there are times the Bible indicates something special is present as they ministered:
On one of those days, as he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there, who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem. And the power of the Lord was with him to heal. Luke 5:17
And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. Acts 4:33
It seems to me that not every kingdom inbreaking is equal: sometimes there is a stream of God's inbreaking rule, sometimes a river, sometimes a gushing waterfall.
What Power in Different Environments Looks Like
In order to put some handles on this, I've been toying around with making this more concrete via articulating different degrees of power present in given environments. The following is a spectrum I've made up based upon my experience and interaction with others - please take it as just that, whatever that is worth to you. I'm sure that in a few years I would sketch this out differently, so please see this as a work in progress by a practitioner who is reflecting on this ministry, not something set in stone by any means.
At level one, there isn't much discernible evidence of God's power at work - but God absolutely still works at this level (there just aren't as many fireworks happening). We don't need an environment where there is a lot of power active to pray for the sick to listen for prophetic words, because the Holy Spirit has been poured out on all flesh. Level one is about walking by faith, trusting that Jesus is Lord and Savior, regardless of whether anyone feels tingles or not. Each level requires faith that plays out in different ways, and level one is about the faith of faithfulness. We continue to set our hands to God's ministry, and at times we will see the kingdom break in!
At level two, the gifts of the Spirit are active in the environment (but likely not in a jaw-dropping kind of a way). There are words of knowledge that land at times, prayer encounters that result in a sense of God's presence, and at times demonstrable change. There is a sense of "God is working among us" and with proper training, nearly every believer can jump into action in an environment like this and see some fruit from their ministry, as long as they're willing take the necessary risks to partner with the Spirit. At this level we're likely to see words of knowledge that land and a degree of healing flowing.
At this level, power begins to become more evident. This is an environment where God's power is beginning to show up in ways that do stand out and look measurably different than what is "normal." In this environment, we are likely to see people shaking, crying, perhaps falling with some regularity. Healings are more dramatic and land more quickly. We might have a few people who break into an ecstatic tongue, or perhaps fall into trance. Prophecy flows with the kind of power that unlocks anointing in the whole room. Manifest deliverance may begin to manifest at this level as well.
At level four, dramatic displays of power are more normative. Ministry moves quickly and powerfully: people are regularly overwhelmed by the Spirit; creative miracles are accessible, demons are driven to the surface by their fear of the power of God (as we saw with Jesus). Ministry starts moving in chains - we can see power hoping from person to person as they are overwhelmed and touched. This is the realm where blind eyes and deaf ears open and the lame walk.
At level five, we have demonstrations of the power of God that happen en masse. This is the "Come, Holy Spirit" prayer answered with hundreds of people falling out in tandem. Healing and deliverance are often sovereign at this level: it happens without anyone even saying a word. These are times of great power and incredible breakthrough.
When we talk about being a church about the business of the kingdom, I think sometimes it can be helpful to articulate more specifically what we're aiming for. Do we want to regularly create level one environments? Level two? Level four? For the various elements of our church life, what is the target? What do we want to experience at our weekend services? Our home groups? Our worship nights? Conference experiences?
If we're not clear, it can be easy to have mismatched expectations with one another: for one of us a church leaning into the kingdom looks like finding level one environments, while for another it may look like level three (or level five for that matter). This misalignment between these expectations can cause frustration or disappointment between members of the congregation and the leadership. It can result in crossing wires in communication between churches, where one is trying to create different levels than another, resulting in each of them evaluating the other as missing it in some regard. (Whether there is a target that I would suggest for a church isn't the point of this article; I'm just writing out the options here.)
Regardless of what we feel the Lord asking us to participate in, or to create, having a grid like this may give us the tools to be intentional, and I think that intentionality is the key to doing kingdom ministry effectively. Do you want to experience higher level environments? Go and find them; they exist, but they probably won't just stumble into your life - you're going to have to go and find them. Are you trying to create a certain level of environment with ministry you're involved with? Begin by evaluating where it is, where you want to be, and ask God to direct you how to make up the gap. Clarity about environments is the first step towards being intentional about them, which is a key element to effective kingdom ministry.