Author: Jon Hirst
How many of you remember that wonderful Dr. Seuss book about the alphabet? It walks through each letter and describes it with a charming mix of rhythm and humorous characters. The book also helps small children see the difference between the capital letters and the lowercase letters. That difference doesn’t seem as important today in a world of lower-case logos and texting vocabulary, but it still matters.
Let’s take the letter "k." When used in the word "kingdom" the size of the first letter has huge significance to us as Christians. With a capital "K," kingdom represents God’s Kingdom in which we are participants in His plan for the world. With a lower case "k," kingdom represents our human efforts to control our situation and build influence for ourselves.
As we participate in this global conversation, one of the key topics is partnership. One significant issues in partnership is the size of the letter "k" in kingdom. Throughout Christian missions and ministry we have seen many kingdoms come and go. They form around a powerful vision but in the end they are focused on themselves. Sometimes we see efforts and movements that are focused on the Kingdom of God. These efforts don’t usually look as impressive in human terms but they recognize that the "k" must be a capital one.
There are many differences between the lower case "k" ministry efforts and the upper case ones, but one of the most significant is the ability to partner and work together. If we have many kingdoms to protect, partnership will always be a challenge. There are intellectual property issues, issues of who drives programs, challenges with keeping donor bases separate and distinct, and the list goes on and on.
But if our ministry efforts have a fundamental appreciation and commitment to the kingdom with a capital "k," then partnership is almost assumed. That doesn’t mean it will be easy. People still have their own ideas, their own perspectives and human nature always kicks in. But if our context for ministry is the Kingdom of God, then those things can be overcome in His power and for His glory.
In our ongoing discussion about truth, this size of our kingdoms comes into play regularly. We talk about three ways of understanding truth in our book "Through the River." Each one of these truth lenses understands the Kingdom of God differently. Positivists who base their foundation in modernity understand the Kingdom of God as something that can be understood as we "grow in knowledge and truth." They want a kingdom with a capital "k" and expect that it will be clearly defined and understood. This means that positivism brings an expectation of certainty to a partnership. Essentially, they believe that the Kingdom can be understood completely and then implemented based on that understanding. The expectations of things being completely aligned and in agreement will be very high - so high that much of the time these partnerships only last a few years because the two organization’s cannot agree and keep the same picture of reality for a long enough time period.
The second truth lens that we speak about in our book is instrumentalism. This truth lens says that truth is understood personally. For most of them the idea of kingdom will always be a lower case "k" because it is hard to imagine God’s Kingdom in the broader sense. This group is the majority of people in Western Christianity today and is defined by pragmatism. That means that partnership is seen as a way for lower case kingdoms to be more effective and efficient but it is not done primarily to advance the Kingdom of God. This means that partnership will be pursued as long as it benefits the lower case kingdoms involved but will be abandoned if there is not clear benefit or if the benefit is only seen in the upper case Kingdom of God.
The third truth lens is critical realism and it is best understood as the truth you know and the truth you are learning. For this group of truth seekers, the Kingdom of God is a place of mystery on one hand and clarity on the other. I believe that this truth lens is particularly well suited for partnerships in the Kingdom of God. This is because critical realism says that there is absolute truth that we can all share as a foundation, but that most of God’s Kingdom is still a mystery to us that we are learning about as we work. By acknowledging that we are learning in community but solidly established on the truth we know, we can humbly serve within the Kingdom of God without creating lower case kingdoms. This focus on community levels the field and takes the focus off of individual organization’s and puts it on where God is at work.
So is your life oriented around little "k’s" or the big "K"?