How does one set about advancing the kingdom of God? I’m only one guy. I can’t do that much.
I think the strategy is to think small and deep. I am responsible for what God has sovereignly and providentially put in my life. My responsibility is greatest for those closest to me, which is also where I’ll have the most ability to preach Christ in my words and life.
The most obvious sphere of influence is bounded by four brick walls. It’s my home. I have three boys to bring up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, and a wife to love as Christ loved the church and sanctified her.
If I blow it with my kids, I don’t really care if I have any other ministry. I won’t make Eli’s mistake. If my kids don’t grow up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, and if they don’t bring my future grandchildren up that way, then I’ve blown it. How appropriate that one of the requirements for an elder is that he is doing a good job with his family! Deuteronomy 6:7 and Ephesians 6:4 lay out my responsibility clearly – teach my kids God’s law, to love and fear Him.
Ephesians 5 tells me to love my wife as Christ loved the church. That means more than “a whole lot”. Finish the passage. He gave Himself up for the church to sanctify and cleanse it, to present it to Himself holy and without blemish. That is how a godly man should love his wife. It has nothing to do with chocolate, roses, date nights, and romance per se. It has to do with my wife’s sanctification. That is my responsibility.
I am aiming small. I’ve got four people so far that I have a tremendous responbility for. I will err on the side of seeing to their spiritual growth at the neglect of any other sort of ministry.
My primary strategy is to create a tiny little culture, just five people big, that will propagate from one generation to another. Like an Old Testament patriarch, I want to raise up a godly seed (Malachi 2:15) that will be faithful to God for “a thousand generations”. I don’t want to say as an old man “My wife and I served the Lord, and I hope my kids do a good job.” I want to be able to say with confidence that my house will serve the Lord. God honored Abraham because God knew “he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the LORD” (Genesis 18:19). I want to be a man like that.
This is why we are homeschooling. This is why I have some bit of family worship (and I’m working towards more). It’s why my kids sit with me in church. It’s why my wife doesn’t run off to every women’s ministry event, and I don’t go to every men’s ministry event. It’s why I blow off programs and events and activities, secular or otherwise.
After my immediate family, the next responsibility I have is to the church. God put me in a local church where I can build the other members up, and they can build me up. They bear my burdens, and I bear theirs. I exercise my gifts for that body, and the other parts of the body reciprocate.
I also have a responsibility to my extended family – parents, grandparents, siblings, nieces and nephews, aunts and uncles, cousins, etc. (I’m not exactly whether this goes before or after my responsibility to my church, but it’s close.) I have a responsibility to care for them, to live a godly life before them, to provide for them when needed.
At this point, I’m pretty much full. If I’m discipling my wife and kids, taking care of my extended family, and serving in even a small way at church (e.g., I teach theology), taking care of my extended family, and taking care of those closest to me in church, then I’m booked. There’s not a lot of excess there. I’ve fulfilled my responsibilities, and oddly enough, God gave me just the right amount.
But what of the rest of the world? I believe I do have a responsibility to them. But this responsibility decreases the further out you go. The most important point is that I will not sacrifice a higher responsibility for a lesser, but more glamorous, one.
I earlier mentioned this idea that has been called “incidental evangelism”. It seems so foolish to say that I’d focus so small. But one time I counted up – your results will probably be similar – all the people that I was related to or worked with that I was reasonably acquainted with. I left out cousins that I only see at Christmas and Thanksgiving, and I left out all the co-workers that I don’t interact with on at least a weekly basis. I don’t remember the exact number, but I had a list of between 30 and 50 people. I’m going to be around them anyway. They can see my life better than strangers can. This is my secondary “mission field”, behind my immediate family. These are the people who will see my life and either wrongly berate me or glorify my Father who is in heaven.
I do care about the rest of the world, and pray nightly that God’s kingdom would come and the nations would be saved. But I am not called as a missionary to them. I’ll do what I can for the world, but my focus is going to be in those circles where God sovereignly placed me.