How to build your own kingdom (Part I)

In this first part of a two part series, Mark Smith reflects on the dangers inherent in church planting and offers some penetrating insights that will ensure you make your ministry all about yourself.

In this first part of a two part series, Mark Smith reflects on the dangers inherent in church planting and offers some penetrating insights that will ensure you make your ministry all about yourself.

Treat people as resources not as bothers and sisters
The gospel would insist that we must treat one another with love, compassion and generosity firstly because are made in the image of God and second because believers are those whom Christ “purchased with his own blood” (Acts 20). This should lead people to embrace, forgive, esteem and support one another - this is to be avoided if you want to build your own kingdom. 

In building your own kingdom you must recognise that people are actually resources to be used in pursuit of your own vision. 

In order to engage these resources cast a grand vision of what “could be” and make them feel important. Give them just the right amount of responsibility so that they feel heard and valued while still maintaining control. Remember, this is your kingdom they are building - you don’t want these resources to succeed on their own terms. Therefore you must subtly reinforce how necessary you are and what you can do for them. In the end, if they deviate from the plan you have mapped out they are of limited use when it comes to building your kingdom. Remain civil but move on - there are plenty of recourses to be found. 

Disguise arrogance as “zeal” or “courage”
The Scriptures give consistent warnings and reproofs against arrogance and pride. It is an evil that comes from “within” (Mk. 7:22), it should be rooted out of the church (1 Peter 5:5) and absent in the life of a leader (1 Tim. 3:1-7). Why? Because it turns us in on ourselves so that we cannot see beyond our own needs and desires. It makes us cling on to position, to demand respect, it turns us into victims, it makes our service cold and curtails our love for others. In his life, Jesus gave us an example of someone who didn’t cling to power, who voluntarily became weak, who served, who gave, who loved. He demonstrated that zeal should be other person centred. When he turned over the tables in the temple it was zeal for his “fathers house” that consumed him. He was not guarding his reputation but that of his Father. 

The skill when building your own kingdom is to make people think that your deadly, toxic, cancerous arrogance is actually zeal for God and his gospel. This can be an exhausting task because it means you have to do things that demonstrate your fervour. People in the church seem very willing to be pragmatic and look the other way it comes to pride if they can see you and say “well he gets stuff done”.  So chair meetings, set up events and be the controversialist because when you are you will be criticised by people you don’t really care about and you’ll gain the respect of those you are secretly desperate for the approval of. 

If you can, try to suffer a little - preferably at the hands of those who overtly oppose the gospel. When that happens you can subtly perpetuate a victim narrative as someone who has suffered for Jesus sake. On some level this may even be true but the real pay off is in this life because no one calls a victim to repentance. If you can get there, stay there - the secretly self-righteous live in perpetual victimhood. 

Never take any joy in another ministry
In John 5, the religious leaders criticise Jesus for “making himself equal with God” - in their minds this is blasphemy because God has no rivals. Adam in his taking of the fruit set himself up as a competitor to God with disastrous consequences, so that, when the Pharisees hear Jesus’ words, “my father is working from this day until now and so am I” (Jn. 5:17) what they hear are the pretensions of a rival. In his defence Jesus demonstrates that he is not a competitor in two ways:

  • He is dependent upon his father and can do nothing except what the Father shows him (Jn. 5:19)

  • He shares the same uncreated life as the father (Jn. 5:26).

You see,  the intra-trinitarian life between Father, Son and Holy Spirit is one of harmony, love, self-giving and joy. Moreover through the new birth that sort of heart is created in us. A heart that is no longer in love with itself but that loves others, rejoices with them, champions their progress in the gospel. As one children’s book puts it “love lets others have a go and hopes that they do well”. It can be easy to let other have a go, we can do it through gritted teeth but it is a new heart that hopes they succeed! 

Jesus exemplifies this sort of other-person-centred love and by his spirit he empowers people to service. The Son experiences no sense of rivalry or competition with his pastor-teachers. But if you want to build your own kingdom then it is imperative that you do! 

The kingdom that you are building must be protected. Others will labour outside the walls of that kingdom but they are rivals. As such why would you rejoice in the the ministry and gospel fruit of another? In order to build your own kingdom you must be given fully to self-love. And self-love expresses itself not just in pride and envy but in joylessness. You must appear inert before another’s success. Every person who hasn’t listened to your grand plan for them has chosen a lesser calling - why would you rejoice in that? Everyone who has established a ministry outside of your kingdom is a competitor - why would you rejoice in that? Rather dismiss their successes, do not enquire about their ministry and enjoy the poisonous delicacy that is joy when they fail. 

Mark Smith