By: Nick McDowell
A large part of my childhood in the 80s and 90s was made up of one of the most incredible toy inventions I have ever seen: Legos. Outside of Nintendo games, getting a new Lego set was what I always hoped for on Christmas and birthdays. The genius behind Legos is that each set doesn’t just stand alone by itself. While there are specific themes you can collect, every set interconnects with another, providing you with endless possibilities. Seriously parents, Legos can be a great investment from a toy standpoint…it’s hard for kids to get bored with them! Seeing my own son get the same amount of enjoyment out of my old Legos (and his new ones) as I did, brings me joy.
Watching my son play with Legos is always an interesting experience. He creates his own stories and builds his own little city. Watching his imagination work is incredible for me as his father. In that world, it’s his rules that run the show. When daddy or mommy try to bring any of our own ideas or stories, it is often met with a stern correction that only a preschooler can give . It is his city and we have to do it his way.
One of the most insightful ministry books I have ever read is Larry Crabb’s Connecting. It’s an older book, but the things mentioned in it still ring true today. As I read his book, one of the sections in it challenged me to reflect on my approach in ministry and in life. The section dealt with something Crabb called “City building.” He outlines the story of Cain, the individual responsible for committing the first murder in the Bible. Cain was punished, and the result of his punishment was to be “a restless wanderer on the earth” (Gen. 4:12). But what did Cain do? After rebelling against God by murdering his brother, he rebels again by attempting to create a community by his standards. Crabb writes: “Cain was busily working to build a city (Gen. 4:17). And he named it after his son (Enochville?), intending perhaps to establish an enduring legacy, to get for himself what God wouldn’t give him.” (Connecting, 105)
To sum up what Crabb says in the following pages, ‘City Builders’ are people who draw from their own resources to build their own legacy and their own ‘kingdom.’ They try to make themselves the center of the universe. How often does that happen to us? Even if we start with good intentions; intentions meant to improve ministry, heal a relationship, or reach people for Christ, we can easily get off track and find ourselves doing these things for our glory and not for God’s. How often do I act like my son (who doesn’t know better), building my own city here on earth with MY own rules and expectations, answering to no one but myself?
Jesus paints a very different picture for His followers:
23 Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.
- Luke 9:23-24
We are not called to build a city here on earth that glorifies us. In fact, we are called to deny ourselves, embrace a lifestyle that is challenging, and in that, we can faithfully follow Jesus. We are called to partner with God in building HIS eternal kingdom, one that isn’t limited by our own individual flaws, but empowered by the Holy Spirit, practicing utter dependence on HIS strength and not our own.
Larry Crabb tells the story of a friend of his who struggled in ministry. He writes:
An acquaintance of mine began a parachurch ministry. It never quite grew to the size he envisioned, but it made its mark…When things went well, he was generous, joyful, and great to be around. When difficulties arose, something deep inside was threatened. Without knowing it, he became a fragile man…God eventually dealt with this good man the way he often deals with his children who build cities. He took him to the desert…In the desert, God spoke tenderly to this man as he typically does. ”…I want you to live, not to merely enjoy the temporary pleasures of achievement. I designed you for relationship with me, a relationship where you are gladly dependent and I am enjoyed as fully sufficient…The city you’re building is nothing but a drafty shack. I want to shape you into a home for me, to be a wonderful dwelling place from which I can do my work…You must come to see that without me all your resources are useless. You can build a city now; you may get what you want, but it will bring leanness to your soul. I want you to realize that your resources are worthless when you devote them to your own purposes. They’re dead. They cannot provide life…” (Connecting, 109-111)
When we practice ‘City building’, it amounts to nothing and fades away. We wear ourselves out, destroy relationships, and undermine any effective witness we might have. When we practice Kingdom building, as in GOD’S Kingdom, the blessings and rewards that come from that are plentiful and everlasting. As Jesus said in the verses above, we lose our life here so that it would be saved eternally through Him. We recognize who the true source of our strength is and live out a life that is holy, bold, and courageous.
What kind of a builder are you? Do you need to stop doing things on your own power? In what ways can we ensure that we are practicing a Kingdom-building mindset? May we build things for HIS glory and not our own.
Looking for connection? Check out CNaz’s website, ccnaz.org to look into our Circles Discipleship.