When living what you believe to be a good Christian life still leaves you feeling empty, you might begin to wonder: Do I really know what it means to follow Christ? It’s a question Rob Peabody, author of Citizen: Your Role in the Alternative Kingdom (Monarch Books/July 29, 2014/ISBN: 978-0857215420/$14.99), asked himself at the age of 26, shortly after landing his dream job as the lead campus pastor of a burgeoning new campus of a Texas mega-church. “The church exploded with excitement. People were being baptized and saved, and true growth was occurring,” Peabody says. “It was all going to plan . . . and then it hit me. I couldn’t go on this way any longer.”
Peabody realized his faith had little connection with the world around him. He had inherited a westernized view of Christianity that too often glorifies personal success, comfort and individualism to the detriment of the lifestyle to which Jesus calls his followers. He realized Jesus was calling him — and all of us — to an all-or-nothing lifestyle, not a pick-and-choose faith salad bar. Something had to change.
Q: Let’s start off by talking about the title of your book — Citizen: Your Role in the Alternative Kingdom. What is the “alternative Kingdom”?
The “alternative Kingdom” is the way in which God originally intended for creation to live. In the Garden of Eden, everything was right, perfect and the way it should be, but man’s sin corrupted this perfection. Ever since, all of humanity has been subject to living in a world that is not right; there is something wrong with it. We find in the Gospels that, through Jesus, God is setting the world back to the way it should be, and when we find Jesus, He invites us to do the same. I find it interesting that at the height of the Roman Empire, Jesus (and later the Apostle Paul) begins speaking of the “Father’s Kingdom,” or a new way of life. He didn’t speak of a better empire or corrections to the current world system but rather a completely different kind of Kingdom. Jesus showed us how to live as part of the only Kingdom that will truly last and the Kingdom that brings heaven to earth. He then He empowers and releases His followers to do the same. The “alternative Kingdom” is the “Jesus way” of living life. It is a rebellion of righteousness in a broken world that is far from God.
Q: You once held a position as the lead campus pastor at a mega-church in Texas. While there, you had a major realization about your life and work. What was that realization, and what did it lead you to do?
I was 26 and had just finished seminary when I was promoted from young adult pastor to the new role of leading our newest church campus. It was my dream job with great influence, hundreds of congregants and the chance to lead a thriving church community. The church exploded with excitement. People were being baptized and saved, and true growth was occurring. It was all going to plan . . . and then it hit me. I couldn’t go on this way any longer.
God was doing something in my heart. Later I would come to describe it as a “holy discontent.” I began realizing the way I viewed church was off-kilter. For me and many others worship was being reduced to an hour time slot on Sunday morning. Don’t get me wrong; worship services are an essential part of following Jesus, but God was showing me that true worship transforms a life completely, not just when it is time to sing. Monday through Saturday is just as important as Sunday morning when it comes to following Jesus.
This realization led me to our city mayor’s office, along with my friend and worship leader Joel Warren. We told the mayor Jesus did not just save us from something (hell and eternal separation from Him), but He saved us for something. Stated simply, we wanted to see the worship overflow from the church building to the streets in which we lived. We wanted to be agents of change where we lived. We asked the mayor about the greatest needs in the community and vowed to strive to meet those needs in the name of Jesus. We mobilized the church to adopt local schools and mentoring programs to teach life skills to the down-and-out in our community. We began the process of being the church and not merely going to church.
This wake-up call for me personally led to the formation of the Awaken Movement. Later my family moved to London, England, to facilitate Awaken’s vision in the U.K., as well as church-planting amongst those in their 20s and 30s who would never step foot in a traditional church environment.
Q: What did your family and friends think about your move to another country?
My family and friends were very supportive of our move to the U.K. Although it was hard for the grandparents to see their only grandchild at the time move across the Atlantic, they understood God had paved the way to London in so many ways. It was clearly His plan too.
Q: Do you think the majority of Christians are really living the kind of life Christ calls his followers to?
I don’t think so . . . at least from my limited viewpoint of the church in the West. Unfortunately, we have inherited a Christian sub-culture that thrives on individualism and personal choice to the detriment of pursuing the true calling of ultimate allegiance to King Jesus. Jesus makes very bold and explicit claims about what it looks like to follow Him, and for many churchgoers these claims get in the way of how WE want to live our lives. Jesus is calling us to an all-or-nothing lifestyle in the way that we follow Him, not a pick-and-choose salad bar. When Jesus becomes King in our hearts and minds, our actions and behaviors will follow suit. Until that happens we (churchgoers) find ourselves a conflicted people wanting to love Jesus on the one hand, while still bowing to the idols of our flesh. This conflict must be dealt with before we can truly live out the kind of life to which Jesus calls us.
Q: You talk in Citizen about how Christians have competing allegiances. What are those allegiances, and how do they stand in the way of Kingdom living?
We all have allegiances. Some are healthy and God-given, such as marriage, parenting, being an employee or employer, friendship, etc. When Jesus takes His rightful place in our life, there is a re-prioritization of life that naturally takes place. When this happens, our relationship with the King becomes the lens by which we see all our other loyalties and allegiances. Therefore living for the Kingdom informs all areas of our lives and all earthly loyalties and penetrates everything that we do. According to Jesus, there is no such thing as compartmentalization of certain areas of our lives.
Q: You say, “Citizens of the Kingdom should be the most risk-taking people on the planet.” What do you mean?
I’m finding this quote is really standing out to people. It means if we have truly died to our allegiance to ourselves and it has been replaced by a greater ultimate allegiance to Jesus, then our lives are no longer our own. In 1 Corinthians, Paul tells us we have been “bought with a price” — that price being Jesus’ own life — and that we died with Him (Romans 6:3) and will be resurrected with Him. So if we have already died and the penalty for our sin has been dealt with, we have absolutely nothing to lose! There is no fear of death for people who have already died. For the believer, death has been dealt with, so what is the worst that could possibly happen to them?
I think it is this reality that frees us to live as risk-takers, Kingdom-bringers and radical, righteous rebels who take Kingdom ground during our relatively short time on this earth. I am becoming increasingly convinced that Kingdom ground is not taken any other way.
Q: Has the spiritual climate in the U.K. changed the way you view the American church? How so?
Absolutely. You never really see your blind spots until you are given a different perspective. Living as an outsider in a different country has given me a unique view into Great Britain but also a different perspective of my homeland.
Living in a post-Christian city (London) made up of less than 2% evangelical Christians has opened my eyes to the reality that if the church in America does not make some serous changes, they will go the way of post-Christian Europe. I think the American church, with all its members, money and “success,” is (at times) over-complicating what it means to follow Jesus. I’m finding that as an American pastor, I didn’t really understand the need for unity or Kingdom living amongst the body. I got too caught up in numbers to the detriment of true discipleship. Programs began replacing relationships, and buildings clouded my view of the body. When you live in a city as a part of the tiny religious minority, your faith either falls away or becomes very real. I think the church in America could use some of this shock to wake them up from operating as business as usual before it is too late.
Q: Some have called Citizen a “wake-up call to the church in the West.” What is it that American Christians need to awaken to?
I’ve thought about this question a lot recently, and I would say discipleship, prayer, unity, stewardship, lifestyle worship and Kingdom-living. What it all comes down to, though, is Jesus. We must re-imagine our lives, re-position what we value, re-identify who we are and re-center all of these things on the true King of the world.
Q: Tell us more about the Awaken Movement you helped found. What is its mission and purpose?
Awaken was born in 2008 as an organization to help resource the church for action. We inspire, educate and equip local churches to put action to their faith as they strive to be the church outside the walls of the church building.
Co-founded by Joel Warren (musician/worship leader) and me, Awaken came out of our work together in the suburbs of Dallas, Texas, as we sought to help our church “reclaim our Jerusalem” and live as agents of change in the cities in which we lived. Awaken is led by a collective of compelled artists, musicians, pastors, photographers, filmmakers, songwriters, authors, missionaries and business professionals who are dissatisfied with the status quo of merely attending church. We desire to see a generation of churchgoers living as Kingdom-bringers in their communities. We create small-group studies, films, music, books and church-wide campaigns to help carry this message and vision to the church in the West.
Q: One unique characteristic of the western world is our love of personal autonomy. How can this actually be a detriment to the Christian life?
Individualism and personal autonomy are two of the things our Western dreams are based upon. The tricky part is that Jesus lived on earth and the Bible was written from an Eastern perspective and worldview. So the task is to see how Jesus lived, hear His words and examine His life, and then apply that to our 21st-century lives. It seems to me that individualism is actually a Western cultural stronghold that prevents us from living like Christ at times. If the goal of our lives is to make money, be comfortable, save for the future, enjoy life and seek happiness, those values and ideals can be pitted against the very things Jesus is calling us to. We must let Jesus transform our heart and reevaluate what we want to devote our life to. This is especially important when living in a culture where personal autonomy reigns supreme.
Q: What do you think is the biggest enemy to the Gospel in America? The world?
I believe one of the main ploys the Enemy uses against believers in the West is to encourage them subtly to give in to the silent killers of apathy and fear. Comfort could also be added to this list for many of our brothers and sisters in the West.
Q: Does a Christian need to quit his or her job and go into full-time missions work to apply the principles you lay out in Citizen?
Most definitely not. In fact, I think that would completely defeat the purpose of my message in Citizen. This book is for everyday people who want to follow Jesus and live for something greater than themselves.
Q: How do you hope Citizen changes its readers?
My prayer is that Citizen would show you who you really are in Jesus and then release you to live a life more abundant, more fulfilling, more daring and more joyful than what you are currently settling for. There is so much more to life, and it can only be found in our true King.
For more information about Rob Peabody, visit his online home at awakenmovement.com, become a fan on Facebook (awakenmovement) or follow him on Twitter (@AwakenRob and @awakenmovement).