Seeking a More Missional Future
What lies at hand and ahead for the Westside Vineyard
The following is an article from our lead pastor for a January 2007 newsletter that summarizes some of the missional initiative that we embrace ahead.
For Such a Time as This
Making Sense of Our Moment in History
By Brad Bailey (Lead Pastor)
This past July we held a special combined celebration with the theme “For Such a Time as This.” It was a time to affirm that each of us is meant to be here. As part of God’s sovereign choice you were meant to exist at this particular time and in this particular place. The time and place we live in is a vital part of being alive… it defines our moment.
The words “For such a time as this…” were first spoken to a young woman named Esther in the midst of being given a place of influence as Queen of a pagan nation. Esther was there in the kingdom for a particular moment in history. The story of Esther reveals that God is sovereign over time as He continues His work of redemption.
This is what Jesus understood when He said, “The time (kairos) has come…The kingdom of God is near.” (Mark 1:1) The primary word in Greek used for time is ‘chronos’ from which we get the word ‘chronology’—the basic passing of time. But here Jesus uses another word… ‘kairos.’ Kairos is defined as: “The opportunity. It is time viewed as an occasion rather than an extent, the appointed or proper time, season, age. It means the critical period; the strategic or special period of time.” Kairos speaks of realizing that we are living at the intersection of heaven and earth—two realms dynamically engaged. There is an eternal work of the heavenly realm that engages the particular time and place of human history on earth.
What lies at hand for us is that of embracing the sovereign time and place in which our lives are lived. Many leaders of the Western Church are reflecting afresh upon the very nature of what it means to be the church in the 21st Century… and rightfully so. We are living at a time of significant cultural change. As author Reggie McNeal describes in his book The Present Future, “We are entering a new epoch of human history called the postmodern age. The postmodern world will demand a new church expression, just as did the rise of the modern world.” The emerging culture is more urban (80% of the world population live in cities), young minded (63% are under the age of 34, youth culture is now mainstream), less rooted and traditional, more pluralistic, more individualistic yet seeking community (desire to belong but not to join), more relational and experiential rather than propositional regarding what they believe, and open to spirituality but skeptical of absolute truth and institutions.
In the midst of a culture for which many have turned away from their perceptions of “Christianity,” lies a world more deeply aware of it’s limitations than ever. The modern era that is ending had presumed that human intellect could solve the problems of this world. The postmodern voice has stripped the modern world of it’s facade of human potential and power. Like the one who shouts out that the emperor has no clothes… it has punctured the collective hope and revealed the state of nakedness and need. As McNeal describes,
“Room for God is growing in the postmodern world….The modern world assaulted God, shoving him further and further into the corner with its determination to drain all the mystery out of life and the universe. Everything that could be explained scientifically further diminished the realm of the spiritual. We need to take courage. Though secularism and nihilism have taken their best shot to kill God, they have lost.!”
The great adventure of being the Westside Vineyard is that our time and place lies at the forefront of an emerging post-modern and post-Christian culture. The Westside of Los Angeles reflects where the rest of America will soon be in terms of common cultural mindset.
So what do these times beckon us to do?
It’s A Time to Restore… Not to Retreat
The “Church” broadly speaking, in it’s Western institutional form, may be losing impact… but the Church as the incarnational embodiment of Christ continues to change the world. Wherever and whenever the church lives out of it’s identity of being the living body of Christ in and to the world... the church remains God’s revolutionary force on earth. It is time to renew and refresh our missional identity. It is our time to restore our light amidst the darkness. Our goal is to become a positive ‘spiritual reference point’ for our personal spheres of relationships and the community at large by allowing Christ’s authentic and active compassion to engage those around us. I believe this process will involve the following qualities.
Re-Embracing the Gospel as the Good News of Liberation
The Gospel is the ultimate good news of liberation and transformation. The Scriptures declare that Christ alone through his life, death, and resurrection… offers true and eternal life. (Acts 4:12, Galatians 3:22) History declares that new ideas and ideologies will rise and fall but when the Gospel takes root a lasting freedom and justice emerge. I believe most of us will find that our own souls affirm this as well. We recognize that we have gone our own way… that we are prodigals who have ‘gone off to a distant country’ in search of our own affirmation… only to realize that we are too easily exploited by those who are also ‘far from home.’ The journey home is awakened by the news of a Father’s love to send His son. There is a longing that finds the ultimate good news in discovering that out of Divine love, One has come to bear our shame and pay our debt. Christ comes not as the source of a new religion but as the one who fulfills the longings of every human soul.
The Gospel then must not be reduced to a formula but rather re-embraced as the one true interpretive key to unmet longings and unfinished stories of the human soul. Jesus really wasn’t and isn’t a marketplace shouter. When he spoke publicly it was in settings in which the people naturally gathered and welcomed his role as a rabbi. How did he communicate about the kingdom… a new way of life at hand? Through stories he interpreted what they had been longing for. Through signs and symbolic actions (touching lepers, eating with sinners, washing feet), He interpreted the reign of God. It is our time to become interpreters of life’s longings and to re-embrace the Gospel as the ultimate Good News that brings true freedom and peace.
Re-Embracing the Empathy of Our Common Humanity as a Means to Becoming ‘Natural Witnesses.’
One of the most interesting things about how those who are not yet Christians and Christian relate is that both generally feel uncomfortable with the evangelistic witness of the Christian. In fact I believe that both feel particular discomfort with the perceived self-righteousness and hypocrisy of the Christians. Many who have received Christ as their Lord and Savior have found this discomfort to simply leave them with a growing distance from those who have yet to accept Christ.
The liberating truth is that our common life struggles can be a point of common connection. The very sense of not ‘having it all together,’ while not an excuse for lacking in spiritual growth or caring behavior, can be the very point at which we engage in the common challenges of life. While we may never be able to escape some who deem our convictions as judgmental, the more pervasive ground out of which we relate can be the empathy of our common humanity.
Part of re-embracing such empathy lies in a growing ability to listen. The ability to relate with empathy and to ultimately interpret life’s longings in the Gospel story requires learning to really listen and explore the hearts and spiritual longings of co-workers, neighbors, and anyone in our sphere of relationships. It is time to renew our ability to listen and converse with those around us… ‘where they live.’ It’s a time to embrace our true prophetic role as those distinct…but in an authentic and beautiful sense, without being strange in the wrong subcultural sense.
Re-Embracing Our Spheres of Common Relational Connection
As we come to develop a more natural way of relating to those who haven’t yet accepted Christ, we can more naturally embrace the process of developing those relationships. We are free to relate less awkwardly and more openly. What becomes vital is being intentional in embracing or developing those spheres of relationships with whom we may have common connection. This involves taking time to connect and care for the relationships around us… to go out with co-workers, hang out with neighbors, host friends from a particular network, or serve in a community service organization. A simple way to think about this is to simply ask yourself, “What do I like to do beyond current church activities that can involve other people?” …then do it with people God loves and love them.
Re-Embracing Prayer and the Working of the Holy Spirit
Jesus prayed before all that he set out to do. He even describes how he was guided in what he did by the leading that came from prayer. We need to pray in the same way. Jesus did not take up prayer as a ‘substitute’ for personal involvement. Neither should we allow prayer to be a ‘smokescreen’ for our lack of action. Rather prayer is the link that allows those who follow Christ in ‘seeking and serving the lost’ to flow with the Lord’s guidance and accompanying power. When Christ’s disciples did not grasp the centrality of Christ’s time with the Samaritan women at the well, he challenged them to ‘see that the fields are ripe’ … to ‘pray for laborers’… and then sent them out into those fields. Missional spirit begins with ‘eyes to see’ as he saw.
“When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” - Matthew 9:36
This is an exciting time to be alive. It is OUR TIME and I am confident that we will meet the moment. Queen Esther was a member of a minority culture who held no formal power. Yet she discovered that with God lies a power that transcends all formality. Out of their relationship with God, her people had become known for their righteousness and justice as well as their commitment and courage to serve the best interests of the king and all his people. They became a light and a voice that prevailed through the power of God.
We too as the Church are connected to a divine purpose that is destined to prevail. God’s Story is the one true story that surrounds our existence. As we gather with a billion people on every continent joining in this unstoppable force which the Church represents, we are reminded that there is no greater power in the cosmos. No institution, organism, or group will outlast the missional community of Christ. The Church participates in an eternal, unstoppable, irreversible, and glorious reality. Let us embrace our calling… for just such a time as this.
“The missional church is incarnational… By incarnational we mean it does not create sanctified spaces into which unbelievers must come to encounter the gospel. Rather, the missional church disassembles itself and seeps into the cracks and crevices of a society in order to be Christ to those who don't yet know him.” - The Shape of Things to Come by Michael Frost & Alan Hirsch
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