(That's my buddy Jim Zartman's voice you hear in the video below...feel free to pause it. I won't tell him.)
This weekend I spoke from Acts 2:42-47. I'd say that no other section of the BIble has messed with me more than this one. The picture painted of the early church in action is mesmerizing in its simplicity. Strangers from every nation suddenly thrown together radically sharing all they have within the reality of a supernatural visitation from God himself. Who wouldn't want that? To know that there is a God and that He is present. To be fully accepted and valued within a generous family. To see others join the community everyday as Jesus draws them in. To me...that's the Kingdom come. To me...that's church. Or at least what church can be or will be.
This understanding led me to reject the "organizational church" for about half a decade of my life. On my most frustrated days, I was overstated - condemning those who do the sorts of things I do now - things like taking a paycheck from a "church" or encouraging what I called "program centered ministry." On my better days, I was rather level headed about it all. I knew that I did not have to be part of a 501(c)3 organization to be the church. It was ok for others, but I was done with it all.
Overtime I became more comfortable being around organized Christianity again. Today I'm part of the system. When I came back to vocational ministry, those who thought I "went off the deep end" sent me notes saying that they had been praying that "I would return to church." It was OK that they didn't get it...
Today my more staunch anti-institutionalist friends likely see me as a bit of a sellout. I can understand that. We were on a crusade to prove it could work without all the fringe stuff - we'd wax poetic about churches without buildings, budgets and big shots. I still respect them. I still hope what they are doing works. And whether they see it my way or not...I still think I'm one of them.
In my early twenties I began to see myself as a missionary called to North America. Since then I have, for the most part, lived up to that calling. It was primarily missional thinking that brought me to reject the way I had always thought of church. I simply didn't believe that the institutional church was on track to see a redeemed North America. Somebody had to try something else. It was my missiology (in conjunction with some burnout and restlessness) that fueled my second career as an actor. And it was another missional conviction (in conjunction with some unexplainable Holy Spirit stuff) that brought us back to Cincinnati.
My life vision is to see a church (defined as one of God's new families on a mission) within walking distance of every person in North America. A big organization like The Vineyard can encourage that in significant ways. I've thrown my whole heart into the mission of the Vineyard so easily because it fits perfectly into my personal vision and mission. Personally, I'm not all that into the idea of big churches unless they can produce small ones on a daily basis. And call them what you want - small groups, house churches, church cells, ministry teams...I don't care what you call them. I call them churches. And I want to see one in every neighborhood in Cincinnati as soon as possible.
When it starts to really happen it will be too messy for any organization to control it anyway. That's how we'll know it is from God.