Students of a Heavenly Kingdom not a Consumer One
Discipleship in the 21st Century necessitates a commitment to a deep intimacy between women and men of all cultures. A disciple must embrace community, but even more a community of diverse people. Where that diversity, or community is not present a disciple must work to create it. Discipleship in the 21st Century must produce disciples who tirelessly confront the powers of injustice at work in the world around us, and who abandon themselves to life among the world’s marginalized. Discipleship in the 21st Century requires a resolute rejection of materialism, consumerism, and individualism; in short, we must reject the Church Growth movement, and the toxic way it has infected our Kingdom imagination by playing to consumer desires.
The Vineyard’s relationship to Evangelicalism is a point for much conversation. However, for our purposes here it is not necessary to clarify the degree to which we should be differentiated from other Evangelical streams. When it comes to a theological commitment to the Church Growth paradigm, the Vineyard has historically given unquestioned assent. Much of our material for church planters is focused primarily around gathering crowds; John Wimber himself was heavily influenced (and was in fact an influencer!) by the Church Growth mindset. Leaving aside questions of decades past, Church leaders today must constantly assess their own sense of worth in the unholy tension between meeting consumer demands and faithfulness to the King. What in the past may have been good, or simply unintentionally bad, is now unquestionably bad. We must turn from it.
My prayer is that we turn to the City. The wondrous diversity of cultures and classes is enough to woo any missionary. The inherent community is enough to endear anyone who loves people. The brokenness will induce compassion for people, and the systemic nature of it induce defiance in the face of the powers, in any Spirit-filled disciple. The sheer ingenuity of immigrants and the unique economic realities of urban markets should excite any creative businesspeople. The urban centers of America are filled with opportunity for the Church to rediscover Herself. Here we can seek again to set our face towards a Kingdom dream, and invite others to join us as we labor under Jesus to forward that dream.
We must be clear, this is not a critique of suburban missions, but rather those who end up there for the wrong reasons. Those lonely, isolated souls in the suburbs are crying out to be liberated from bondage to material wealth and fulfilled consumer desires by Kingdom agents sent there with power from on high; just as the poor, broken, disadvantaged, and oppressed of the cities must be liberated. This is not a call to abandon one mission field for another, but rather a refocusing on the goals of the mission in both fields; we must rethink our commitment to suburbia only because it so often results from a commitment to Church Growth. Our calling must be to reject the powers and kingdoms of this earth, and conform instead to that heavenly Kingdom that will one day replace these others. No longer can we acquiesce to a culture that enshrines unrestrained desire and comfort. As St Paul says:
18For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. 20But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.