Here's a little vision document I typed up to present to our elders. Read over it and let me know what you think. I'm quite interested in your feedback.
“On Earth As It Is In Heaven”
A Kingdom Centered Vision for Palo Alto
A Note About Church and Culture
As is evidenced by any number of sources, the dominant culture of the western world is undergoing a major cultural shift. This is not simply a generational shift (such as from “Baby Boomers to Generation X) but rather a shift in overall epistemology (how we come to know things). Not since the Enlightenment has the world experienced anything like this. Most churches are not aware of this change or view it as simply a passing fad to be ignored and/or opposed (much like most churches initially ignored and/or opposed the Enlightenment and subsequent modernity before realizing it’s scope and impact). After being totally caught off-guard by the modern shift, the church did a pendulum swing and married itself to Modernistic/Enlightenment thought, which also wasn’t the best move for anyone involved. Instead, we propose that Palo Alto be ahead of the cultural curve and engage the postmodern mindset. What we are advocating is quite different from the way that the church embraced the modern mindset (in many ways to her detriment). What we are proposing is much more along the lines of what the apostle Paul advocates in 2 Corinthians 10:5, “take(ing) captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ”. Looking at this passage in context reveals that it is not referring to one’s personal “thought life”, but is rather talking about taking captive the dominant philosophy for the cause of Christ; redeeming what we can out of it for the sake of the gospel and refuting what we have to (in the most appropriate and effective way). This is also a principle that Paul modeled on Mars Hill when he actually used a pagan idol and heathen poets to reveal the Living God. He redeemed their epistemology and dominant philosophy and made it obedient to Christ. This is the course that we believe Palo Alto should take in regards to the postmodern shift. This will involve letting go of some presuppositions which are thoroughly rooted in modernity and not Scripture (though it may at first seem like the opposite ). This is not simply a change in worship styles or moving from “traditional” to “progressive”. It is instead a radical rethinking of how we engage the dominant culture with the message of Jesus (more on the message of Jesus later).
This will involve the following:
• Changing Our Attitude Toward Change
o In the past, we have worked hard to change attitudes towards specific beliefs and practices only to have to fight different battles a few years later. What if we changed our overall attitude toward change so that we can engage a culture that changes at the speed of light? What if change was something that was understood to be woven into the fabric of our being?
• Renewed Emphasis on Story (narrative)
o Propositional truths ring kind of hollow (and shallow) in the ears of postmoderns. Emphasis on the (true) story of Jesus and the stories of his followers (including those at Palo Alto) fascinate them and communicate truth in a less threatening and more engaging way. People begin to see their lives as an extension of the story and begin to believe “truths” that they couldn’t be argued into.
• Become Less “Event Oriented” & Instead Become More Process and Community Oriented
o We must begin to view evangelism and discipleship less in terms of “Big Events” and more in terms of a process by which disciples (apprentices of Jesus) involve themselves in the lives of both other disciples and the community around them and are thereby spiritually formed.
• Focus On Experience(s)
o Talk about truth without ways to experience truth seems sort of inauthentic to postmoderns. We must find ways to facilitate opportunities to experience truth (whether through metaphorical physical activity involving activities other than hearing or reading, or by offering opportunities to be a part of the mission of God, even if one hasn’t yet become a believer). On a weekly basis (though not through rigid programs or ministries) we would like to give opportunities to incorporate Biblical truth into their lives.
• Less focus on “Ministries and Programs” and more emphasis on community, opportunity, and mission.
o To postmoderns, all of our ministries and programs may make our church appear to be a marketed product that we are selling. Most immediately lose interest (the cardinal rule is “don’t let your marketing show”). For those who are attracted to such a sales pitch we have to ask: are we creating people who are MORE self-centered rather than less? Are we simply creating “Christian” consumers?
The Kingdom Of God
We propose that Palo Alto adopt the theme “On Earth as it is in Heaven,” for 2005. This is obviously taken from Jesus’ sample prayer found in the Gospels. In this prayer, “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven,” are not separate items, but rather a reflexive restatement of the same idea. The “Kingdom of God” does not simply stand as a synonym for “the church” (with a leader, members, etc.), nor does it refer implicitly to the “second coming” (in it’s popularly understood form) and the subsequent end of the world. Instead, it is an ideology…a vision…a dream that God has about how this world is supposed to be and how it’s supposed to work. It’s a mission…a grand adventure that God invites us into whereby we become a part of how that ideology, vision, and dream becomes reality “on earth as it is in Heaven.” Looking at things through these lenses radically changes what they look like and what they mean to us. Evangelism becomes less about saving one’s personal soul so that they can go to Heaven one day when they die (though this is a part of it), and more about one becoming a part of the Mission of God whereby things on Earth are beginning to line up with God’s will the way they do in Heaven. Discipleship becomes less about being persuaded to mentally agree with certain propositional ideas and more about the people actually immersing themselves in the Way of Jesus and being formed into His image by the experience of it. Church becomes less about doing the right “acts of worship” in the right way and more about a redemptive community that through interaction and a common mission forms those it encircles into the people Jesus would be if He lived their lives. Life becomes less about me and more about God and you. The world becomes less a frightening place to be fought against and more the creation of God desperately in need of both the good news we are called to embody, and reconciliation in it’s broken relationship with a God who is madly in love with it (John 3:16).