Why This is Grand Rapids’ Moment of Transformation - Part 1

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Ground swell. Tipping Point. Critical Mass. Pivotal Moment. While this week marks the momentus CityFest event in Grand Rapids and we are excited to see what God will do over the weekend, these are the kinds of words that come to mind when I think about the moment we are in as a city from a wider and deeper perspective---particularly as the church of the City of Grand Rapids. Let me tell you why these words resound so strongly, and why I believe friendship is at the heart of what God is doing among us right now.

In my last post, Why This Event-based Ministry Skeptic is Getting Behind CityFest, I wrote about my journey as it relates to Cityfest West Michigan---how I went from trying to ignore it to seeing that this is more than an event, but a movement catalyst that we, as leaders and believers in the church of GR, have an opportunity to get on board with and experience real transformation together as the Kingdom of God collides with the lost and marginalized our the city in beautiful and tangible ways. It was exciting to get so much good feedback from others who’ve experienced a similar journey and are beginning to get on board as well with how they see God moving in all of it. (It might be worth it here to note that I am in no way affiliated with Cityfest as a staff or board member. I DO work with an organization called 24-7 Prayer, who’s priorities — Prayer, Mission, Justice, and Church Unity — I would say overlap with Cityfest and its affiliated City Gospel Movements significantly. This speaks to why I’m writing so enthusiastically about all of this.)

In this follow up, and on the eve of the CityFest event coming up this week, I want to take a step back and share a wider perspective of what I’ve seen God doing in our city since my history first intersected with it eight years ago as a leader in the church. In short, I’m encouraged. And I want you to be as well! What follows is a sweeping celebration based on how I’ve seen churches prioritizing the true things of God’s Kingdom, grown in ways that are not easy, and have begun to posture for long term health and a trajectory that reflects more of what we see in scriptures and less like maintaining the status quo for the sake of tradition (Not that tradition itself is bad, folks!). These observations are not based on any one church, ministry, leader, or non-profit, but themes I’ve witnessed emerge from hundreds of these through partnerships, friendships, conversations, prayer times together, and just viewing some from a distance. It probably goes without saying, but none of this is scientific either. I have not employed any sophisticated research methods from which I’m about to share, but merely my perspective of the spirit of things swirling about (or some my call trends) in comparison to what I saw almost a decade ago when I came here.

More Churches are Prioritizing Prayer in their need to encounter the person of God and intercede together for the work of the Kingdom. Many are embracing prayer in serious ways---like committing to seasons of 24-7 prayer and dedicating permanent prayer rooms in their buildings as a set-apart sacred space for encountering God.

Churches and Leaders are Prioritizing Prayerful Friendship with one another by meeting weekly or monthly with one another to simply share vulnerably and lay their hearts, pains and desires before the Lord together.

Missional Communities and Missional House Churches are being planted and are multiplying as churches are rediscovering our roots in the early church that met primarily in homes over shared meals and involved discipleship in the everyday life kind of stuff.

Place-based Ministry is becoming a focus for many churches as they realize just how much of a gift their intentional, thoughtful, and generous presence in their local neighborhoods can be.

Church-School Partnerships are popping up more and more, which is such a need for the kids in our schools to thrive. Raising a child takes a village---and overcoming the challenges of educating and growing a school full of next generation leaders requires an entire community effort.

One West Michigan is a collaborative initiative to unite churches around the city in order to make a collective impact in three major areas of local injustice: education, racial reconciliation, and affordable housing.

One West Michigan is a collaborative initiative to unite churches around the city in order to make a collective impact in three major areas of local injustice: education, racial reconciliation, and affordable housing.

Collaborative Networks are being formed as more churches and nonprofit leaders are realizing their need for prioritizing unity in purpose, collaboration, and collective impact to address city-wide issues that are big enough to require more than just a handful of church partners to make a tangible dent in the problem.

A New Generation of Leaders have been/are being entrusted to carry on the work of the Kingdom and are both honoring the rich history of what’s been laid before them and courageously bringing the fullness of how God has made them to lead.  

Churches are Worshiping Together in city worship nights and joints services, etc., as they are recognizing their desire to worship God in the presence of the uniqueness and diversity of Father’s family.  

Racial Reconciliation is being modeled by several church leaders who are befriending, listening to, and learning from individuals of other races---and forums and shared meals are being hosted by partnerships between local seminaries and church specifically to facilitate learning about justice and racial reconciliation so that we can pursue a narrative of healing where there has been so much hurt and segregation.

‘Belonging’ and ‘Everyday Discipleship’ are words that are starting to characterize the culture and practice that more churches are striving to foster, rather than only primarily being places of proclamation and teaching. This shift can only happen when individuals and families in communities take ownership for their part, rather than leaving the work to the “ministry professionals.”

Churches are gaining new perspective and tools in missions by learning how to come alongside marginalized people groups without inadvertently hurting them by reinforcing detrimental mindsets or disempowering relational dynamics.

Let’s just pause and take that all in for a moment. Wow. Any one of these things if a big deal. And my heart wants to yell out a barrelling ‘AMEN!’ in thanks to God for the way He is shepherding his church along toward His redemptive purposes in the earth. Thank you, Jesus, for your kindness toward us in the way you’re teaching us, and give us all the more grace in the things we still need to learn.

With all of these beautiful ways we see God moving among the church in our city, I want to share something that I see as one of the keys to the Kingdom that God is imparting to us and will foster the long-term transformation we hope to see.  This is something I am praying and hoping we don’t miss in this critical time together.

I’ll break this down in Part 2 of this post...to come on Tuesday :)