Beautiful, Messy Church
You may have heard of Rick McKinley. He pastors the church Donald Miller wrote about in Blue Like Jazz. Imago Dei in Portland, Oregon, reaches people who live on the margins. McKinley's book about the church (and all our churches) is called This Beautiful Mess (Multnomah, 2006). McKinley was interviewed in the Fall 2007 issue of Leadership. Here is an excerpt.
1. Did your church reach out to people on the margins from day one?
Not exactly. Early on we were just a small group, and when we started looking at the needs of the city, we had a very honest moment. We admitted that we didn't really want to love broken, sinful people; we didn't really want to love Portland.
We prefer safe and protected lives. Most of us don't want to know about the abuse some homeless vet went through and how he mentally snapped. If I'm honest I have to admit I don't want to know he exists. I'd rather not know.
But Jesus is ruthless. He's not ignoring the lepers and the people pushed into places where I don't have to see them. He goes right to them.
That was a major turning point for us. We met every Wednesday night and repented. I'd lay out all the needs I could see in Portland, and we prayed. We didn't want to follow some methodology and get 300 people to start a church. We wanted it to be the real deal.
2. As peoples' hearts were changing, did you begin organizing ministries around their passions?
No. As leaders popped up, they found their expression in different places.
Churches typically create a structure and then fight entropy. A church will start a youth ministry, for instance, and if the youth pastor bails, they try to fill that slot to keep the structure going. Imago Dei isn't like that.
We are trying to create an environment and see what God births out of it. We're trying to make sure that the environment is pure: there's regular repentance, there's love for one another, there's Scripture. Out of that kind of environment come ideas for ministry that we'd never come up with.
So we never sat down and said we want to do this or that. We just fought hard to keep the environment weed-free. Out of that came one guy who decided to take his camp stove down to the street corner and feed homeless people. A group of girls felt called to adopt a low-income apartment complex. They went on a prayer walk and found a rehab center for single moms. They got plugged in there and started serving.
If someone wanted to start a boys and girls club, we would say: "That's cool. Pray about it for a month, put your vision together, and then come back to us." Everybody has great ideas on Sunday, but if they come back with something on paper, you know it's something more. We then ask them to gather a team. Nobody starts without a team. If it's just one person doing it, they're going to get burned out and frustrated. If they can get two or three people to join them around this vision, then they've got a shot.