Rick McKinley lumbers onto the stage like a bear in blue jeans. The screen behind him shows an image of the Portland skyline under the canopy of Mount Hood. He prowls the platform with a bottle of water. But as McKinley begins the message, a call to "Love Portland," it's evident this bear is more Teddy than Grizzly.
His speaking style is reflective, biblical, and riddled with humor. His sermon feels like a conversation, despite the hundreds of mostly 20- and 30-somethings gathered in the old high school auditorium where Imago Dei meets.
Emphasizing the reality of sin in the world, McKinley deadpans, "After Genesis 3, the world turns into a Jerry Springer show." The congregation laughs. "I can tell that joke every week and it still works," he says. "That's just pathetic." They laugh again.
McKinley's casual charm serves him well in Portland, Oregon, a city liberal even by West Coast standards. The importance of relationships and community is reflected in Portland's ubiquitous coffee shops and pubs. Those values are evident during Imago Dei's worship service.
After McKinley's sermon, the band plays as worshippers fill the aisles. For 20 minutes people sing as they move toward communion tables in front. Around the bread and cup, heads bow, alone or in clusters—some blond, black, gray, even pink and green. Imago Dei is an image of Portland as well as an image of God.
But Sunday morning is only a partial glimpse. Unseen are the thousands in Portland impacted by Imago Dei who never attend a worship service. McKinley started the church seven years ago with a vision to take the whole gospel to the whole person. A daunting notion in a city like Portland.
Today Imago Dei is reaching the margins. Its people are serving the homeless, refugees, people with AIDS, struggling teens, single moms, and many others. Its ministry was highlighted in the influential book Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller.
It is a church on the margins, serving people on the margins, in a city on the margins.
How does Imago Dei inspire so many to reach out? "Our goal is not to create a community of volunteers," McKinley says. "The goal is to glorify the King by doing what he's called us to do. We're in a story that's been going on for thousands of years. The story of Jesus putting the world back together through the gospel."
We sat with Rick at one of Portland's bobo coffee shops to discuss Imago Dei's journey.
What's Portland like? A hard place be a church?
Portland is a very creative city, and it's really fun. It's a pub culture—the microbrew capital of the country. A bumper sticker here says "Keep Portland Weird." That's pretty accurate. Portland is a little weird. I walked out of church on Sunday and people were doing a demonstration on how to convert your diesel car to run on veggie oil.
I thought, What in the world? Then I got in my SUV and drove home. (Laughter.)