I love Chicago.
I've felt called to that place ever since I visited on a mission trip in 1999. And when I saw Jon Tyson, along with a team of leaders from Discovery Church in Orlando, pack up and move to NYC to plant Origins Church, I knew that I would one day do the same thing in Chicago. But I was also convinced that I had much yet to learn, grow, and experience before I could attempt such a feat. So I moved to NYC in September 2009 and immediately plugged into community at Trinity Grace Church (formerly Origins). I wanted to learn and be involved with church planting and I suspected that Trinity Grace would provide the right opportunities.
In October that same year I attended the first meeting of the Heights Missional Community, a medium sized group that meets weekly and is organized geographically, by neighborhood. I stayed involved with the Heights MC ever since and have sought out ways to serve the neighborhood with particular focus on the three-fold vision God gave me for Chicago.
Now there is talk of planting a church in the Heights, from among the same community that has been living and serving with me here for well over two years. The launch is likely to take place in early April. Tonight was our first gathering to discuss and ask questions about what the church will look like come April. There are still a lot of question marks, especially in regards to when and where we'll meet, but we are moving forward in confidence that everything will work out.
As for me, I am grateful for God's faithfulness. I know that God is leading and teaching me throughout these experiences and my time in NYC to ultimately draw me to Chicago. It's already been a pretty wild ride, but I look forward to everything that is yet before me - I get the feeling that I've only seen the tip of the iceberg here in NYC.
By February 2010, I'd lived in NYC for about six months. I was feeling a bit jaded about my lack of direction; I strove to be a better disciple of Jesus; I desired intimacy with God; and I considered what steps (if any) I'd taken toward moving to Chicago.
I asked myself the question:
How will the next six months be different from the last?
This was my answer:
The whole reason I moved to NYC was that I want to plant a church in Chicago... YET. I haven't really been doing so much thinking, praying, talking, or writing about Chicago! This was even something that Caleb from TGC BK called me out on when we first met - I had the passion, desire, will; but no VISION. Interestingly, Seth called me out on the same thing back when Emily and I were talking about getting married and moving to NYC. So this time I hope to be a bit more proactive - engaging in thought and prayer on what I hope to happen in Chicago. The main theme of these six months will still be SURVIVAL. But I need to start working in some forethought for Chicago. I'm taking a trip there in late April. That'll probably help jog the process =)
Interestingly enough, I received my vision for Chicago at the end of those next six months. I had not been actively seeking. It all came to me in a sudden spurt of inspiration. God works in mysterious ways.
Thank you God for this vision! It took a whole year, but now I've got it. Time to seek the resources to implement this rather grandiose vision. But nothing is impossible with you - NOTHING. And I know you have put this vision on my heart. Thank you also for putting Chicago on my heart. Clear the path for me so that I might implement this vision to the glory of your name and kingdom!
I pray for the city of Chicago - that the city itself AND I will be ready for this big change. This HUGE addition to Chicago. Continue to mature this vision in my mind and heart as the time nears for me and my crew of fellow Christ-followers and Kingdom-bearers to launch this project in [downtown?] Chicago!
This is very exciting, Lord. Temper my idealism with some realism and pragmatism. Let this not be fleeting - may this be to the renewal of the city and the revival of your Church there! Help me to better connect with my brothers there - be they Christian, anarchists, homeless, artists, musicians, what have you. Lord, I know you will bring this to fruition in due time. I know also that you will lead me. Grant me the faith, courage, and discernment to follow.
Your humble servant,
West! I live in NYC, after all. There's no use in determining a direction if I don't have my bearings first, right?
And I would be remiss to forget where I've come from, to be where I am now, and the myriad reasons. Right now I am geographically in Chicago (visiting). But my heart - my community, church, friends, my life is in NYC. I wasn't sure I'd ever get to that place - where in my heart and soul, in the very core of my being, I would be fully devoted and dedicated to NYC. To God's vision, Kingdom work in that place. After all, the primary reason for moving there, the biggest motivation, was to "learn the ropes," to get to a place spiritually and existentially where I was "ready" to plant a church... anywhere, but my desire was to do so here - in Chicago.
In the process, over these close to eight months, I've learned that church-planting needs to be so much more substantive than just starry-eyed young adults pursuing pipes' dreams of the Kingdom. Indeed, as Tolstoy so aptly said, "the Kingdom of God is within you." Perhaps more accurately, it starts within you - within me. It can spread from there for sure, but that's where it must start. And if it isn't there, if I can't find the Kingdom within me, then I can do nothing. I have no power, no authority. Faith? Obedience? Love? Peace? Any other fruits of the spirit...
Before I could ever think of planting His Church - indeed, planting His Kingdom - don't I first need to have all these and more within me? Don't I first need that relationship, discipleship, grace, wisdom, discernment which can only come by the power of the Holy Spirit in the name of Jesus? Lord, help me to believe it! And then to pursue it in full obedience.
So my time in NYC is not merely transitory. I am pursuing God's Kingdom within me, that I might then transfer that love, shalom, redemption, righteousness, etc to the city - be it NYC, Chicago, Bangkok.
My direction, then, is towards the Kingdom - being heavenly-minded, in pursuit of God's Kingdom, that I might bring (live, teach, preach, breathe, eat, drink, pray) shalom to the city. Then, as a church, that we would continue to plant the Kingdom, not just generally in the city but also in the lives of individuals and in the life of our community.
For thine is the Kingdom, the glory, and power forever and ever. Amen.