The gospel spread throughout the Mediterranean world because trade routes allowed for major cities in the region to connect. This enabled trade to flourish and the commerce of ideas to change that world. Like the geography of the Mediterranean, the Pacific Northwest (PNW) is water-positioned on the Pacific Rim. Many in the world look to the PNW as a leader in connection, in space, and cyberspace. In the same way, the church needs to be a hub of connectedness, keeping in step with our region as it changes the world.
We have been reduced to asking if the church and our theological institutions can financially survive. “Will it make money?” has usurped, “Will it serve the Kingdom of God?”
The Early Church surrounded a great body of water that unified them, but there were still differences to be worked out. They wrestled with timeless questions of their era. But in our time we have lost questions about the meaningful life. We have been reduced to asking if the church and our theological institutions can financially survive. “Will it make money?” has usurped, “Will it serve the Kingdom of God?” While government builds infrastructure to facilitate the region’s economy, we need theological infrastructure. We require the same rigorous collaboration in theological functioning—in a region noted for fragmentation and individualism—where active love defines our organized work.
Innovators in our region are shaping a flourishing future, similar to what the bustling Mediterranean experienced. With companies like Boeing, Starbucks, Amazon, Microsoft, and many more, we live in a region that is committed to creativity and connectivity, and looks forward to serving the world. Sure, these are companies that simply want to make a profit; but at a deeper level they are also asking how to serve the global community. We are situated in a region full of pioneers, not mere colonizers. The church has the potential to ask new questions about where leadership might lead. We need to be connected to be an empowered voice at the intersection where meaning meets research, money, and beauty—a busy corner. That would look like forming a collaboration of theological schools working together to create a theological neighborhood. This is already happening.
The PNW is a region of experimentation. Rich with intellectual and entrepreneurial resources, this is not a culture of conservatism trying to keep everything the same. It is liberating (and maybe a bit liberal, too) in order to create a sustainable environment where people and natural habitats live with mutual respect. We live in a region committed to collaboration, as with the Cancer Care Alliance; we also need to connect the dots for our theological schools, churches, and capable leaders.
The Mediterranean hosted a circle of great centers of learning—Alexandria, Antioch, Athens, Rome, and Jerusalem—in a culture of learning and conversation. Great cities in a network of trade routes created a region of pastors, philosophers, and world leaders. With the ecumenical councils, the church started working together: in the Empire, but for Kingdom. They gave definition to the nature of God’s being, work, and ways in the world. They changed the world, as can we. The PNW is a place that values community. It now has a great opportunity to be an icon of the church, portrayed in hub cities like Vancouver, BC; Seattle, Portland, and Spokane, their suburbs, and to their neighbors beyond.
The PNW is a place of Kingdom Possible. There is no one church or power in the region to dominate the possibility of collaboration, as a people prepared to serve.
The PNW is a place of Kingdom Possible. There is no one church or power in the region to dominate the possibility of collaboration, as a people prepared to serve. Its theological schools are committed to training leaders to not only serve the church, but to engage the culture as Christians who bring meaning and vitality to the region. Leaders have begun to gather in the four hubs of the region in Dean’s Forums. Through sharing meals and building relationships, the relational neighborhood is finding a common concern asking, “What difference does it mean to be neighbors and to work together for the good of this place?”
This region offers cutting-edge programs and conferences to hear the voice of God through new reverberations like Christ & Cascadia, Inhabit, and many school sponsored conferences. The day is coming for the PNW to launch the larger church community. We need to open doors for younger scholars to publish, present, and show how new technology and art can serve the region. Church and academy need to be partners in disclosing the unique problems of our region and to work together for thoughtful, practical responses.
But how do we collaborate when faced with market-driven competition from business and secular education? Rather than compete, we need to see the region as a neighborhood with centers of conversation. Each unique setting offers questions to be brought to the table for discussion.
In the Early Church, faith formation occurred because leaders gathered to create a conduit for clarity and leadership development. They asserted the value of working together to understand the God who is to be served for the world. This is our challenge.
Now is the time to become a region providing gatherings to ask the crucial questions, not necessarily to find answers, but to empower the next generation to bring their innovation to the table.
The PNW has a great collection of traditions represented in its theological schools and churches. But to most they are invisible or passing away. Now is the time to become a region providing gatherings to ask the crucial questions, not necessarily to find answers, but to empower the next generation to bring their innovation to the table. We need conferences for innovators who see a future, the Kingdom coming. We have places for experts to clarify their technical language and beliefs. We need more than meetings for church leaders. We need young regional leaders and pioneers who see the diminishing church and trust God to actualize articulate communities with plans to nurture a meaningful life
Persecution was the garden bed of the Early Church in the Mediterranean. But this did not extinguish the church then. In the PNW now, church attendance is low, but this does not mean there is no vitality. In both cases, cultures of resistance helped create commitment in the faithful, helping them connect with other churches.
The PNW is a region ripe to become a destination, not only for its beauty and rising economy, but for its flourishing, creative expressions of a connected, meaningful God-honoring life; committed to serve and support as a creative, Kingdom neighborhood.
These are times of change and challenge. Those elements may provide the very catalyst we need to wake up. Through programs like the Northwest Theological Collaboration, a “fellowship of the ring” is forming to ask visionary questions as to how to serve God’s people, creating leaders and a regional neighborhood of common concern. Becoming an equipping theological community at a regional level, we operate in a new key, offering fresh opportunities for collaborative student learning, think tanks, publications, and higher levels of academic achievement. The PNW will never have one voice, but can be a neighborhood creating Kingdom alliances for our place and time.