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A Cutting Edge Red Tape Church
by Leonard Sweet

Leaders who dream the most are those who are most awake.

Take Ron Martoia, lead pastor at one of the most awakening new church plants in America—WestWinds Community Church in Jackson, Michigan.

WestWinds is awake to the needs of postmoderns. People today aren’t complaining, “I don’t have a church life.” But they are complaining, “I don’t have a spiritual life.” WestWinds offers postmoderns a common spiritual life through the adventure of a sacred pilgrimage with Jesus.

WestWinds is awake to the arts. Everything about the church is designed to help postmoderns have artistic and aesthetic spiritual experiences. The original Greek meaning of “aesthetics” refers to things that are perceived by the senses. WestWinds is awake to the changing ways postmoderns experience meaning and evaluate reality—through a multisensory, multimedia, multilayering tapestry of gesture, symbol, word, and metaphor. Worship at WestWinds isn’t high-tech—it’s high aesthetics—deploying artists and designing space for God to be experienced in sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell.

WestWinds is awake to the Spirit. Preferring spirit descriptions to job descriptions, the WestWinds team competes with each other in risk-taking and permission-giving. Martoia takes team-based, not solo, continuing education jaunts. For their team the question isn’t, “What’s wrong and how can we fix it?” Instead the cutting question is, “What’s possible here and who’s going to give it a try?” This impulse to create and innovate is what’s behind the phrase “cutting red tape.” Thomas Edison’s laboratory in Menlo Park, New Jersey was the world’s first great R&D facility. In six years, the invention factory at Menlo Park secured more than 400 patents. The U.S. Patent Office watched and waited for packages that were wrapped in a certain kind of red tape. They knew these came from Edison’s lab, and they cut these first. WestWinds is an invention factory for the postmodern church.

WestWinds is awake to the future. When one enters the building, what leaps first into consciousness isn’t the stunning graphics on the walls or the original sculptures on the floor, but a waist-high row of tiles that riddle the walkway—obviously designed by children. WestWinds takes seriously Jesus’ rebuke of his disciples’ age bias (Matthew 19:14). Just as Jesus integrated children into his sermons (Matthew 18:2-3), so this church integrates children into its very mission. Instead of honoring its founding fathers, WestWinds celebrates its “founding children.” Each colorful tile tells of the hopes and dreams of the 130 charter children of this 22nd century church.

Leonard Sweet is dean of the theological school of Drew University in Madison, New Jersey. (LenISweet@aol.com)

© 2002 Group Publishing, Inc. All rights reserved.