The Identity of The166

“I’m a fool for Christ, whose fool are you?”  -- John Wimber

Unlike most church plants that have a reasonably long discernment and planning period, The166 was birthed quite suddenly; some might even say accidentally.  We never really spent much time addressing some of the more fundamental questions that organizations need to go through prior to going public.  Chief among them is the oldest of questions, most poignantly asked by the protagonist Jean Valjean of Les Miserables:  “Who Am I?”.  What is the collective identity of this The166, and what is it that we’re trying to produce?

Of course there are certain things one takes as a given when establishing a church that is trying to be faithful to orthodox Christianity: we want to be people of the Scriptures, worshippers of God, rescuers of men.  Furthermore, we take every opportunity to highlight our connection to the Vineyard Global Family, which means that we’ve inherited a great deal of our theological framework and practices from a robust, well-defined movement.  To be frank, we’re also skeptical about anything that claims to be “new” or “different”, and the last thing we want to do is focus so much on our chosen distinctives that we fall into the narcissism of small differences.  

All that being said, much of what lies at the core of our identity can be captured in a single term: Entrepreneurism.  This term has a rather specific definition in broader society - someone who is the founder of an organization, typically a for-profit business.  We typically associate it with folks in the tech industry - an Elon Musk, Steve Jobs, or Bill Gates (for the boomers and Gen X-ers in the room). The terms people use to describe them are bold, visionary, game-changers.  All of this is true, but there are many more interesting and peculiar things about entrepreneurs that we should pay attention to.

Entrepreneurs create things that previously did not exist.  In that sense, they are made in the image of God.  The market - the arbiter of truth for nearly all economic matters - is a subtle beast and ruthlessly efficient. So when something doesn’t exist, it’s usually because the market voted against it.  Thus, we are rightfully awed by Tesla’s current success because there’s a long line of companies who spent decades attempting to bring an electric car to the market, and each time, the market responded with a resounding, “NO!”  We stand today at the 10-year anniversary of the original iPhone, but few remember how unlikely the first iPhone was.  When the makers of the then incumbent Blackberry performed a teardown of the iPhone upon release, they were stunned as they (and their customers) had never even imagined a device like that.  

Who dares defy the omniscient, omnipotent market?  The entrepreneur. While most see the market as either an irresistible force or immovable object, the entrepreneur sees a sliver of weakness/opportunity to be exploited, and he subsequently echoes the words of the prophet Isaiah by saying, “Send me!” Or more vividly, they look at the market and scoff the way David looked at Goliath and asked rhetorically, “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?”  The rest of the Israelites rightfully saw an 11-foot giant who could squash an ordinary man like a grape - David, compelled by the injustice of Goliath’s behavior, saw something that needed be defeated.

Similarly, this ability to see X when everyone else sees Y, is central to the way of Jesus and for all of us who have been grafted into His story.  In Matthew 14, the disciples are tired and want to send the crowds home, but Jesus has compassion on them and feeds five thousand by multiplying 5 loaves and 2 fish.  The crowds see Zacchaeus as the tax-collecting traitor, but Jesus sees a soft heart that could lead to breakthrough for the rest of Zacchaeus’ household.  The masses want the Messiah to reinstate the Davidic reign and overthrow the Roman oppressors, but Jesus goes to a cross and unleashes an insurrection from below that continues to this day.

But seeing is only the first step.  Many see, but what will we do? How will we respond?  In my experience as an investor in entrepreneurs - there is no shortage of entrepreneurs with unique ideas.  We must act, and acting in accordance with what God shows us is difficult, and often frightening. Surely Abraham had moments of fear gripping him as God told him to pick up and leave what’s familiar and head into the unknown, but leave he did.  And while Shadrech, Meschach, and Abednego from Daniel 3 may have sounded self-assured when speaking truth to Nebuchadnezzar’s power, I’m sure it wasn’t quite as easy as a casual reading suggests.  Without a doubt, responding to what we see God doing will introduce a tremendous amount of risk and discomfort into our lives.  But as John Wimber would often say:

“Faith is spelled R-I-S-K”

And I may even go so far as to say that a life devoid of risk is no life of faith at all! I was recently speaking with a fellow who is as observant as anyone about the state of the church and society, and he expressed to me an interest in spending more time with entrepreneurs, traditionally defined.  When I asked "Why?", his response was that he noticed that their lives are fraught with risk, and so the Gospel is more real for them than it is for someone striving for safety.  So much of the church and broader society is obsessed with “safe spaces”.  The progressive church is seeking safety from what they perceive to be oppressive, traditional church.  The traditional Church is looking for safety from a hostile, secular culture.  The secular culture is a mishmash of neo-Marxist sub-communities seeking safety from people with power.  Of course all these parties have some legitimacy to their claims, but The166 is attempting to go in the opposite direction and risk confrontation with the evil that exists in the world - beginning most of all with the evil that is within.  Of course we won’t win every battle, but it wouldn’t be risky if we did.

We have many entrepreneurs (traditionally defined) in our midst. However, one need not be an entrepreneur to be entrepreneurial. Wherever we find ourselves at this moment, there are an endless stream of opportunities for us to adopt entrepreneurial energy - in our workplaces, our families, our community, and our friends.  

The Scriptures present an amazingly simple and resilient 4-step framework for being an entrepreneur at life.  

  1. Get good at seeing what God is doing - mostly be learning how to hear His voice and being facile with The Word.
  2. Do whatever He says.
  3. Evaluate and course correct
  4. Repeat

There is complexity of course in the details and the how, but at some level, it really is this simple.  Once you begin experimenting with this kind of life, it can feel like you’re living in a parallel universe to the one everyone else is residing in.  And there are amazing treasures to be found once you get to the other side.  

#ComeHolySpirit

P.S.  There is of course a shadow side to entrepreneurial energy, but that is a topic for another day.