Vitality has become the new buzz word in the church these days. What is unclear, at least to me, is what this precisely means, and how congregations navigate this aspirational reality.

The word vitality comes from the Latin word vita meaning life, energy, or belonging to life. I suspect that many of us have a sense for what makes for a life, and energetic experiences. Even in the challenging experiences of being in today’s world I imagine we encounter life from time to time in a variety of places. Whether in our relationships that ground us, to sporting events that stimulate us, to concerts that uplift us, to quiet meditation that centers us, to walks in nature that inspire and reconnect us we are being encountered to realities larger than ourselves.

In many, if not all of these instances, vitality comes in what we receive externally to ourselves. We are, you might say, awakened and reinvigorated by our environments. Those interactions, and places move us to into renewed life.

So, when we talk about vitality as churches is that what we are talking about? Is it that we can just wander in our world, and wherever, or whoever we connect with, somehow brings us vitality? And do we just assume that God is there somewhere just challenging us to get more organized in our focus? To be sure the Creator is all around us, and is encountering us in a variety of ways in our world. Those experiences are not intended to diminish a God-experience through those instances. But is there something different about vitality as Christians and communities of faith that is particular to who we are?

We hear from Paul in Philippians, “let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus”, and in Romans “be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” In John, Jesus tells us that he has come that we might have life and have it abundantly.

Renewing congregations find their orientation and ultimately, vitality, in God’s mission. This mission is God’s sending of Vitality to the world in the person of Jesus Christ. Vitality finds us before we find it. Gospel is the enfleshed particularity of God’s goodness, and this Vitality is qualitatively different from other ways that we experience life. This is the confession that the Church is grounded in, and this offers some clues, in my thinking, to how and where we might conceive of Vitality. For Vitality is not merely something that we generate and muster up in ourselves.

Vitality is the gift of being discovered by God in our anxieties and in our sorrow, and despair.  Vitality from this point of view understands it first from the place of God ministering to us in our unique and particular circumstances. Our hope for renewal of life, as those of (belong to) Christ, comes when a crucified one is risen from the dead; where God’s promise comes alongside the world, and brings it to new life.

When Jesus cried out from the cross—“my God, my God, why have you forsaken me”—Jesus offered a word of God’s Vitality for the world, and it’s a word of accompaniment, where God knows, all too deeply, that transformation toward vitality comes first as recognizing life in its god-forsaken existence. That Jesus knows what it is like to be a god-forsaken person is to move those whose despair, and anxiety keep them from God into a place of hope and joy, into Vitality.

If vitality, first and foremost, is being ministered by God in Jesus then this means we do not need to blame and shame one another for not doing enough. Rather, we can embrace our losses and longings by waiting for the Word to be spoken to us that addresses our anxieties, and transforms them to joy and hope.

What does this look like in our churches? To me it looks like listening differently and with greater God-intentionally. It looks like making room for God’s voice and movement to be the very discerning topic of our investigation for where vitality is emerging. Do we recognize that when we put together our meeting agendas that it is really God’s agenda that has called us together? How are we keeping that Gospel agenda central and where it doesn’t merely become reduced to a “to-do list”? How can our attention be more attuned to God’s Gospel of Vitality agenda among us as a shared exploration of our communities and not merely the work of our professional to bring to us?

The questions are many. Whatever other questions emerge there remains the promise that Vitality, and congregational vitality comes with a greater engagement in God’s mission to the world through the person of Jesus. For here, in these places, God is, in fact, revitalizing our trust in God as the very energy and fuel in the Spirit to how we show up in the world to loving and bearing life with one another.