Since its beginning, and especially this month, Ecclesia Hollywood is on mission to discover and share the answer to the question: “What is good news for the people to whom we are sent?”
The church announced a few weeks ago that every Sunday in May will be dedicated to hearing from a speaker hailing from a different part of Los Angeles. “Each will share about how God is bringing good news to the neighborhoods and social or professional networks where they live,” the church states on its website.
TogetherLA recently interviewed Ecclesia Hollywood’s lead pastor, Jon Ritner, who shared that, halfway through the series, a common theme is emerging which is that “privatized personal faith” within local churches should instead be a faith that intersects with the culture around us.
TogetherLA: Describe your current series at Ecclesia Hollywood.
Jon Ritner: In May, we have been using our Sunday morning gatherings to ask “What is Good News for Los Angeles?” Since I am still new to the city, I have invited LA natives in each week to lead us in answering that question for the specific area in which they live. By the end of the series we will hear from leaders in East LA, Compton, Highland Park, and Hollywood itself who are each bringing a message from God’s Word and applying it through the lens of their local neighborhood. One of the common themes that is emerging, is how the local church must move away from our practice of a privatized personal faith and instead let our faith intersect with every area of culture around us.
TLA: How did you personally get a passion for serving in Los Angeles?
Ritner: My family and I moved from Brussels, Belgium to Los Angeles in the summer of 2015 to allow me to serve as Lead Pastor of Ecclesia Hollywood. During my time as a church planter in Post-Christian Europe, I saw how Europe’s rejection of institutional Christianity and its forms of church are forcing the body of Christ to reclaim its original first century roots as an organic movement of God’s people living out God’s mission to redeem and renew all of creation through Jesus Christ. After 10 years on staff at an East Coast mega church building church programs, my time in Europe convinced me that the future of the American church will depend, not on services or programs, but on each follower of Christ taking responsibility to join God in his mission and flesh out Jesus in his or her own life. Rather than trying to get the world to come to a Sunday “church”, we must be God’s Church every day in the world around us.
TLA: What does your church do to stay on mission in LA?
Ritner: At Ecclesia, we believe that each one of us is called to live as a missionary to the places where we have already been sent in our life; the places where we live, work, play and create. As missionaries, we are asking God to help us understand the context of our local neighborhoods and subcultures and then spiritually discern “What would the Good News of Jesus look like and feel like for these people in this place?” Then, we prayerfully join God in manifesting those elements of the gospel; such as beauty, justice, forgiveness, reconciliation, and radical love. We want to be midwives assisting God as He births His new Kingdom on Earth as it is in Heaven.
TLA: What have you learned about Los Angeles?
Ritner: In my very limited exposure to Los Angeles, I have been heartbroken to learn of the city’s tragic history of racism and ethnocentrism that has created deep cultural divides amongst its rich diversity of inhabitants. Whites only beaches and discriminatory housing policies are just some of the stains on our recent historical record, not to mention the resulting public outrage expressed in our two well documented riots. Sadly, too often followers of Jesus have divided along ethnic lines rather than standing together against injustice and the oppression of the marginalized in the city. Thankfully, there is great momentum through organizations like LA Voice, Covenant House, The Gospel Coalition LA, LA Church Planting Movement, and many others to work together for the common good to see our great city flourish as God intends.
TLA: What do you see in the city in terms of “unity” among churches? Christians?
Ritner: To our own deficit, Ecclesia is by no means a truly multi-cultural, multi-ethnic church. However, we live in a multi-cultural city and we want to be in partnership with churches and organizations who are engaging all over the city. We also want to be a prophetic witness in the industry of Hollywood and be sure that we are promoting cultural diversity in a sphere of culture that has traditionally been dominated by a narrow set of voices. It continues to be my prayer that God’s Kingdom would come in Hollywood as it is in Heaven!