Scouting Out The Vineyard Movement: What's in Store for Immanuel?1
Vineyard Conference 2021 - What’s in store for Immanuel?
One of the major needs at Immanuel Church in our process of revitalization is to be a part of a larger church network. Even so, Biblically and theologically speaking, no church should be an island. Our God is a trinitarian God - he himself is not alone, being one in three (John 17:21-23). Much more could be said on this topic - perhaps a different post for a different day.
Therefore, I firmly believe that every church should have some sort of relationship or connection with outside churches. This will help to ensure a number of things:
- It will help the church grow within and alongside of a larger group of churches, gleaning from their collective wisdom, insight and growth. This prevents any single church from accidentally cultivating what I like to call “inbred” ministry habits or theological convictions. Paul’s letters to the early churches in the New Testament reflect his pastoral attempt to prevent things like this from occurring.
- It will keep the church and its lead pastor/pastoral team accountable. If our church enters a network of churches that value relationships between our leadership team and that of other churches, and I willingly enter and nurture those relationships, a safety net is cast for us. If I or my family were to enter a slow decline in spiritual or physical health, or if I started to embrace some off-center or unorthodox theological convictions, these pastors would know me and love me enough, and be close enough to me to say “hey, what is going on?” Paul’s letters to Timothy reflect such a relationship and the accountability that comes through them.
- We can tap into resources that as a single church we simply would not have available. This can come in the package of everything from financial support to material resources to people-help, leadership training and everything in between. We see an example of this with the financial support drawn from the other Asia-Minor churches to the church in Jerusalem (2 Corinthians 8-9).
- Plus more - another later post!
Upon my hiring at the church, I was tasked with praying and seeking such a network to join for Immanuel Church. Such an affiliation is a really big deal, and is not to be taken lightly or entered into quickly. It usually is a multi-year process, first begun primarily through relationships.
WHY CONSIDER THE VINEYARD?
Knowing the history of Immanuel Church and its involvement in the Jesus People movement of the 70s, one of the first networks that I prayed and considered to learn more about was the Vineyard movement of churches. Vineyard USA began in the Jesus People days of the 70's, beneath the leadership of John Wimber and others. Church groups like Calvary Chapel and others also have their history intertwined with the Vineyard’s history. Our church’s history has in a way ebbed and flowed with the history of the Vineyard, and it felt natural to begin there.
With 500+ churches in America, and also with a global force of churches in 100+ countries around the world, on paper the history, values and theological convictions of the movement really seem to align with Immanuel.
In this past summer, I sought out to have lunch with the regional director, Mark Tindall, who pastors Blue Route Vineyard in Media, PA. We instantly became friends. He is a genuine man who loves Jesus and humbly pastors his church. For hours we sat and talked about life, Jesus, church, ministry hardships with Covid, and much else. After we spent some time praying, I walked away thinking to myself, “if other pastors in the Vineyard are like Mark, then I’m interested.” Regardless of future affiliation, I made a friend. He made an offer that day to financially assist in flying me out to their national conference, to which I initially declined. I felt weird to accept such a gift after our first meeting, and was taken aback by such generosity. I did feel led to continue pursuing the Vineyard, relationally speaking.
Fast-forward a few months, and I’m having lunch with Pastor Christian Dunn who leads CityLight Vineyard in Newark. Like Mark, I found myself sitting with a humble man who loves Jesus, and someone who also has a bit of history with Immanuel Church in the 90s through some co-ministry with a church he was youth pastor at in that time. The offer once again was put out there to financially assist in getting me out to Arizona for the Vineyard national conference, and I finally accepted, only two weeks before the conference began.
I decided to bring along Alexandra, and we made the trek out west. I found myself sitting in a massive sanctuary with many hundreds of local church leaders and pastors whom I found to be regular, humble men and women, deeply desiring to lead healthy, Kingdom-minded churches who share the Good News of Jesus through the ministry of the Spirit.
We sang, worshipped, and talked, and shared our story and the church’s story time and time again. What we continually found were people quick to stop, listen, hear our story and pray with us. There was zero-culture of arrogance, or sizing one another up according to our church’s size (yes, that’s a thing in many groups of churches), or any of that nonsense. We found that this movement of churches seems to desire genuineness and spiritual health, and they surely model it.
HOW I WAS CHALLENGED
We were deeply challenged by the focus of prayer and response to the Holy Spirit. The Vineyard movement is shaped primarily by their Kingdom-theology. They embrace the already/not-yet of Jesus’ Kingdom - and they are very honest and willing to embrace the full implications of such a doctrine. Did Jesus not say we will do greater things than he upon his ascension (John 14:12-13)? I’ve always believed that. However, the Vineyard intentionally seeks to give such “space” for God to work how he will through his Spirit. The nuance here is that I’ve usually, probably through a bit of hubris, pastorally approached people where I saw God working and said “OK, great, so here is where you need to be now” and I’d proceed to tell them how God should be working in their life.
The Vineyard takes a step back, and in an initial step of humility, first becomes observers of God’s work in someone’s life. Through the various revivals and renewal movements of church history in all corners of it, God’s work in people and communities has often been surprising and unexpected. One can only think of the unusual ways the Spirit manifested himself through the ministry of Jonathan Edwards, or George Whitfield or Wesley. One thinks of the Moravian revival of 1927, the Azuza Street Revivals in L.A. Reaching farther back, one thinks of the unusual ways the Spirit’s ministry was made manifest in the life of St. Catherine of Siena, or Saint John of the Cross or Saint Theresa of Avila. Also, throw in the Jesus People movement of the 1970s. If you aren’t familiar with what I’m speaking of, spend some time on Google and learn! All of this doesn’t even include what we see in the book of Acts. The Vineyard takes these stories seriously, and gives room for the Spirit to work however he will, not for the sake of any sort of signs, but for the sake of the glory of God and his blessing to fall on his children. That nuance is important, and they take it seriously. And, like in many cases, sometimes things have to be addressed (one thinks of Edward’s book “religious affections”) that can at times be excesses in such renewal movements. The Vineyard is OK with this tension in letting the Spirit work and if necessary then addressing any excesses that come. Once again I was challenged by it all, having no real argument to counter any of it, whether Biblical or theological or even historically.
The Vineyard also is in the middle of a baton-passing moment. The first generation of the Vineyard movement has filled the seats of the directorship since the 70s, as well as in all the original Vineyard churches. We were able to witness numerous Vineyard churches sharing their story of how their aging churches are passing on leadership to the next generation, and also witnessed Vineyard USA doing so with their directorship. The theme? “History doesn’t repeat, it rhymes.” They do not desire the future to be a repeat of the past. As they carry the values and convictions they have had since day one, they remain open to the Spirit’s work in the future to take place in a new way, however quiet or loud it may be. The humility in such a position is unusual. No person from that first generation of Vineyard’s leadership was fighting for power of position or “things to remain the same.” It was actually the opposite - I saw an eagerness to hand the keys of the Vineyard movement over to the next generation, even while addressing the journey of fears and struggles that brought them there. Once again, such Jesus-kind of humility was impressive and rare these days in evangelical Christianity.
More could be said. In the end, we left the conference refreshed, filled, and feeling more prayed for than memory provides. We also prayed for others more than we can remember.
WHAT IS NEXT?
This was a “scouting” trip. According to the history of Immanuel, as well as the values and theological convictions we carry, much of the Vineyard movement feels natural for our church. It’s not a perfect fit, but I suppose that if we sought for a “perfect” fit, we’ll never find one!
Such a decision of affiliation is not mine alone. It is with the other leaders and also the congregation at Immanuel. The next steps that we will take as a church is to be intentionally relational with close-by Vineyard churches, asking and praying for God to confirm if this group of churches is indeed a good fit and what Jesus desires for our church. I anticipate it to be a multi-year process in which we could simply receive a “no” at any time in the process, and that would be OK.
However, in my own spirit, I anticipate much fruit to come as we begin becoming more relationally invested. In the next calendar year, anticipate having some of the local Vineyard pastors preaching at our church here or there, and also us sending groups of people to local Vineyard events. The goal is to continue to get to know them, learn more about the network, and have these relationships not to be my own, but also the congregations - all the while praying if this would be a good fit for us as a church.
Thank you for reading thus far. If you’d like to learn more about the Vineyard group of churches, follow the links below. I will also include some teachings from the conference if you’d like to take the time to watch.
If you have any questions, feel free to ask! And be praying for God’s leading and direction with this in the coming months and years.
Pastor Daniel Nelms