Distinctives – Defining who we really are

In the early days of the Vineyard we were truly a movement of churches with clear distinction

A quest to recapture characteristics of Kingdom uniqueness which will once again set us apart as a Christian movement that stands out in the present cultural and historical hour because of the clear and distinct functioning practices we exude.

Not long ago our senior leadership team attended a series of meetings along with about two dozen other Vineyard leaders in Nashville, Tennessee. The meetings, held at the Lifeway Center, were conducted by Ed Stetzer who is Vice President of Research and Ministry Development for LifeWay Christian Resources. Ed is a renowned statistician and missiologist known worldwide as a contemporary analyst possessing an uncanny pulse on the health and vibrancy of church movements. I, like many others in attendance, was struck by his understanding and insight concerning the state of the Vineyard, especially here in the United States. With all that was said over the course of the two days, one main observation that Ed communicated really stood out. Toward the end of our time together he made a statement which was simple yet very profound; and even as he spoke I felt certain it was a truth that very possibly held the key to the future of our movement. He stated that from his perspective the Vineyard had lost its distinctive.
In the early days of the Vineyard we were truly a movement of churches with clear distinction. There was nothing quite like us back then. Our style of worship and ministry were unique for our time. Everyone knew in those days that if a person desired anointed Vineyard worship they needed to attend a Vineyard church. If they wanted to experience a church that struck a balance between sound evangelical biblical teaching and Spirit-filled naturally supernatural ministry without hype, they pretty much had to attend a Vineyard. Even our casual dress style was characteristic of only a few contemporary movements during the era of the 70’s and early 80’s. Because many during that time rejected the stuffiness of the traditional church they flocked to the Vineyard. If a young leader desired the opportunity to plant a church and didn’t want to go through years of seminary or denominational requirements, the Vineyard was the place to do it. We were clearly unique for our time – possessing a very appealing and definable distinctiveness.
So what happened? Well, as Ed so simply put it – we won! Because we believed that what we were doing was right, we held a conviction that everyone in the Body of Christ should do things our way. Amazingly, over the course of time thousands of churches around the world did follow our lead. By the mid-90’s Vineyard songs were being sung everywhere both inside and outside of the Vineyard. Even our once unique style of healing ministry was adopted throughout much of the church at large. C. Peter Wagner referred to us as leaders of the Third Wave movement and defined us by our distinctiveness; not merely our style of worship and ministry, but such things such as our morphed Episcopal form of church government as well. By the new millennium we were perceived no longer as cutting edge, but one of many contemporary movements; a movement that had begun to move a little more slowly.
I remember when the Lord called Nancy and I to Boise, Idaho in 1988. Like any new church planter I was diligent to do a demographic study of the city. Part of that study was focused on the existing churches in the area. I clearly remember thinking that Boise really did need a Vineyard. At that time there was nothing like it in the city or the entire state for that matter. Knowing that fact alone empowered us with a deep sense of passion, giving us the conviction to sacrifice everything to see it done. We honestly believed that if we didn’t provide a place to carry out Vineyard ministry, Boise would be missing a great blessing. With this in our hearts our young church grew rapidly due to both our efforts and the reality that it stood out as a powerful cutting edge ministry in the city. Another advantage we had in those earlier days was the reality that the Vineyard name alone would draw people simply because it was a brand that spoke of a unique type of church.
Many of those benefits began to diminish by the year 2000. Our founder, John Wimber, was no longer with us and the swirl of life that his conferences, reputation for effective ministry and common sense teaching cultivated had begun to wane. Because of his influence and success in blessing the entire Body of Christ, churches all over our city were now singing Vineyard songs, worshiping in a more informal way, and even praying for the sick during services. The reality is that Vineyard churches all across the nation no longer stood out as being unique in the things that once gave us a distinctive edge.
By the mid 2000’s new young non-Vineyard church plants started springing up throughout our city. They were alive, fresh thinking groups connected to new growing church movements. What I didn’t realize at the time was that they possessed a uniqueness that was as engaging and magnetic as our distinctive had been ten years before, especially to the emerging generation. It was difficult not to feel a little defeated, much like a “has been” even though we knew God had called us to bless and help these new works succeed.
Still believing God loved us and had a divine purpose for our Vineyard in the new millennium, we began to seek him for fresh direction. The first thought and reaction was to return to the things we did at first; to the original distinctives that once drew my generation to the Vineyard. In examining it all I realized we had never abandoned those things. That was not our problem. Our problem was that we were overlooking the power of the new distinctives and passions God had been birthing anew in us. It hadn’t dawned on us until Ed Stetzer’s comment in Nashville that we already had a new set of distinctives – distinctives that had not yet been clearly articulated. In other words, there were certain kinds of unique ministry we had become known for and even had a reputation for, not just in our city but across the nation. Yet, we had never considered them as things giving us a definable distinction. To us these ministries were simply rooted out of a desire to turn biblical truth into functional reality. In retrospect not only were there very few other churches investing in these types of ministries, but many even criticized us for our actions. Issues like human injustice, environmental stewardship and advanced education for third-world ministries (which equipped people to work in areas of human trafficking, medicine and agriculture) were not yet the norm. We were especially condemned for our stand on the environment. Many believed we had become politically liberal and unfortunately didn’t understand the link between an unsustainable global environment and the oppression of the extreme poor in the world.
We also became known for our extensive work among the poor in our community. Today, if you ask anyone in our city if they have heard of Vineyard Boise they would most likely respond by identifying us by our outward commitment to the poor, the downtrodden, the captives and the brokenhearted. They would refer to our benevolence programs, especially our long standing dedication to feeding the homeless each Sunday, or our efforts in the areas of crisis response, free medical aid,  and provision of food. They might also acknowledge our work in prisons and among the addicted. We would no longer be identified by our worship style, our Spirit-filled ministry or our sound bible teaching as distinctives – even though they have never stopped being practiced as our highest values.
Two weeks after our meetings in Nashville with Ed we took our church eldership team away for a few days to discuss this new matter of identifying distinctives. Knowing that our old distinctives, always referred to as values, were no longer giving us a sense of uniqueness, we felt this exercise would be critical in order to rebuild the momentum we had previously experienced so powerfully. The first rule in the exercise was to be honest. The list to be compiled would not be built on hopeful thinking, but rather on actual reality. In order to do this we had to look at our ministry with the eyes of an outsider. The list would not be made up of the things we hoped for or dreamed of, but instead the things that those outside our church would define us by. These would even possibly be unique to Vineyard Boise alone; things that might set us apart from other local churches in the city. After long discussion our list consisted of five categories which we then arranged in an order, not of importance but of progression.  You might say we were trying to answer two questions simultaneously. 1) What do we want to be culturally and visibly known for as a church body? (This consisted of the list of five categories.) 2) How would we get there? (This constituted the order in which they were listed.) The entire list flowed out of our theological belief and conviction for the Kingdom of God; thus “Kingdom Theology” was not considered a distinctive in itself but rather the root of all the practices which would give us distinctiveness. After two days of heartfelt, honest discussion we constructed the following list:
Distinctives that characterize Vineyard Boise – All based on Kingdom theological beliefs and practices.
  1. 1. Spirit and Truth
  2. 2. Equipping and Training
  3. 3. Participation
  4. 4. Multigenerational
  5. 5. Missionality / i-61 (Our missionial ministries of compassion based on Jesus’ personal proclamation of Isaiah 61. See www.i-61.org )
It’s obviously not enough to develop a list of definable distinctions if there is no intention to do something with them. Again, these distinctions are not simply values, but values played out in such a way that people recognize them as visible practices of our faith. In a way you might say that distinctives are a bridge which connects a church’s values with their ultimate long range vision, defining who they really are. John Wimber often exhorted that orthodoxy means little without orthopraxy and that the two should match. Today, people are more drawn to us by what we do as a result of our said values rather than what we say we should do. Because distinctives are the things that give us personality as a living body of believers (i.e. church) they in reality are our most powerful calling card to those outside of us. Distinctives can be our very best form of evangelism. Often people join us because of their perception of who they think we are based on what they observe as outsiders – whether their observations are accurate perceptions or not. They are drawn to our life as a fellowship and only later discover the source of that life.
As I said before, we didn’t consider our theological view concerning the Kingdom of God as a distinctive in itself, but rather the undergirding of all we teach and attempt to do as a people. Kingdom theology compels us to participate in the ministry of Jesus in the now, even as we look ahead to the not yet. Because of this, the passage Jesus read from Isaiah 61:1-4 as he began his public ministry claiming it as his job description as Messiah, would also become our ultimate distinctive. In the end we want our people to participate in his commission to become and make disciples that would engage in the ministry he so clearly modeled. We desire a functional, missionial church where every person, no matter their age, would be compelled and fully equipped to take part according to their gifts. We want to develop a people who would be first and foremost deeply rooted in a Kingdom of God worldview and fully functioning in both Spirit and Truth.
As a leader who has participated in the Vineyard movement for some thirty years it would be my counsel to every church leader to consider doing what we have done here in Boise concerning this issue of distinctives. It has become my belief that this process may be the very thing that will rebuild our momentum as a movement and carry us ahead to yet another new season of fruitful impact.
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“The Brothers are Coming”

Four of many Vineyard brothers

While eating lunch around a small restaurant table in Phoenix during the national conference, I began to share with close friends a dream that my wife Nancy had six months earlier.  As I started to speak I was shocked and embarrassed by an unanticipated wave of emotion that both flooded my eyes and choked my words.  Just minutes before I had been hilariously laughing about who knows what. But in that moment the presence of the Spirit came unannounced, yet was clearly evident to everyone at the table. It was crazy and I could hardly get through the retelling of Nancy’s dream.

Roy Conwell, Steve Fish and Glenn Schroder have been close friends of mine since the earliest days of the Vineyard. Actually we’ve been more than friends; we’ve been comrades in a quest to build churches and a movement we’ve believed in and sacrificed for. At one point, we worked together to build our region and at other times we co-labored on outreaches in the developing world. Throughout the years we have built a rich relationship of trust. Although we have never used the terminology before, in truth we have become spiritual brothers. As I shared with these guys, I suddenly realized that Nancy’s dream has special meaning and feeling for people like us who have loved the Vineyard and all it has stood for these past thirty years. I guess that is something to be emotional about.

Back to the dream that happened last fall. Nancy woke early one morning and shared that she’d had a significant dream. In her dream she was sitting at our dining room table having tea with an English woman and an Asian woman.  As they fellowshipped together the English woman’s nose began to bleed causing Nancy to hand her a tissue and pray for her.  At that point the woman looked up at Nancy and said, “I have a word for your husband; go tell him that the brothers are coming.”  At that point the two of them joined together and started praying for the Asian woman.  All three women began to shake as the Holy Spirit fell upon them.

About a month after her dream Nancy and I were in England teaching a leadership conference. During those few days we made some new friendships and rekindled old ones. Up to that time I had little idea what her dream meant, but during an evening ministry time I felt prompted by the Spirit to share it with the Vineyard couples who were present.  Without going into great detail I’ll attempt to share the heart of what transpired.

As we prayed for one another many experienced a deep sense of brotherhood that God was imparting among Vineyard leaders even beyond those present in the room that night. I personally believed God was about to build something new between the UK leadership and the USA churches. One long time Vineyard pastor who was present confessed he had always looked to the American Vineyards for leadership and had never felt like a brother or peer.  Some shared that they had known the USA Vineyards had been struggling as a whole and yet because of these feeling never offered counsel or ministry as a true brother might.  The bloody nose of the English woman signified to them the struggle many English churches had experienced but that out of their struggle they understood pain and wanted to help not just by ministering to the American Vineyards, but ministering more effectively with them into the world (i.e. the Asian woman).

For me the message that the “brothers are coming” is a great encouragement that goes deeper than simply the UK and America. For me it is something deep God wants to do worldwide. I believe God wants to take the Vineyard into a new season where he is going to draw like-hearted, like-minded leaders throughout our movement together for a common cause.  I believe he wants to move us from an association or organization to something more organic and lasting.  He wants us to fall in love and join arms in a great quest. I believe he wants to build us not simply into a relational community, but a purposeful fellowship; a genuine brotherhood.

I already see it happening even as I felt it happen with Roy, Steve, Glenn and myself that day around the table in Phoenix. I know that throughout the movement and around the world God is doing this deeper more purposeful work in many of our leaders, both men and women. He is calling us to a common cause. He has tested us as a people over the course of time and through trials of many kinds. For many it has provided relationships of authentic trust and care.  We have rejected the politics of organizational government, choosing instead to relate not because we have to but because we honestly want to.  We truly like one another, and the connection is contagious.

“The brothers are coming” – this is the juncture I find myself at in this journey called ministry… it is the cry of my heart!

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Youth-inizing The Vineyard

Front row worship in Boise

Something has been happening in the youth ministries here in Boise. Our young people are experiencing a kind of life with God that is new and outwardly noticeable. Not only are they engaging with God in a deeper way through worship, but they are evangelizing their friends and voluntarily praying for people on our city streets. Every Sunday morning they fill the front of our auditorium demonstrably worshipping their hearts out. Honestly they have become a source of encouragement for the entire congregation. We have given credit to our worship and youth pastor, Andy Hendley, for building this new momentum because of his commitment to our youth. We watched these positive changes without comment for a while – perhaps because we feared it would be another short-lived serge of zealousness. I can’t express how blessed and encouraged we have been that over time this move towards God in our youth has been consistent and continues to grow in intensity.

The actual word euthanasia comes from a Greek root meaning “good death”. It is defined as the act of allowing something to die without interruption or putting something to death painlessly. It is therefore my thinking that youth-inizing a church or a church movement will require a kind of willful, purposeful, merciful death. In the natural course of life something must die if there is to be new life. This is how renewal happens. Like Jesus said, “Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” (John 12:23) It does bring to mind the question – what seed must die if new young life is to arise.

Before I attempt to answer that question I’d like to share a few revealing statistics from a recent Barna report. Instead of paraphrasing the report I think it may be more advantageous to include a few paragraphs from the report itself as it addresses the subject of aging church movements and the dilemma of non retiring Baby Boomer pastors. (I’ll include some links for further reading.) In one article the Barna study revealed that not only are Christian congregations growing older across the American but not surprisingly pastors and lay leaders are aging as well. One study reports that, “a decade ago the median age of mainline Senior Pastors was 48; today it is 55. That represents a shockingly fast increase, representing a combination of too few young pastors entering the ranks and a large share of older pastors not retiring. Another study by Barna found that an unusually high share of Boomer pastors are refusing to retire or plan to retire in their mid-sixties, and that succession planning is a glaring weakness in most Protestant churches.” [For a link click here]

Even within the local church, Boomers rule the roost. Today, 61% of Protestant Senior Pastors are from our generation. Among the current lay leaders, 58% are Boomers. And if money talks, then we have the floor: 50% of the money given to churches last year came out of the pockets of Boomers. (That’s more than double the amount given by any other generation.)

Unfortunately, we are not good at sharing. If we are the richest generation the world has ever encountered, we are also its most selfish. And we are driven by the one value that defines us and on which we are willing to squander our money: power. We believe so deeply in our decision-making capacity, and we enjoy the control and perks of calling the shots so much, that we have no intention of relinquishing that power, regardless of traditions, expectations, reason or future interests. Except taken from – “Gracefully Passing the Baton” by George Barna. [For link click here]

First of all let me say that in my opinion the functional presence of Baby Boomers in the church is crucial. I am convinced that the church of today must be multigenerational. It is obviously unnecessary for us Boomers to die before God can rise up a new generation of leaders. Yet, as Barna suggested, we must intentionally relinquish power, regardless of our fears for the sake of future interests. The idea of this can be frightening – I’m a Baby Boomer and I know what it feels like to enter the golden years. I have all kinds of fears of my own. Trying to retire in an economy that is failing is scary. As aging leaders we fear that after years of hard work building thriving ministries, leadership teams and facilities, our predecessors might not be willing to work as hard as we have. They may make mistakes due to lack of experience; they may not be able to handle the kinds of pressures that kept us up night after night. We fear that the people who have esteemed and valued our leadership through the years may turn their eyes to another, leaving us feeling empty and devalued. I could go on and on about the reality of our humanness, but the truth is we started this journey on faith and we need to press on with the same heart. There is one thing that is certain even in these times of uncertainty – an offering of a life of service made with a righteous heart will always have the certainty that God is faithful to provide plenty to do, and may even provide an income to do it. The point is – if we Baby Boomers are willing to give up our entrenched positions of authority he will not put us out to pasture.

Passionate youthful leaders are emerging

Five and a half years ago Nancy and I made the decision to embrace a seven year plan to hand off our senior pastoral role to a qualified successor. It was an emotional decision for three reasons: first, we didn’t feel old or ready to retire; second, we truly loved our church and our work; and finally, we honestly had no idea how we would sustain ourselves financially. In addition to these reasons the only senior pastor transitions I had previously witnessed were for the most part full of conflict and sorrow. My desire was to do this in such a way that I wouldn’t have to leave the church in order not to impose a threat to the new pastor. Our family has four generations attending Vineyard Boise and nearly every meaningful friendship is part of the church as well. We knew we would need a strategic plan to make this transition succeed; and that it would take time so as not to interrupt our culture or momentum in a church our size. My heart was that when my successor took over the congregation would have already accepted their new pastor and trust that I would not be jumping ship. Obviously the first step was to choose the right couple. I wasn’t looking for a clone of myself, but certainly someone who shared my heart to make authentic Christian disciples. Nancy and I found that couple in Trevor and Andrea Estes, who first started attending the church as young singles shortly after Vineyard Boise was planted in 1989. Telling the story of this methodical transition with the Estes couple is worth a paper of its own – perhaps “Youth-inizing the Vineyard – Part II”. For now, however, my only point is that if we are to youth-inize the Vineyard something must die.

Change is scary. Change threatens people. Many leaders avoid real change simply to avoid conflict. Tweaking an organization can’t fix things that are really broken; it requires true change. It is only change that can kick-start the kind of momentum many Vineyards are presently longing for. [An excellent podcast on this subject by Andy Stanley is called “Gaining and Sustaining Momentum”.] [For link click here]

I can’t say for sure, but I think it just might be our conviction to keep the church young, and our serious commitment to turn over the senior role to a younger couple, that has stimulated the new youthful serge of life we are now experiencing. As our youth group continues to grow and the Sunday school fills with the small children of new young families, it has caused me to wonder if God is honoring our sincere effort. I don’t question that our young people love both Nancy and me, but I think they see us more as grandparents now than those they can directly relate to. When I speak of the Jesus Movement or tell stories that took place in the 90’s their eyes glaze over as they wonder if I’m really from the same planet. As much as I try I can’t understand their culture. They’re amused at my ineptness when it comes to technology, and can’t believe my lack of desire to be on Facebook. They laugh with endearment at my jokes and quirkiness, but they really get Trevor’s humor much better. He speaks their language and understands what it’s like to raise young children in an uncertain and changing world. They respect my life experience, and the wisdom and compassion it has cultivated. Thankfully that part will never change. But, more and more I think I am being perceived as an aging grandparent. The church needs Boomers because the world needs grandparents – but grandparents are not meant to demand the primary position of authority in the family. Parents do that. As grandparents, however, we have earned not only the right to be respected but the freedom to do less of what drains us and more of what we feel impassioned to do. It’s the parents’ job to be the disciplinarian and to be on call 24 / 7. It’s the grandparents’ privilege to love the grandkids, but not every minute of every day.

To youth-inize the church, Baby Boomer senior leaders must be not only willing to die to their primary positions of security and authority but must relish the anticipation of new horizons. They must reinvent themselves much as a healthy grandparent should take pleasure in their changing role in the extended family. It’s a crucial moment in the American church and a crucial moment in the Vineyard. It is time for our generation to be as courageous and radical as we once were in the days that we first signed up for this movement. The question remains and must be asked: can we do it or maybe more importantly, are we willing to do it?


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Heirloom Christianity – A prophetic image


The richness of heirloom faith

While writing the book “Rooted in Good Soil” I felt the Lord impress upon me an analogy or word picture that over time began to impact my leadership. While not initially profound, the Spirit persisted to illuminate its depth and it slowly began to change me. In time I believed God was calling me to communicate these very simple principles to my Boise team for the purpose of altering our course. On the first of January we launched a concerted effort to gently turn the helm of our ship together and as we did we immediately experienced the exhilaration of a fresh thrust of momentum. In order to grasp this idea of what we are now referring to as “Heirloom Christianity” it is essential to go back and explain again the crucial differences between heirloom and hybrid seed and why these differences illuminate a prophetic parallel to the truths God is presently speaking to His church.

Heirloom vs. hybrid seed

Three or four years ago I hadn’t even known about heirloom seed much less that there was a difference between heirloom and hybrid seed. As far as I knew, a seed was a seed and if planted in the vegetable garden they would eventually grow into something that resembled the picture depicted on the cover of the envelope they came in. It wasn’t until I was given an article from a horticultural periodical that I learned about the growing controversy concerning the commercial pressure to transition from heirloom to hybrid seed use. Continue Reading

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The Role of the Arts in the Vineyard by Scott McElroy

Scott McElroy is the author of "Finding the Divine Inspiration" and a long time Vineyard leader in Indianapolis

From the beginning of the Vineyard movement we’ve aspired to be culturally relevant in all the areas that the concept of “culture” encompasses, including the arts, and particularly music. In fact, you could say that the Vineyard pioneered the wave of contemporary worship music that swept the world church in the last 25 years. Until that wave, millions found worship music barely relatable, if at all.  For many Vineyard-goers, myself included, the relevant and authentic music was one of the strongest draws to the movement.  That style of worship has reached beyond our doors to affect the Church and enrich countless lives throughout the world.

But God has just begun to teach His Bride how to worship and enjoy Him. Now He’s reclaiming the other art forms as well, bringing a New Renaissance; a movement to release prophetic, divinely inspired art in the church, and powerful spiritual art into the culture. The evidence of this movement is appearing all over Christendom, including the Vatican, where the Pope recently invited 500 world-renowned artists to the Sistine Chapel to discuss “rekindling the relationship between faith and art”.(1)  Evangelical churches have embraced drama and electronic media and opened a record number of art galleries (2), and prophetic leaders in the Charismatic movement recently released powerful prophetic statements about God’s plans for the arts (3), and some Charismatics have begun using the arts as prophetic vehicles during their services and outreaches.(4)

The Vineyard movement is in a wonderful position to lead a creative renewal once again.  Not only do we value the concept of cultural relevancy but many of our churches have a wealth of artists and creative people in them.   As we disciple and empower these individuals, God will release more creativity and vibrancy in our churches, and bring a better and more complete understanding of the Body of Christ.  Continue Reading

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