“TAKE THE BEST AND GO” Part 2
Recapturing Our Roots of Fellowship and Our Call to Mission
By Tri Robinson
Although I didn’t know John Wimber well, for about seven years I attended national AVC board meetings with him as our leader. I witnessed the last days of his leadership in the Vineyard and will forever consider myself privileged for the experience. John was a man who put his pants on one leg at a time, but he was also a man who could hear God and wasn’t afraid to share what he’d heard. He led with a confidence and passion believing that the decisions he made and the direction he endeavored to take us was inspired by the Spirit. Without question John made some mistakes along the way, but no one can deny that God used him powerfully to start a significant move of God that gained momentum and still bears fruit to this day. For twenty years we legitimately referred to ourselves as the “Vineyard movement.” We were an association of churches drawn together by a life-giving culture that was both distinct and intangible. At times we felt and experienced who we were as a movement more than we could define it by some credo statement. Over the course of time statements emerged, mostly from John’s teaching that gave us language for who and what we were, statements like ”Equipping the saints for the work of the ministry”, ”A fellowship of Christian believers”, ”Doin’ the Stuff”, ”The Radical Middle”, ”Empowered’ Evangelicals” and many more. When it came to organization, John likened us more often as a tribe rather than an institution. As John defined us, it was somewhat confusing to those who demanded clear-cut parameters, yet for most of us it was organic and wonderful.
There where however a few things John was adamant about, one of which was his deep conviction concerning our name. He insisted that local churches that chose to be a part of us would receive and accept the name “Vineyard Christian Fellowship.” He believed God had prophetically given Carol and him that name, and because of it, refused to give in on the matter. I’ll never forget sitting in those early board meetings when the subject arose. I remember being shocked at John’s intensity as he would verbalize his uncompromising convictions when a high profile pastor in the movement asked to change the name of his church from “Christian Fellowship” to “Community Church.” At the time I was curious why it was such a big deal but never had the courage to ask. In those days, being the new kid on the block, I tried to stay below John’s radar as much as possible. It wasn’t until after his death that I began to understand and came to realize that the issue was not a matter of semantics for him but rather a prophetic statement of mission. (It is interesting to note that of the five original values of the Vineyard as stated by John, fellowship was the third listed behind worship and the Word.)1 Because of this I see it as an issue worthy of consideration as we further explore what it means to “take the best and go.”
From the very beginning the Lord called us as the Vineyard to be a missional movement. He empowered us not simply to enjoy the manifestation of his presence for ourselves, but for the greater cause of the world around us. We were called to power healing and power evangelism. We were empowered for Kingdom ministry of every kind, and whenever we lost our focus on the matter we seemed to flounder and lose our way. We were called not merely to reach inward for our own personal healing, but outward to fulfill the commission of Jesus. We were drawn together for a great cause and as we invested in that cause we developed deep and lasting relationships together. We were first called to be a “fellowship of believers”, and, as a by-product, many experienced rich and authentic community. In my mind, fellowship (koinonia in Greek) is a different word than community (ekklesia – most frequently translated as church in Greek.) It speaks of being unified around a common purpose and mission. You might say that fellowship is a community with a cause, the kind of community the first century church exemplified.
As the postmodern conversation infiltrated and dominated the Vineyard leadership prior to the turn of the millennium many believed the word ”fellowship” was obsolete and without meaning to the emerging generation. I remember discussing this idea with my staff one day when one of my younger leaders pointed out that the movie, The Fellowship of the Ring (going crazy at the box office at the time) was actually his generation’s movie. He pointed out that its popularity among the millennial generation was due to the fact they hungered for a cause worth sacrificing for. They wanted to fight evil and see righteousness win. That was his interpretation of true fellowship. It caused me to think and come to the conclusion with great conviction that we would not consider changing our church’s name from “fellowship” to ”community.” This was a personal conviction for me – and not one that I would impose on anyone else.
At the same time I saw many of our young people gravitating towards the “emergent movement”. Their rationale was that they hungered for community. Many of those who left us in pursuit of this new movement had been somewhat disjointed in their relationships, putting much of their energy into filling that void. It seemed to me that much of the craving for authentic community rooted from broken homes and issues with neglectful and even abusive authority figures. I understood the brokenness they had experienced and wished we could have been more effective at meeting these deep-felt needs. In spite of this, I still maintained that the best relationship comes from a commitment to mission. It has been my experience that healing happens when people gain a divine sense of purpose and significance in their lives. I wanted to grow a church that provided community built around missionality. It is for this reason I believe that Rick Warren tapped this generation’s deepest desire with his book, The Purpose Driven Life. It is also for this reason that the “Emergent Church Movement” is now evolving into what is being called the ”Missional Movement.” I believe that the Vineyard should be participating on the leading edge of this new trend. We were created for this moment – to meet the hunger for purpose of this emergent generation.
As kingdom people we have been called to be an army – a fellowship of warriors committed to the cause of the Kingdom. My dad was a fighter pilot in WWII. He was a member of a squadron that flew off aircraft carriers in the South Pacific. It was a courageous and dangerous time and many of his friends were killed in action. During one mission he crashed with a full load of torpedo bombs, and although his entire crew was lost, he miraculously survived. His injuries caused him great pain for many years after the war ended. Years later my parents attended his squadron’s fifty year reunion in Fairbanks, Alaska. At that point all of his old friends were still alive and that weeklong event at an old Alaskan lodge was a joyous reunion. When my dad returned home I asked him about his time with all his buddies. He responded by saying that it was as if time had somehow stood still. He said that although everyone was much older, the deep relationships formed during the harsh experiences of war continued as if they had never been apart. It caused reflection as I considered the fact that these men and women hadn’t gathered some fifty years earlier for the sake of relationship but to fight a war. They came together for the sake of a cause worth giving their lives for. The by-product was a rich, deep and meaningful relationship. They were a true fellowship.
When the Vineyard first gathered in its inception we were drawn into a great cause. We were a missional people who to this day can recall those early players and heroic leaders who envisioned and challenged us. We can still tell the old stories of courageous, out-of- the-box ministry that often accompanied our birth as a movement. We were a people with a mission. Our mission was clear (See note at the bottom) and it drove many to sacrifice even to the point of courageously planting churches when we felt inadequate to do so. We all wanted to participate for the sole purpose of seeing something we believed in brought to fulfillment. Although it may feel blurry and unclear at times, our mission has never changed. It is the same today as it was at our conception. If stated simply it would be to awaken the world, both saved and unsaved, to the here and now of the Kingdom of God. We do this through demonstration and active participation which is exemplified through our Spirit-filled worship, our Biblical teaching and our faith-based practices.
The Vineyard is full of vibrant churches that never let the mission go. They have remained steadfast to our missional cause, never growing weary of praying for the sick, casting out demons, and operating in the gifts of the Spirit. They are the churches that continue to reproduce through church planting and evangelism. They are consistently found on the frontlines of crisis relief in disasters such as Hurricane Katrina. These are the very churches that minister to the poor in their own communities, share in overseas missional partnerships, and lead the way in ministries of social justice. They are the ones taking valiant steps to provide food and adequate shelter for the extreme poor, provide medical services to the sick in developing nations, build ministries that combat human trafficking, provide education for the illiterate, and find solutions to environmental degradation pushing entire societies to desperation for survival. Our mission is huge and the need for it to move forward is more important now than when we began some thirty years ago. No one church can do all this – we must come together as a synchronized team, each playing their part in the effort. We must operate as a healthy Body rallying together around this great common cause. Our fellowship of believers must rise up with a rebirth of life and vision, embracing the prophetic mantel that God has laid upon it. We must look to the many healthy churches among us, both large and small, for leadership, inspiration and the resources to rebuild a movement that is truly called by God for the here and the now.
Note: The Vineyard’s mission and purpose as it was stated in John Wimber’s own words taken from a paper he wrote entitled, The Ministry of Jesus and the Mission of the Church - “When I first became involved with the Vineyard we didn’t have a name for the work God was doing through us. Later God revealed that his purpose for raising us up could be summed up in two words: “worship” & “compassion.” God was calling us to be worshippers of God and rescuers of souls. I took time to understand what compassion ministry entailed. Several years of intense study of the Gospels as a congregation helped clarify God’s purpose for us in our context. We’ve been called by a compassionate God to minister compassion in his name to the world around us.” – [To read this entire article see The Ministry of Jesus and the Mission of the Church in Vineyard Documents tab on the home page]
1 – The Quest for the Radical Middle (VIP, 1999), pg. 106