We've been part of the Vineyard Movement for 20+ years. It has been our home, so this has not been an easy decision. Since before moving to Oregon, we have felt welcomed and loved by all Vineyard pastors in the Northwest with whom we've interacted. Therefore, we want to be very clear our decision to de-affiliate with the Vineyard is in no way a reflection of any bad feelings or conflicts. Instead it is a willful laying down of our lives to follow Jesus the best we know how in this season. While this is a bittersweet decision, it also brings with it a sense of relief and rightness. As we've discussed this with local and regional Vineyard leadership in early September, we received their understanding and affirmation of our decision.
Over the last 9 months, it has become clear what we are doing and who we are becoming is further outside the Vineyard’s current scope and model of church-planting than we or anyone in Vineyard originally expected when we began discussions and then were ultimately released as an official Vineyard church plant. In retrospect, if any label applies, we see ourselves more as missionaries and we are still in the process of getting to know the culture of this area. Therefore we need not be dismayed that “nothing has happened yet” and neither do we sense any urgency from God for us to “make something happen”.
We’ve been asking God what He is up to with us, and have been blessed by some silence and solitude where we’ve begun hearing Him speak some clarity to us. He has been tying things together; showing us a pattern we had not been able to see before. It has been sobering, yet at the same time has been exciting and hope-producing -- we are eager to discover more about the plans He has here in Salem!
Perhaps the best way to communicate the highlights of our journey over the past few months as we've prayed and pondered; dreamt and talked is to share a couple stories, and some word-pictures God has painted for us. This post will be somewhat lengthy since we value being able to share our story in some detail, to fully communicate from our hearts.
The First story has to do with our connection to the other pastors in the local Vineyard Pastor's group. Our work schedules and paucity of vacation time have made it difficult for us to regularly attend these meetings. Despite this, the leaders of the group and the other pastors have been very warm and inviting, and we’ve felt truly blessed. Since before our official release as a church plant, we’ve felt included and truly welcomed and encouraged by everyone. It has been wonderful and we’ve loved getting to know everyone better! But around the end of 2009, we noticed feeling somewhat disconnected from the group. This has not been a change in anyone else, but instead an awareness God has been bringing us that the topics of informal discussions often revolve around issues we do not deal with:
- One pastor is struggling because of losing the lease on his building -- but we don’t ever plan to have a building.
- Another is wrestling with needing to find a new full-time Worship Pastor -- but we don’t foresee ever having any paid staff.
- Someone has great plans for a Youth Conference -- but we don’t know that we will ever have a “Youth Ministry” per se.
When most other pastors in the area ask us about the priorities and practices in which we are engaging, the disconnect is just as clearly apparent there. Questions asked and discussions which follow indicate they don’t really know what to do with us, or how to understand the model of ministry and kingdom life we’re trying to embody. We explain and share our vision, but still don’t feel heard or understood. As just a couple examples:
- We had a 20 minute conversation where the other pastor couldn’t seem to understand why, as a church plant, we would not be interested in receiving a full copy of their children’s ministry curriculum. We tried to explain that we don’t now have, nor would we probably ever have anything as formal as a “Children’s Ministry” and the disconnect was further evidenced when he asked “But couldn’t you use it in a VBS setting?”
- Someone else asked “So when you meet together, who does worship?” We replied by clarifying that we all “do worship”, but if he was asking who played an instrument and facilitated singing, we were not doing that at our meetings, at least not yet. When asked why, we explained that the folks we were meeting with are at such a pre-Christian place that doing worship songs would be so culturally outside their paradigm as to actually build walls, rather than draw us all closer. The response was sort of a head-tilt and an eyebrow lift and he said “But how can you have a meeting and not do worship!??!?”.
As we spent time with God these last few months, pondering and praying about all these things, He brought us back time & again to two particular pieces of our original call:
- Cathy’s earliest sense was that, while God was certainly calling us to “plant a church”, there was something deeper. He gave her a word picture: it was more like He was calling us to the Northwest to plant ourselves, and we’d see over time what He would grow. At the time I interpreted this simply as us being two saplings God was “transplanting” to Salem to start The Orchard.
- When we began conversations with our pastor in California about God’s calling for us, back in early 2005, he asked us two insightful questions:
- Is God calling you to start something new, and to do that you need to move away? -- or -- is God calling you to move away, and since you are doing that you might as well start something new?
- Is God calling you to plant a Vineyard, and you’d sort of like to do it in this organic simple-church-network way? -- or -- Is God calling you to start an organic simple-church-network and you hope it can be a Vineyard, but if it can’t for some reason, you’re still going to go do this thing God is calling you to do?
I wrote about this paradigm shift here.
We are two seeds which He has planted and the lack of obvious growth
is not an indication anything is ‘wrong’ it is just part of His plan for us
since He’s already told us what must happen
to planted seeds before real growth appears:
First the seeds must die (John 12:24-25).
As we’ve prayed through the things God has been saying to us it seems clear He is not calling us to “pull the plug” or stop what we are doing in any way. Rather, it seems He is calling us to continue trusting Him to build the house He has planned (Ps 127:1), and we’re excited about building with Him. While we realize and value the need for intentionality, we feel no call from God to go and “gather people” to ourselves. Rather, He is calling us to watch & listen to see what The Father is doing, and then intentionally partner with Him as He draws people to Himself; sharing that journey with them.
All of the above then led us to a third word picture:
The topsy-turvy nature of the Kingdom sure can be unsettling at times. We lose our lives to save them, give up families to gain new ones -- and, of course, Jesus says we must die in order to really live. Our decision to withdraw our affiliation with Vineyard was a difficult one, but we know that as He holds us in the hollow of His hand and takes us through whatever deaths are yet to come, there will be tremendous life breaking forth and so we have great hope.