Friday, May 08, 2009

Reflections on Vineyard USA Leadership Conference

Dave Workman and I spent the entire week in Galveston for the bi-annual gathering of leaders in the Vineyard Movement. I have several thoughts that are unformulated. This blog may help me formulate them...or it may just ramble on and on. Read at your own risk.

1. Thought: Everyone needs a tribe.

The Vineyard Movement was the first people group that I encountered (long before I was a part of it) who identified themselves as a "spiritual tribe." My earliest Vineyard contacts were the guys over at Vineyard Central - Kevin Rains and Dave Nixon. I remember them using tribal language vs. denominational language back in the 1990's. Something about that appealed to me. My original spiritual tribe is the independent Christian Churches/Churches of Christ. I've struggled personally in that I'm not sure where I belong in my original tribe. I rejected some of my tribe's tenants, but never felt like I officially "left" it. (I don't even know if that is possible.) At the same time, I wasn't a very good tribe member. I had no desire to change my tribe - just to change me. The more I changed the less I felt like them, so the less I interacted. But...I miss them. Seeing everyone at the Vineyard Conference embrace and laugh reminded me of all the relationships form my past that seem paused in 1995. Like all my good Catholic friends who are now protestant, I feel that tension that I am now the product of both my old tribe and my new one. I don't think about it much, but it is always there. It creates a feeling of spiritual homelessness and rootlessness at times. The Vineyard Movement is my new tribe. It's exciting, but also a little exhausting to think about taking the time to be engrafted into a new people. (I'm not speaking of VCC - I feel fully accepted at my church. It's the larger movement that I feel a little lost in.)

On a larger scale, I feel like many people my age and younger who have been part of historically younger movements like the Vineyard or the emerging church or even Willow/Saddleback will begin to feel rootless. The older we get the more we will see that all of our reforming and re-inventing and rethinking led us away from being engrafted into a deeply historical family. Movements like the Vineyard and Willowback are at a place where the next generation of leaders must emerge. It will be hard for the innovators to let go. The emerging/emergent tribes will also hit this wall in the decades to come. (I was an early innovator in this "tribe" but grew less interested in maintaining the effort to influence others as I was seeking something deeper in my own life. I remember the youthful enthusiasm and excitement and passion in our early discussions with Leadership Network in the mid-nineties. My prayer for my friends who remained as influencers is that they will hand over influence to the next generation sooner than later.)

Ultimately I see myself as trans-tribal. Truth be told I feel as connected to the international improv or acting community as I do any church tribe. I was very engrafted into the the simple/organic/house church tribe for many years. Those guys and gals are sill amazing friends, but again I moved on. This is the rebel pilgrim in me I suppose. Always moving on...(see the previous post), but moving on at some point feels exhausting and perhaps even neurotic. I'm happy to be a Vineyardite. I hope I grow roots here for a long time.

2. Thought: Kingdom Theology

I'm noticing that many streams and tribes of the faith are beginning to find common ground around the centrality of the Kingdom of God in the Christian message. The Vineyard was a Kingdom movement from early on. It was the Kingdom language on the Vineyard USA and VCC websites that most significantly attracted me to my current post. (That and Dave's persona and the few dozen miracles that got me here.) Historically, the Vineyard has brought the Holy Spirit power and naturally supernatural elements of the Kingdom where it has gone. The movement generally found a way to be supernatural without being showy or gratuitous. This both appeals to me and stretches me. (I was raised a cessationalist but never fully bought into that. I approach it all with hopeful wonder and a little skepticism. When the Kingdom comes, anything can happen...)

However, I came to the same Kingdom theology through academicians like Dallas Willard, Stanley Hauerwas, Will Willimon, Hans Kung, N.T. Wright and John Howard Yoder. This was less about miracles and more about the real socio-political rule of Jesus the King. Signs and wonders actually became less important to me as I began to see the social, economic and relational impact of the Kingdom coming.

The Neo-Reformed tribe is also swimming in the Kingdom stream. I've learned a lot for people like Tim Keller. I love his stuff on the Kingdom coming as a new city from God.

(An aside - I just realized that maybe the fact that my influencers above are Methodist, Mennonite, Catholic, Presbyterian, Anglican, Pentecostal and Quaker have something to do with my rootlessness :)

All this Kingdom centrality gives me hope that God is doing something in the realm of the American church. What if the streams continue to merge into Holy Spirit directed unity on Kingdom issues? What if signs and wonders meet socio-econo-political reformation under Jesus? What if the post-liberals and post-conservatives find common ground in the coming Kingdom? It is exciting to think about. It may be what God is doing in post-Christendom America. I'm not sure the Kingdom would fully come along side Christendom anyway.

3. Last Thought for today: Children Matter.

Wess Stafford, the director of Compassion International, spoke the last day of the conference. He broke my heart. It's been a long time since a speaker really broke me. I'm going to read his book, Too Small to Ignore when I get it next week. His story is amazing and his voice needs to be heard as loudly within the Kingdom minded churches as it has been elsewhere. I'll post a review after I read his book.

I may have more to say later, but this concludes our therapy session. Thanks for listening. Send the bill to Humana.


Robby Ballmeyer said...

Never a truer word was said concerning thoughts on belonging. Being a member of the Church of Christ myself, I can relate to the struggles of belonging. I agree it's not about changing them, only myslef.
It seems to me the harder we try to reclaim the original spirit of the early church the further we get from actually achieveing this goal. The irony is that we run the risk of cutting people off from experiencing who Jesus was and why he came in the first place when all we care about is "reclaiming."

photogr said...

The only tribes I know of is the American Indians and the 12 tribes of Israel. Both of these hold the elder members in high position due to their wisdom and experience. I really don't know if I ever thought of being a member of a tribe. Movements yes, tribes I can't recall. Can the new age Christian movement be called a tribe?

Being forced to move around by a major retailer in my younger years, I never really became a card carrying member of any "tribe", Chruch, or denomination thus I never developed any roots or contacts. I miss that

At least you have that and your memories. Cherrish them forever.

As we grow into maturity ( old age) we tend to look at the younger generation as rebels with out a cause which is wrong. I am sure my elders looked on my generation as rebels too but we had different ideas and causes.

In a way spiritually we must always be looking for new ways to
exalt God over all else. It just might be a young upcomming spiritual leader with a vision that will bring us closer to God. Schuller and Warren comes to mind. Martin Luther from the past was another.In a sense the younger generation are making the history that in the future will be looked upon as historical.

Liberals and conservatives on common ground in the future Kingdom. That could be a stretch. But then again it is predicted in Gods future Kingdom the Lion and the Sheep will graze together in peace.

The children are our future and our hope. We must always include them in our worship to the Lord and protect them from harm. It is amaing their innocence and open belief. Perhaps from them there will be our next great leader.

One of Freedom said...

Hey Joe, I picked up on the Kingdom Theology as a rallying point as well. I see it all over younger evangelical movements. And I came backwards - first through the power encounters then to the theological enterprise (Moltmann is my big touchstone). It is in and through the theological thinking that the socio-political implications and dare I say prescriptions were revealed. That is why I'm looking at the emerging Kingdom theologies as a basis for an evangelical political theology.

I'm off to our regional Canadian gathering this week. I don't know how many Canadian Vineyards still connect with National gatherings in the US - I tend to feel there is a bit of a wall there. Perhaps it is over Toronto and my being an Ontarian Vineyard pastor who ended up torn in the middle of that. Toronto still has a huge shadow over the Vineyards here which is sad.

Thanks for the post.

Christine said...

An interesting discussion. Don't you think that focus on the kingdom of God becomes more important as we move into a post Christendom world. In a Christendom world the concerns were about who was in and who was out based usually more on the kingdoms of this world rather than on the kingdom of God. Now that we are moving away from Christianity as the centre of national thinking we become more concerned about the destination towards which God would have us journey. It is no longer a matter of who belongs and who does not belong to the church but rather how we engage on the journey towards the kingdom of God. I see this as a very healthy sign