Friday, November 26, 2010

Today I Baptized My Son...

Today I baptized my firstborn son, Eli. He has wanted to do this for a few years now. With all of our immediate family here, it made sense to do it today. His only request was that we not do it in front of a bunch of strangers...a request that I completely understood.

I have baptized a few hundred people in my life. I have no way of really knowing how many. But obviously today was different. Baptism is very important to me. I occasionally take a little grief from some of my workmates for my Campbellite roots. My original spiritual tribe put a high emphasis on water baptism by immersion. Historically in many circles and circumstances, this emphasis became a divisive overemphasis on the form of baptism and a staunch belief that baptism itself was the salvific event. Regardless, those aren't the reasons why I value baptism today. To me, it is valuable in large part because it is one of the few real-time events that Christians have to mark their spiritual journey. So much of life with God is a long, seemingly never-ending process. The sacrament of baptism is a rare marker in the process. It is the marker of the beginning of a relationship between disciple and guru - slave and master - son and father. I am not so sure why people get caught up in arguments as to the exact moment when life with God begins for the Christian - before, during or after baptism. The point, in my opinion, is that it is intended to be at/toward the beginning of our commitment to God. It is a symbolic act that is also a real historical event. It is like a birthday or a wedding day. Debbie would say that she somehow knew our boys before they were born. I was just as committed to Debbie the day before our wedding than the day after. But the days matter. Birthdays. Wedding Days. We look back on them and remember them because, if for no other reason, they actually happened. That moment of happening matters so much in a lifetime dominated by the normalcy of the slow process. We need something close to the beginning to call "the beginning." And God knew this.

Eil and I have talked about Jesus through the years, but I realized that our talk before his baptism this morning was more important...or at least it would be more memorable to him. Part of the reason that I had Eli wait for a while to be baptized is that it seemed nearly impossible for him to grasp the idea of the  Kingdom a few years ago. He first understood Jesus as Savior. He wanted to be baptized a few years ago because he had "messed up" and wanted forgiveness. Maybe that should have been enough. But I knew that I wouldn't baptize an adult if that was all they knew about Jesus. So I waited. Today we talked about Eli's relationship with Jesus in three ways:

1. Lord - Eli has been taking Judo recently and he has a Judo teacher named Frank Herzog. He has learned to call Frank, "Sensei" which means teacher or master. Judo has been a great teaching tool to help Eli learn about Jesus. Jesus was more of an eastern thinker and he calls disciples (or students) to himself. Today when Eli smiled and told me that Jesus was his Sensei, I knew he had the very beginning understandings of lordship.

2. King - Some people think I'm a little too intense on this point, but I think that to receive Jesus is to receive his present and coming Kingdom (or reign). What this means to Eli at this point in the beginning of his discipleship is that the Jews and Christians are "our people" before any other ethnic or political group. (Yes, I made my kid tell me that his primary allegiance was to Jesus and not America. Hopefully he won't be in therapy for that someday.)

3. Savior - This brought us back to what Eli first understood about Jesus. We discussed his terminal sin addiction and how Jesus offers a cure for it. And then I told him that baptism reminds us that just as Jesus died and lived again, so we will all be resurrected after we die.

The last thing we talked about is what Jesus taught us about God - that he is our Father. I told Eli that I had tried to my best to be a good dad, but that I had failed in him in many ways. God is his perfect Father. I also stretched his mind a bit when I told him that even though I am his dad, we share a Father now. So we are also brothers.

So, God has known Eli since before he was born and Eli has been on a journey to know God since his first breath. But today was the day Eli did something about it. And fifteen of us were fortunate enough to watch it happen.

For you were buried with Christ when you were baptized. And with him you were raised to new life because you trusted the mighty power of God, who raised Christ from the dead. (Colossians 2:12)

Monday, November 22, 2010

Vineyard MicroChurch Initiative

I wanted to give a quick recap of the information shared at our meeting last night for those interested in a new thing we are doing at Vineyard Cincinnati. After nearly two years of discerning what would be next for us as a church, the shareholders (members) and leaders of the Vineyard felt especially drawn to two words: pray and go. From this initial focus, the leaders discerned that God was asking us to think more multiplicative about everything we do. How could we prayerfully send our best into our city and world? How could we free up our structure enough to provide space for new expressions of church to emerge within the Vineyard?

One strategy that emerged was a multi-site concept. We decided that God was calling us initially to start two sites in Uptown and Middletown to function as missional outposts of the Kingdom. These sites are a way for us to send some of our own to serve and love other people in our city who need God's love and power.

Beyond that, we also sensed that God wanted us to push into a new realm. As many of you know, I was part of the house church movement (sometimes called simple or organic church) for many years. That experience fundamentally altered the way I think about and define church. I now define a church as simply God's family on a mission. Of course, many aspects of the house church movement in the USA over the last decade have been reactionary. That was my story. I was reacting against some clear shortcomings within the institutional church structure and megachurch movement. I thought that house churching was the answer to the problems I saw in bigger, more organized expressions of church. Indeed, they were the answer to some of the problems. But we found that house churches simply had other difficulties. Alas, we proved the age-old axiom that there is no perfect church or church structure. So I wandered back into "big" church three years ago with a strong sensitivity toward the lessons learned while living within an intentionally small church.

There are many others within the Vineyard who see the value of smaller incarnational/missional expressions of church. It became obvious that God was ready to make us one church in many locations. This will include the bigger sites like the ones at Uptown and Middletown, but it will also include an emerging network of MicroChurches. (We almost used the word "house church" but some of these churches will not meet in houses.)

Here is our current thinking about Vineyard MicroChurches and how we envision them coming to be. One thing I have learned about new adventures is that nothing works out in practicum quite the way it does in pre-planning. That said, here is the DRAFT of the ideas we are currently throwing around. If something stirs within you after reading it, feel free to email me. With all of this going down, I am a little behind in correspondence, but I'd love to hear from you if God has prepared you to partner with us.

Here are the notes from our first meeting:

DRAFT! (Have I said that yet?)

Vineyard MicroChurch Communities – Current Thinking
November 21, 2010

·      What is a Vineyard MicroChurch Commmunity?

DRAFT: A Vineyard MicroChurch is a smaller holistic expression of church centered upon a specific missional calling within the larger mission and vision of Vineyard Cincinnati.

·      Holistic Expression:

We will use Acts 2:42 as a simple meeting blueprint:

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

1.     Teaching – Weekly meetings will include the video teaching from VC.
2.     Fellowship – Guided discussion questions will follow the teaching.
3.     Prayer – A time will be dedicated to listening prayer each week.
4.     Breaking of Bread – Meetings will include a common meal or a Eucharistic experience (or both).

·      Specific Missional Calling - Six phases to birthing a MicroChurch:

1.     God calls a person to love a specific group of people.
2.     That person steps up and says, “I’m called to love ______________ into a relationship with Jesus Christ.”
3.     Vineyard leadership comes along side this person to:
a.     Discern if the calling aligns with our greater mission.
b.     Train and equip the person for their next step.
c.      Call others to the mission.
d.     Relationally partner throughout the life of the calling.
4.     A call goes out – Who else is God calling to this mission?
5.     When the call is answered by a leader, a pastor* and an administrator a MicroChurch community is born.
6.     Weekly meetings begin using the Acts 2:42 model as way to fulfill the mission.

* pastor is defined here as someone gifted as a caregiver, likely not a professional church worker.
·      What makes a MicroChurch part of the Vineyard?

For MicroChurches to flourish, they will need enough freedom to adapt to their specific mission and culture while remaining part of Vineyard Cincinnati. The following expectations will be met by each MicroChurch in order to be part of Vineyard Cincinnati. Beyond these requirements, MicroChurches will have the freedom to contextualize to the people they are reaching.

1.     Submission to the VC beliefs, mission, vision and eldership.
2.     Commitment to the Acts 2:42 model for the weekly meeting including the weekend video teaching.
3.     Centralized giving. (Still working on what this will look like.)
4.     Leaders agree to submit to training from the MicroChurch initiative leadership team including aligning with the current leadership pathway and shareholder process.

·      What MicroChurches are and are not:

1.     They are not simply small church services. (They are communities.)
2.     They are not simply small groups. (They are similar to small groups but also a full expression of church life.)
3.     They are not independent churches. (They are fully a part of Vineyard Cincinnati.)
4.     They are not starter groups for bigger sites. (Some may evolve to this, but it is not the goal. Ideally, MicroChurches are growing by multiplying other MicroChurches.)
5.     They are not for people fed up with “Big Church.” (Rather, they are for people who can see the power of marrying big church and small church thinking.)

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Get the Skinny on what's NEXT.

If you filled out a NEXT STEP card this weekend at the Vineyard, you should have received an email from me today inviting you to one of three meetings to discuss the new sites. I thought I would post it here as well in case you missed it:

Thanks for taking the initiative this weekend by filling out one of the NEXT STEP cards. I can't express to you how excited I am to begin walking out this vision with you. I was so encouraged that God had prepared many of you in specific ways to help Vineyard Cincinnati become one church in many places.

You are receiving this email because you indicated you're willingness to serve for a year in Uptown, Middletown, or be trained as a micro-site leader. We've set up some initial meetings where you can get more information, ask questions, meet others who have committed to serve with you, and begin to move forward.

The Uptown meeting is next Wednesday, November 17th at 7:00pm at The 86 Club - 2820 Vine Street Cincinnati, Ohio 45219. There is a large parking lot across the street next to the Elementary school that can be accessed from the corner of Vine and Daniels Street.

The Micro-site meeting will be Sunday, November 21st at 5:00pm at Vineyard Tri-County in the Great Rooms.

The Middletown meeting will be Sunday, December 5th at 5:00pm at Vineyard Tri-County in the Great Rooms.

Please register at (childcare is available)

I hope you can make it to one of the meetings. If you have questions, please reply to this email with them and someone will get back to you. We will keep you updated as we go and there will be more opportunities to learn more in the months to come. 


If you missed either of the last two weekends, you missed a lot. Catch up at

Sunday, November 07, 2010

What's Next.

I spoke this weekend at the Vineyard, wrapping up our NEXT series. I read from my prayer journal and some people asked that I post what I read here on my blog. The following is a slightly edited (for grammar) version of what I wrote after asking God, "What should I tell everyone this weekend?" It can be dangerous to say that you have heard the voice of God. I submit this to you, as I did this weekend, as simply my thoughts after asking that question in prayer:

A 15 year-old girl sits alone in an apartment in Corryville. She’s pregnant and nobody knows. She’s scared and alone and confused. She needs a lot – she needs a friend, a father, a plan, a hug. She needs more wisdom that her friends have to offer and a large dose of grace that nobody in her family is willing to give her. She needs Jesus. And we think…if only she could be here with us today at the Vineyard. Maybe we could help – at least with the hug and the grace. But she isn’t here. She’s there.

A 52 year-old man sits alone at a Starbucks in Montgomery. He gets up every morning, puts on a $2,000 suit, kisses his wife and kids and gets in his luxury car to go to work. The only problem is that he hasn’t had a job for three months. He can’t bring himself to tell his wife. He doesn’t feel like a man anymore. All he has worked for is gone. What will she think when she finds out? How long can he hide this? He needs a friend and the courage to be vulnerable. He needs a place safe enough to be honest. He doesn’t know it yet, but he needs Jesus. And we think...if only he could be here with us at the Vineyard. Maybe we could be his family – pray for him. Maybe we could help him a little. But he isn’t here. He’s there.

A thirty-something couple watch television in Middletown. It’s all they do now. They used to do other stuff, but if they were honest they would say that their lives are boring now…maybe even disappointing. He had dreams of coaching football. She wanted kids. Neither happened. Now they are lost. They need a reason to get off the couch. They need a savior to rescue them from the hypnotic stupor they have fallen into. They need Jesus. And we think...if only they’d come here and be with us. Maybe they’d meet God and find meaning. Maybe those life disappointments could be redeemed by the power of the Holy Spirit. But they aren’t here. They’re there.

But what if they didn’t have to come here? What is “here” anyway except a building? We aren’t this place anymore than my house is my family or the college I went to is my education. We are a mobile people, but we have been inch by inch believing the lie that somehow we are confined to this location and to a methodology that says “come to us.” This NEXT vision for Vineyard Cincinnati is about saying that “come to us” isn’t enough when people in our city are lonely, hurting and checking out of life. This series for us as a church is a bold announcement to anyone who will listen: Vineyard Cincinnati is on the move. We are – from this point forward and without apology or reservation – a “go to them” movement. We hope people still come to us, but in the end it doesn’t really matter because we are going to them - everyone of them. We are taking Jesus to every neighborhood and community in our city…and any other place God will lead us to. We are adjusting our strategies to reflect the belief that our mission statement of 25 years is actually attainable. That it could really happen in our lifetime. That we will actually love the people of Cincinnati into a relationship with Jesus and give away to the world what God has give to us. In other words, we really are going love the people of this city. Everyone of them – as impossible as that may sound in this moment.

To do this we are going to have to mobilize and multiply in different ways. Everything we do must multiply. First and foremost, we must multiply disciples: every person here must teach someone what they have learned thus far about life with Jesus. We must multiply leaders: every leader in our organization starting with Dave and me and the elders will have an emerging leader learning from them. We must multiply groups: every community praying and looking for how God can birth a new community through them. And we are going to multiply Celebration experiences. We are taking this – what we are doing right now – to the people who aren’t currently here now. We have prayed and prayed that God would show where to begin this effort and he has led us to start two new Vineyard sites in Middletown and Uptown. These are not going to be carbon-copy-pack-and-play church services in a box, but missional outposts of the Kingdom where people can be know and be known, serve and be served and love and be loved into a relationship with Jesus Christ.

We are also seeking for leaders called by God to start intentionally smaller expressions of church that can reach people who would never or could never come to an institutional feeling church. These “microsites” will be holistic communities of faith that are part of us, but do church in homes and public places. They will be our special forces invading subcultures and immobile people groups in our city with the dangerous and beautiful love of Jesus and power of his coming Kingdom. All of this means that by this time next year we will be one church meeting in at least 13 places – here at TriCounty, in Uptown and Middletown and in ten smaller, more subversive microsites scattered about the city and beyond.

This is not about us or our plan. This is not about some sort of institutional expansion. If I was into institutional expansion I’d be working for the government or Steve Jobs or Facebook. This is about Jesus. It’s about that nameless girl in Corryville, that hurting guy in Montgomery and that lifeless couple in Middletown. It’s about the fact that God loves Cincinnati and he has a plan for this city. To sit on our hands while God has a plan to love a city is the greatest sin a church can commit. The leaders of this church understand that and we are calling you to action. Are you ready for what’s NEXT? 

Befriend Vineyard Uptown and Vineyard Middletown on Facebook for up-to-date information.