Jesus commanded us to love our neighbor as ourselves. With so much pain in the world it can be overwhelming to reach all of those in need in our communities. So how do you, as a pastor or follower of Christ, ensures that the least of these are being cared for?
The answer is: with intentionality. One of our core beliefs at the Vineyard is:
We lean toward the lost, the poor, the outcast, and the outsider with the compassion of Jesus as sinners whose only standing before God is utterly dependent on the mercy of God. This mercy can only be truly received inasmuch as we are willing to give it away.
One of my favorite films in 2018 was the critically acclaimed documentary “Won’t You Be My Neighbor”, filmmaker Morgan Neville’s charming examination of the life of Fred Rogers. As a child who watched countless hours of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, I immensely enjoyed learning more about the man behind the television program that impacted so many young minds and hearts. One of the connecting threads throughout the documentary--a pleasant surprise to my pastoral ears--was Fred Rogers’ theology.
Rogers was an ordained Presbyterian Minister, and his belief in the resurrected Christ was the motivation behind much of his television persona. The topics he chose to cover, the types of situations he put the characters into, the lessons he wanted to convey… it’s evident that Rogers’ faith infused the “Neighborhood”.
For it is our practices of worship that form us and aim us towards human flourishing as God intended from the beginning of time.
These practices must be far from ethereal or esoteric. We need worship practices that are embodied, earthy, that engage our senses and our imaginations. Worship calls us to take up our vocation of being fully and authentically human, and to be a community and people who image God to the world.
This value for experiential worship is foundational to the Vineyard movement. The Vineyard was birthed when a small group of folks began meeting in a home in the late seventies, desperate for God and hungry for God’s presence. And as they began to sing simple songs to God, not just about God, they began to experience the tangible and felt presence of God in their midst.
We are created to worship.
We are first and foremost worshipping creatures.
I have spent my whole life as a worshipper, and there is something very deep within me that knows this to be true. Some of my first memories as a little girl are of swinging on the swing, reaching my little legs up towards heaven as high as I could and singing my heart out to God. We are lovers. To be human is to love and it is what we love that defines who we are. We are relational beings, hard-wired for intimacy.
So the question is not “Will we worship?” but “WHAT will we worship?”
The temple of the mall has a vision of the good life and it is very invested in getting us to partake in practices that will capture our affections and keep us coming back and wanting more. Then there are the temples of the sports stadiums, advertising, media and the cinema. And they use rich imagery, icons, music, sex, desire, and the power of story to pull us in and give us a vision for their version of the good life. Jesus was tempted by these desires too, the desires for success, power, wealth, esteem and security. But Jesus resisted the world’s temptations, knowing that what his soul hungered for was far more than bread, but the very presence of God.
And so as we sit with this question about what will capture our affections, I believe we must engage in practices of worship that connect our heart and our imagination and our deep longings into the experience of God’s presence.
James K. A. Smith has done a great deal of study on this in his book, Desiring the Kingdom. He concluded that although we are thinking, cognitive creatures, what rationalism and perhaps the western church has failed to realize is that we are fundamentally driven by our primal desires whether we realize it or not. That in fact, those subterranean, pre-reflective desires, the ones that we are least aware of, govern us most powerfully. He goes on to state that…
… human beings are not primarily thinking things, or even believing things, but rather imaginative, desiring beings defined fundamentally by love.
We live in a time where there are excellent resources for the development of healthy organizations including the Church. Books, conferences and coaches are resources for the growth of leadership and for understanding of effective systems and cultures. Rose and I work regularly with our churches in developing a compelling vision and mission as well as leadership team development. This is important to the effective ongoing expression of the Church within the local community.
This past weekend Rich and I spent with Oasis Vineyard in Hermiston, Oregon. We were invited to spend time first with the Leadership Team (LT). Friday evening we worked on clarifying Oasis’s vision and mission. We started with “Why does Oasis Vineyard exist?” The LT worked on understanding the story of their church, what God has done, is doing in the present, and what the Spirit might be inviting them toward in the future. After hours of listening to one another they were able to name in their words why they exist and what they are to be about. We fleshed out the “why” and the “what.” We know the “who” it is the current members of Oasis Vineyard, those in Hermiston and beyond who have yet to encounter the transforming love of God. Oasis is a church that exists for the sake of others.
We are excited to have two women's retreats this May 17-18! Women in WA and OR are gathering at the Vancouver Vineyard and women in northern California are gathering in Chico at Richardson Springs!
WA and OR is excited to have Di Leman as the guest speaker! Get more info and tickets here.
Northern California is excited to have Janet Strout as the guest speaker! Get more info and tickets here.
“Even now,” declares the Lord,
“return to me with all your heart,
with fasting and weeping and mourning.”
I love that the Lenten season has not been hijacked by the culture. We don’t see Ash Wednesday midnight sales, there are no Good Friday disguised as Black Friday specials advertising internet sales sites, there are no cute displays at the malls or in the midst of our town centers featuring young children in sack cloths and ashes. No, we get this season all to ourselves and for that I am grateful.
Vineyard churches are known for many things — some identify the Vineyard with worship music and others know us as a church planting movement. Though there is much diversity within the Vineyard, we share a common set of values and distinctives that make us unique (not better!) when compared to other sisters and brothers in the global church. And while we like guitars and drums and we definitely believe that planting churches is an effective way to join God’s Mission, if the Vineyard is anything, it is a theological movement.
Though theology can be scary to some, largely due to how some theologians have made thinking and talking about God unhelpful and disconnected from the practical aspects of life, theology matters. What we believe about God, Scripture, and how to engage with the world matters, right? Plus, if theology is simply the study of God, everyone is a theologian… they just might not be a very good one!
I’m convinced that one of the primary roles that church leaders serve in is to help people understand how to think theologically and to make great theology accessible. We in the Vineyard have a rich heritage to draw from and have been significantly shaped by some brilliant thinkers who have helped us develop our theological foundation. Our future is only going to become brighter as women and men, young and old, from ethnic groups all over the world, are called and empowered by God to serve our movement by engaging in the life of the mind.
But I digress.
While it’s likely that the majority of Vineyard churches do not celebrate the Christian calendar, an increasing number of churches are beginning to see the wisdom of introducing aspects of the liturgical world into our communities. This is partly due to the fact that these spiritual formative practices provide significant help in our quest to keep the tension of mission and discipleship, rooted in our love for the kingdom of God.
Many folks may assume that Ash Wednesday is just a Catholic thing, it’s important to note that Ash Wednesday is celebrated by Lutherans and many other non-Catholics such as Methodists, Presbyterians and even some Baptists. In the Vineyard, one of the most well known Vineyard churches to participate in this Christian holiday is in Columbus, led by Rich Nathan (see this video as an example of how Rich Nathan leads this).
Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent, a season of prayer, fasting, and repentance. During Lent, followers of Jesus traditionally give up a luxury until Easter (e.g., desserts, social media, etc.). In the same way that Jesus prepared himself for the beginning of his public ministry, the Church has encouraged his followers to prepare theirselves for celebrating his resurrection by abstaining in order to thoroughly grasp the beauty of Christ’s victory over the grave.
So while the Bible does not demand churches to celebrate Ash Wednesday, if done well, I believe that Ash Wednesday can be a powerful space where the Spirit draws the attention of Jesus’s followers to see the sacrificial nature of his life and death and to fully celebrate and appreciate his powerful resurrection! As we intentionally create space for people to invite the Holy Spirit to shape and form us by the reality of the Cross, we are given an opportunity to join the historic and global church to say, “Come Holy Spirit... help us see the beauty of the Cross and to embrace the truth that though we have not luxuries, with Jesus we are satisfied and full.”
Blessings on you this Ash Wednesday, and may you experience the love of God,