About 20 years ago I walked into my first Vineyard Church meeting. My story is like the story of many others who did the very same thing and suddenly realized, “This is my tribe! These are my people!”
My own journey with God had taken me from a Cessationist movement and into a desert where my faith was deconstructed. It turned out that my desert was in an ocean all along and God was engaging me in a process of formation that continues until the Last day. But I’ve enjoyed this feeling for two decades – I am part of a Tribe that gets me, that connects with God the way I connect with God, that lets God define himself rather than the boxes we build for him.
As I have lived and grown and been changed, I’ve found my Tribe within the Tribe: the Vineyard Scholars. From a certain perspective, I might be a scholar. I am not a theologian, but I do love theology. But what makes this Tribe within the Tribe dear to me is that, in hanging around them, reading them and engaging with them in conversation, I feel at home in both my head and my heart. This group is a grace from God to me. They make me feel sane, they challenge me, they remind me what I have always loved about the Vineyard from the very first day I walked into my very first Vineyard Church meeting.
But lately I feel I am standing at a crossroads. I feel like I am standing at the center of an X where trajectories would appear to offer alternate futures from this time and place we’ve been sharing together. I love my Vineyard Tribe, but the question I contemplate a lot is this: what happens when your Tribe stops behaving like your Tribe?
From my perspective there are 4 Vineyards within the Vineyard today. Let’s call one “Vineyard Classic.” That’s the Vineyard that Carol Wimber gathered in her living room and connected with God in worship using 3 chords and a lot of hunger. I’d call number two “Vineyard lite”, we maintain our continuity with our history but we’ve pursued legitimacy and reputation over our values. We’re much more about church growth than we are about Kingdom theology. The 3rd version I see on the go and growing is “Baptiyard,” a strange Baptist/Vineyard hybrid that references the Holy Spirit, teaches on the Holy Spirit but utilizes the Spirit as a tool and more likely to listen to experts on “exponential attendance growth” than waiting on the Holy Spirit. This group is invested in a primary goal, being a new mega-church (or at least a mini-mega-church). Finally, the 4th stream that flows is what I would call “Bethyard,” another hybrid, this one a mix of Bethel and the Vineyard. There have always been some in the Vineyard who want more, more experiences of the “glory cloud/gold dust/angel feathers/stick quarters to the wall” stuff. Who believe “everyone gets to play” but seem to think one or two of us are better at playing than the others. In the Vineyard we have embraced the Already and Not Yet of the Kingdom of God: an enacted inaugurated eschatology. The Bethyard folks have simply concluded that in the Vineyard we’ve emphasized the “not yet” too much and they, like Bethel, prefer a realized eschatology and land heavily on the “already.” The trouble, of course, for the Bethyard folks is this – what do they do when a Bethel gets planted nearby? Why will people stick around for the hybrid when they could have the real thing?
Back to me. (…cause, y’know, it’s all about me…)
Seeing this all play out around me, like a stranger in a strange land, has me contemplating these days, wondering what happens when my Tribe doesn’t feel or behave like my Tribe anymore? These are probably the growing pains of any movement, we are young at this in the Vineyard. But for sure, some of us have already decided to take our stuff and go elsewhere. And a recent letter let us know that some Vineyards haven’t been contributing their 3% and if it that doesn’t change by October, they will be presumed dead (my expression, not the Vineyards). Can a relational movement, as I have perceived it, survive when consultation and conversation is replaced by position papers and mass emails? Or were we never a relational movement and I’m simply deluded?
In May, I participated in a two-day workshop hosted by my regional leaders and led by Derek Morphew. It was brilliant and I was reminded by both the content and the participants why Vineyard is my Tribe. But for me it was also bittersweet as my perception is that the content that focused on Mark and Kingdom theology is becoming an ever quieted voice within our Tribe and the values that pulled us all together with Jesus at the center, is becoming something other than what it once was. We all grow, we all change, life is a process and this is not an ode to the good old days. This is just me, a little voice out on the edge that feels deeply indebted to my Tribe, deeply appreciative for who I perceive we are, but I am feeling increasingly doubtful that when I show up for the next reunion the Tribe I once discovered will be the Tribe I will find.