The Vineyard Movement traces its history back to the mid-seventies and John Wimber took leadership of the young group of churches around 1982. The history of the Vineyard has been documented in Jackson’s The Quest for the Radical Middle as well as a bit in Carol Wimber’s John Wimber: The Way it Was. Others have written histories and I’m sure the future will produce many more.
I first attended a Vineyard when I was around twelve years old, the Smoky Hill Vineyard, led by Greg Thompson (check out his blog). Throughout the years I’ve attended several Vineyards in California and Minnesota. About five years ago I and the other pastors of Trinity Christian Fellowship began to explore adopting into the Vineyard and in August of 2013, our church became an official Vineyard church. That’s the short version of a very long and interesting process that I’ll probably write about someday.
So I’ve been in the Vineyard movement for the majority of my life and have likely read just about every book on the Vineyard or written by Vineyard affiliated pastors and theologians as well as any of the critical evaluations of the Vineyard. I’m not new to the Vineyard, though I’m a newly minted Vineyard pastor, technically speaking. I currently am involved in the Small Town USA partnership with Multiply Vineyard and help with some of the website work for the Society of Vineyard Scholars. Point being: I am all in. I love the Vineyard, though I’m aware it is not a perfect movement. But I do love it and see myself as a part of it for the rest of my life.
Now that the Vineyard is over thirty years old and has been influenced by both mainstream Evangelicalism and Pentecostalism and the Charismatic Movement, it’s safe to say that there is quite a bit of diversity. I’m not opposed to diversity and think it is only healthy that our movement recognizes that Christians have differed on theological views. Some of those differences, however, would prevent some from being able to identify with the theology and practices found within the Vineyard. In the same way that some views would prevent one from identifying with Christianity, some theological views would prevent one from identifying with the Vineyard. For example, if one were to state that the doctrine of the Trinity wasn’t true, I’d suggest they cannot claim the banner of Christianity. To be Christian is to be Trinitarian. Others may disagree with that, and I’m sure some will disagree with some of my observations and opinions in this series on Vineyard theology. Everyone is welcome to their opinion and perhaps this will serve more as a discussion starter… ha ha!
Owning Up to Some Challenges We Face in the Vineyard
The inspiration for this new series is pretty simple. I recently participated in a “discussion” on social media with some folks regarding Vineyard theology and was absolutely stunned to find out that there were Vineyard pastors/leaders who didn’t seem to think that certain theological views undermined well-known and important Vineyard distinctives. To say I was stunned would be an understatement. It was a Rob McAlpine moment of having a Theological Face-Palm. I’ll address that issue later in this series.
You see, I want to argue that people can have a better understanding of Vineyard theology (and praxis) as well as suggest that we can also have better Vineyard theology (and praxis). “Better” implies “improving” which, in connection to my love for the Protestant Reformation, implies semper reformanda (“always reforming”). Theology and praxis should be deeply connected and I believe that we should seek to improve and grow and become better in how we understand and relate to and respond to Jesus.
As the Vineyard has grown and our influences have expanded because Evangelicalism has only grown wider and become more diverse, it makes perfect sense to me why a movement that is known for having a pretty laid back approach would also have a huge packet for their adoption packet. Why? Because the Vineyard is unique in comparison to other churches that identify with either Evangelicalism or the Pentecostal/Charismatic movements. There are certain core values that we have that are distinct from other denominations or traditions.
Having gone through the adoption process, I’m thankful that it takes some time and that the Vineyard wants to make sure people are well versed in who we are and what we believe and how our praxis is unique compared to some. Good job Vineyard leaders who came up with that plan! Filling out your five billion pages of paper work, though a painful process, is genius! Okay, it wasn’t five billion pages. That’s a bit of an exaggeration… it was like two million.
What presents a challenge is when Vineyard churches hire pastors who come from outside of the movement. I’m certainly not opposed to Vineyard churches bringing pastors into their leadership that haven’t pastored previously at Vineyard churches and we can certainly learn from other traditions. I love the Vineyard and I believe God has called me to this family but we are not the best or only tradition that God is working through.
But this is a challenge because there are Vineyard distinctives that make us unique. And there are theological frameworks, systems, views, and ideas that undercut our theology and praxis. I’m going to try to make a case for this as we continue in our series because my “stunning” recent discussion clarified for myself and a few of my friends that there is a need for some discussion on this topic.
So here are a few other challenges that I think we face as a movement:
First, there is the challenge of continuing to plant healthy Vineyard churches that plant other healthy Vineyard churches which all embody Vineyard theology, values, and praxis.
Second, there is the challenge of adopting churches into the Vineyard that either already embody Vineyard ideals or are being discipled in them. As many will tell prospective Vineyard adoptees, you don’t join the Vineyard, you discover you are Vineyard. So the Vineyard would be wise to continue to help churches who are seeking to adopt in to discern whether they are Vineyard.
Third, churches that have been around for awhile in the Vineyard will likely know that the Vineyard has gone through seasons. To put it simply, and by way of example, the Vineyard has gone through a “worship” season, a “prophetic” season, a “seeker friendly/aware” season, etc. It’s possible, though by no means guaranteed, that churches who have been in movements that have had “seasons” or have focused on certain issues more so than others may struggle with identity. In my work of doing consultation for churches, this often comes up for churches who are really trying to figure out who they are and what God has called them to. If it’s possible for this to happen in other traditions it’s certainly possible here in the Vineyard. So the challenge that existing and “older” Vineyards may have is to maybe have lost a sense of what the Vineyard values, driven by our theology and praxis, are. I think Phil Strout and the national leadership team here in the US have worked hard to help draw us back to where God has called us, which was previously initiated by Bert Waggoner.
Fourth, change is important and can often be nothing but evidence of the Holy Spirit’s work. So what ways does the Vineyard need to change? How can we grow? Where are we headed? While I’m a fan of orthodoxy and have a deep respect for the Great Tradition, I’m also very hungry for the ongoing work of the Spirit and desire his guidance and believe that he may, in fact, direct us toward new and creative works. This is, as an Evangelical, under the final authority of Jesus and Scripture. But we’d be wise to have an ear open and tuned toward the Spirit. How can we do this as a movement?
My next post will address why our theology of the kingdom is so important to our identity… so buckle up and get ready…
- If you are a part of the Vineyard, what are the challenges you believe we face?
- If you aren’t a part of the Vineyard, what are you observations?
- What ways could we best move forward in relation to the challenges I wrote about?
Luke is a pastor-theologian living in northern California, serving as a co-lead pastor with his life, Dawn, at the Red Bluff Vineyard. Father of five amazing kids, when Luke isn’t hanging with his family, reading or writing theology, he moonlights as a fly fishing guide for Confluence Outfitters. He blogs regularly at LukeGeraty.com and regularly contributes to his YouTube channel.