“Everybody Gets to Play”
The Vineyard Movement has taken the ‘Priesthood of All Believers’ to a new level of practical emphasis as we equip church members for ministry outside of the four walls of the church (“the meat is on the street”); and as we give away leadership and authority to those within our churches: 1) The central spiritual realities of poverty are impotence, the attendant shame and despair, the disintegration of the family, and the subsequent coping mechanisms of violence and addiction. The impartation of power, authority, and honor is at the heart of what is needed to heal impoverished communities. 2) Letting broken people engage in ministry is a recipe for disaster, but it is the kind of disaster that Jesus created when he recruited His disciples.17 This Vineyard practice gives us the theoretical orientation, practical framework, and shared experience, to effectively navigate the chaotic process of empowering individuals in impoverished communities.
Intimate WorshipThe tangible experience of the Presence of God as we gather to worship Him is a hallmark of Vineyard praxis: 1) Among economically and socially stable communities the passion generated by experiencing God in such a tangible way can often be harnessed towards directing people into ministry to the broken individuals on the outskirts of their lives; “let worship be the fuel for mission’s flame.”18 In under-resourced communities the situation is reversed; the tangible Presence of God is the indispensable source of sustenance and hope for those overwhelmed by a desperate culture, and the brokenness that cannot be avoided. 2) Urban culture places a high value on music with strong emotional content. While there might need to be some translation from typical Vineyard worship forms into a more culturally appropriate form for the urban setting, the underlying Vineyard values in worship provide a strong platform for cultural relevance.
Vineyard church planting strategies have a long tradition of bi-vocational pastors. This is a radical advantage in ministry among the poor as a temporary planting strategy, but also as a permanent funding strategy for ministry: 1) Under-resourced communities have an inherent mistrust of those they perceive as ‘wealthy.’ Bi-vocational leadership demonstrates a degree of financial struggle on the part of the pastor that assuages this mistrust. 2) Bi-vocational leadership eases the burden on impoverished communities of raising the funds for pastoral salaries. 3) Bi-vocational leadership frees up resources for other ministry endeavors; this is a boon in any setting, but especially in under-resourced communities. 4) Bi-vocational leadership aids pastors in understanding the life and culture of those they are attempting to minister to.
Centered Set EcclesiologyThe Vineyard posture towards outsiders is radically hospitable; “belong before you believe.” Individuals are welcomed into body life ‘as they are’ without any doctrinal or behavioral hurdles erected as prerequisites to participation. This is essential to ministry in impoverished communities in the following ways: 1) Poverty arises from, and contributes to, a disordered life; a bounded-set ecclesiology would either exclude such individuals (by requiring people to jump hurdles they could not yet jump) or incentivise hypocrisy (by prompting people to hide their aberrant behaviors when around others). 2) A “ministry of presence” is implicit within such a model of church life; when we embrace a centered-set model we become focused on ‘being with people.’ This is a requirement for the highly placed-based culture of immobility that arises within under-resourced communities. 3) Urban poverty is marked by racial diversity, spiritual pluralism, and multiculturalism of every kind; the Vineyard ecclesiology (with a posture of hospitality towards those who don’t ‘look the part’) enables us to navigate such turbulence.
The Main and the Plain
The Vineyard has historically de-emphasized theological oddities, unnecessary controversy, confusing topics, and arcane or obscure texts and teachings; opting instead for a practical emphasis on the clear and obvious teaching from Jesus, and the broad narrative of Scripture as a whole: 1) This often brings a credibility to Vineyard teaching in any cultural setting, but this is uniquely important in communities where there is little value for highly intellectual and irrelevant theology. Impoverished communities need to engage with the fundamental realities of the Kingdom, the ‘meat and potatoes’ of repentance and redemption, discipleship and deliverance, faith and freedom.
“Doing What the Father is Doing”Spirit-Led ministry is a practical emphasis in the Vineyard both in personal ministry (ie the Spirit giving me unction for personal guidance) and in community life (the Spirit giving direction to the strategic direction of Church life and ministry): 1) Life and ministry in impoverished communities is marked by instability and a dearth of economic, social, spiritual, and mental resources. Flexibility and ingenuity are essential characteristics for a thriving ministry in such a setting; particularly in entrepreneurial initiative, collaborative partnerships, and creative resourcing strategies. 2) The culture of urban poverty (as well as immigrant and refugee populations typically present in such places) tends toward relational orientation, as opposed to task orientation. The Vineyard operates with a similar ‘relaxed’ orientation. 3) This also breeds a ‘pragmatism’ that aids ministry in under-resourced communities; there is less likelihood of wasting precious resources on initiatives that aren’t bearing fruit.
Spiritual Warfare and Prophetic VisionThe Vineyard contrasts the Kingdom of God with ‘principalities and powers’ and sees life and ministry as a conflict between these forces. ‘Natural’ forces are acknowledged, but often times ‘supernatural’ forces stand behind them. This acknowledges the interrelatedness of spiritual, physical, mental, relational forces that arise from, and impinge upon, human life. Any ministry situation requires sensitivity to the Holy Spirit and other spiritual forces, as well as sensitivity to the people involved: 1) On its surface poverty has to do with income, housing, employment, education, health-care, transportation, etc. but the root issues of poverty are impotence and apathy, despair and shame, and the cycle of violence, addiction, and family disintegration that arise from and contribute to poverty. The Vineyard paradigm is uniquely able to perceive, diagnose, and address such a problem. 2) On its surface poverty looks like a problem that is directly caused by the poor themselves; ie irresponsible decisions, devaluing of education and employment, pursuing addictive behaviors. While this should be acknowledged as part of the problem, significant factors include ‘systemic injustices’ fueled by the daily decisions of the rest of society. Suburbanization and ‘white-flight;’ practices of ‘toxic charity’1 at the level of individuals, churches, and governments; white privilege; redlining; police corruption; disproportionate education; etc. These are problems that have roots in the middle class idols of consumerism, individualism, and materialism. The Vineyard paradigm is uniquely able to perceive, diagnose, and address such a problem.
Inaugurated EschatologyThe Vineyard, in keeping with Jesus’ own teaching, sees the Kingdom as a present reality with a future fruition in its fullness (or a future reality with a proleptic invasion!). This leads to an expectation of God’s action in the present held in tension with an awareness that evil will persist until the Return of Christ. Along with this comes an explicit value for redemptive suffering held in tension with the expectation for healing and deliverance: 1) One of the primary needs of impoverished communities is for Hope. The “Now, but Not Yet” orientation of the Vineyard offers hope for the present and the future. 2) Impoverished communities are in desperate need of the power of God to break into their lives. Vineyard people expects this and experiences this. 3) Vineyard eschatology offers a framework for those who suffer to gain perspective on their suffering, and to understand its significance in light of ‘living in the time between the times.’ 4) Ministry leaders in impoverished communities are confronted with deeply broken lives; generational and systemic poverty are powerful forces subverting the very humanity of those who suffer under them. Vineyard eschatology provides those leaders with a framework for continued hope in the midst of such experiences.
The Supremacy of ChristWithout ‘demoting’ the rest of the New Testament, the Vineyard has historically emphasized the life, ministry, teaching, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus’ life is seen as an explicit model for ours, and not solely (as some traditions explicitly teach, and others implicitly model) as an atoning sacrifice: 1) Jesus’ statements, His actions, and most powerfully His crucifixion, model a life of selflessness, a willingness to embrace difficulty, and a voluntary poverty; all of which are required tools for labor at the margins. 2) Jesus models a ministry of presence to the marginalized and the impoverished.
The Effective Rule of GodThe central motif of Vineyard theology is that of Jesus’ proclamation and demonstration of the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom being defined as the actualization of God’s will.1 The Vineyard has continued that ministry of teaching people about God’s Kingdom, followed by a demonstration of His enacted rule and reign. This orientation has tremendous implications for work in impoverished communities: 1) The Kingdom of God provides a unifying framework to understand and implement: ‘super-natural’ ministry, justice ministry, and personal holiness. All of which are vital to address the realities of urban poverty. 2) The false dichotomy between ‘social gospel’ and ‘gospel’ simply evaporates within the theological paradigm of the Kingdom. The myriad problems that exist in impoverished communities are thorny, massively complicated, and interrelated; due to its Kingdom paradigm the Vineyard is uniquely positioned to solve holistic problems with holistic resources, and work toward holistic solutions.