The Vineyard has been equipped for work among those who live on the fringes; the marginalized, the poor, the foreigner, the pagan, the agnostic; the other. We use His tools to advance His Kingdom at the margins. The church was designed to permeate every culture, to “spontaneously expand”25 into all of the cracks and crevasses of our world. We abandon the safety of our walls, and the security of our comforts. We spell faith: “R-I-S-K.”26 We seek dangerous places, dark places, painful places, broken places; the places where the Kingdom is desperately needed. The places where the King desperately wants to be.

The Vineyard is uniquely equipped to navigate the cultural and spiritual realities of poverty in America’s urban environments. The Vineyard Movement is God’s Hammer to drive the nails of His redemptive justice deep into lives of those who suffer the alienation, impotence, and despair of poverty. It is for this purpose that we exist. We possess the ingenuity, the skill, and the paradigm, needed to honestly and powerfully connect broken and despairing people to the beauty, power, and hope of the Kingdom. G. K. Chesterton famously quipped, “the Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting, it has been found difficult and left untried.”27 The question before the Vineyard Movement is, will we equip and empower our brightest and best for the task at hand? Will we follow Jesus to the edge?



It is here that the ‘inefficiency’ of incarnational ministry becomes apparent. As John Perkins has said, “There are many with a fifteen year strategy, and a two year commitment.”24 This ongoing proximity is the key, however, to the effective empowerment of the poor. Without it we will never be able to give away the keys to the kingdom, but when we do get close and stay close, the poor cease to be a project. They become people, and then we begin to learn from them, we begin to partner with them, and we begin to discover the authority that God desires to grant them in His Kingdom. Kingdom ministry requires more than the rich serving the poor, it requires interdependence. When the poor are included as equal members into our churches, because we have done the difficult work of being included as equal members in their neighborhoods, then we will be able to offer them the resources that God has blessed us with, as well as receive the resources that God has blessed them with.


A Sacred Place

"There are no unsacred places.  There are only sacred places and desecrated places."
- Wendell Berry


A ministry of presence is a requirement for serving alongside the poor. We must come near to those we desire to serve. We must touch them, and they us. It is not until their problems become our problems that we will ever truly be able to minister. Not in the sense that we care about them so much that their problems burden us emotionally, but rather in the sense that the problems we face in our lives are the same ones they face in theirs. When we suffer the violence of living with corrupt or absent police officers, when our property values drop because of corrupt banking practices, when our schools are failing and our jobs are gone, then we will be trusted to minister.

We will be trusted because we understand. We will be trusted because we have come close enough for the dirt to rub off on us. The cost of ministry is the suffering we experience when we recognize that poverty is a spiritual disease that cannot be healed by “throwing our possessions over a wall at the poor on the other side.”21 The cost of ministry is the suffering we experience when we become poor in order to reach the poor.22 Identification with those whom we serve is inherent to Kingdom ministry. Without walls to protect us, but without walls to divide us,23 we will have come close enough for the Kingdom to rub off of us. Indeed we have become so close that we have become one; no longer ‘my neighborhood’ or ‘your neighborhood’ but rather ‘our neighborhood.’



Presence, Interdependence, and Identification

“[T]o ‘do justice’ means to go to places where the fabric of shalom has broken down, where the weaker members of societies are falling through the fabric, and to repair it. This happens when we concentrate on and meet the needs of the poor. How can we do that? The only way to reweave and strengthen the fabric is by weaving yourself into it. Reweaving shalom means to sacrificially thread, lace, and press your time, goods, power, and resource into the lives and needs of others.”
Tim Keller

It would seem odd to teach someone how to use a hammer to drive nails when they were already proficient at using a hammer to pull them. It should seem equally odd to teach someone how to serve the poor when they have been a disciple for some long while. Jesus was famously asked, “Who is my neighbor?” He responded with a story of ‘good Jews’ who encountered a destitute and injured man and passed by on the other side, and a Samaritan who responded with compassionate action. How might Jesus respond to a world in which ‘good Christians’ don’t even walk the same road as the destitute and injured, and so never have to confront the choices they have made to ‘pass by on the other side?’



Naturally Supernatural
The Vineyard emphasizes a balanced rhythm of proclamation and demonstration; teaching people about the Kingdom, and introducing people to the effective power of the King. This however, is done without hype; the power of the Spirit of God is not relegated to special people, special buildings, or special methods or words. The Kingdom of God is breaking through in the lives of ordinary people as they do ordinary things: 1) Ministry in under-resourced communities cannot be contained in weekly gatherings; deep needs and urgent requests bubble over into routine daily activities. The Vineyard teaches people to expect God to move in precisely those places, and equips ‘ordinary saints’ to address those needs as and when they arise. 2) The depth and breadth of devastation that exists in impoverished communities cannot be met solely by ‘social justice’ oriented work (although this too is indispensable); the Spirit must intervene to deliver, heal, convict, empower, and save. 3) Those who engage in ministry among the poor will themselves suffer from ‘secondary trauma’ that requires the ongoing operation of the Spirit’s activity to address. 4) Impoverished communities are the frequent victims of empty promises from the business community, politicians, and churches. “Power-for-a-purpose” praxis creates space for God to be real without any need to ‘hype it up;’ God does indeed move, but does so to accomplish actual transformation. The Vineyard intends to offer ‘power without hype’ instead of ‘hype without power.’



“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 Worship
The 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.



Tent Making
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 Ecclesiology
The 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.


Leaders Eat Last


Spiritual Warfare and Prophetic Vision
The 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’ 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.



BEH pt V

Inaugurated Eschatology
The 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 Christ
Without ‘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 God
The 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.


Innovation Inhibitors

(Re-posted from ChurchPlanting.com)

One of the reasons church planting is such a powerful tool for the mission of the Gospel is because it allows leaders to overcome challenges through innovation.  But, as churches grow larger and more committed to systems, innovation can be lost.

So based on both my experience and this recent article from the Harvard Business Review I want to expose these eight inhibitors of innovation.

Inhibitor #1: Focused on the short-term results
Often church planters get funding from groups that want “quick” & “quantifiable” results…  resist the urge to sacrifice long-term missional purpose for the short term goal.

Inhibitor #2: Afraid of cannibalizing the sending church
Create partnerships with church leaders that have a history of sending people without reserve. Leaders who make people “off-limits” lack the innovative thinking needed to prosper the Kingdom.

Inhibitor #3: Devoted too many resources to today
It is easy for church planters to get consumed with the tyranny of the urgent. Force yourself to make time and set aside resources for new ventures.

Inhibitor #4: Passed it on to someone else
There are unique needs in each community that can’t be left to someone else. Using your unique gifts and talents, look for ways to engage pressing needs with new ideas.

Inhibitor #5: Constrained by efficiency and excellence
Efficiency and excellence are the enemies of innovation. Ministry is always messy and if you wait until everything is “perfect” & you have everything you “need” you will never take action.

Inhibitor #6: Coached by leaders not trained to be innovative thinkers
Find a church planting coach who is capable of fostering innovation and not simply helping you imitate the success of others.

Inhibitor #7: Paralyzed by flaws and fears
New ideas are full of flaws and the only way to work out the kinks is to discover the power and potential of an idea, move forward, and take risk.

Inhibitor #8: Controlled by systems that don’t reward innovation
Avoid denominations, churches, and leaders who are afraid of letting go of their systems or want to make clone-ministries and embrace those who reward new ideas.

Read more here: 8 Inhibitors of Innovation - ChurchPlanting.com



Engaging at the Margins
The Spirit of God has imparted tools to the Vineyard that are uniquely suited for work at the margin. We are a 'missionary' movement; uniquely postured for pioneering works and planting churches in new places, or in new cultural settings. We are a ‘prophetic’ movement; uniquely positioned to move with power against oppression and injustice. We are a ‘compassion’ movement; uniquely equipped for a ministry of presence, comfort, and healing. Using our tools in the safety and security of already established Christian strongholds is like pulling nails with a hammer; certainly not bad, certainly useful, but not the primary purpose for which a hammer was made. The ‘business end’ of the hammer is the end that ‘does the business;’ the head that drives the nails. As a hammer’s primary purpose is driving nails, so too, the Vineyard’s primary purpose is to advance the Kingdom at the fringes and frontiers.

Our thesis then, is twofold. First, that the Kingdom response to suffering is always to embrace it. Second, that the Vineyard is uniquely equipped for ministry at the margins. The singular argument is that the Vineyard must engage in ministry to the impoverished, the disenfranchised, and the outsiders, if we are to be faithful to our unique, God-ordained, purpose. This ministry must be carried out in what has been called an ‘incarnational’ strategy. We must engage with presence. Sharing life together with those to whom we are called. Becoming one with them.

Theologian James K. A. Smith exhorted Vineyard Scholars to “drink deeply from our own wells.”In following his advice to “look for the genius in our own practices” we discover that the tools in the Vineyard tool-belt are for the cutting edge; we must engage those who languish on the margins. The Vineyard is uniquely positioned and equipped to advance the Kingdom at the fringes of the Church and of society. It is within the context of urban poverty that we explore the tools unique to Vineyard theology and praxis, or the ‘business end of the hammer.’



We must pastor those who suffer by joining them. We must share in their pain, become one with them in their problems, and shoulder the burden of their angst. We must pastor those who suffer by living among them; sharing with them the glory of the Kingdom, offering to them the strength and courage of the King, and becoming to them hope.

After all, we pledge allegiance to a King who was glorified upon an instrument of torture and death. He lived as one of us, bearing our burdens, and sharing His glory. If we are His disciples, we will simply do likewise. As with the King, so with His Kingdom. Jesus was attracted to human brokenness; we too are attracted to human brokenness. Jesus entered into the darkness; we too enter into the darkness. Jesus manifested the very Kingdom of Heaven; we too "are encouraging one another to live precisely as points of intersection, points of overlap, between heaven and earth."

This has, for us, the very real possibility of fear, angst, distress, pain, failure, loss, and even death. Following Jesus’ charge through the Gates of Hell will cost us the comfort of our smooth programs, the glory of our successful ministries, and the security of our budgets and salaries. We will relinquish control over our churches and ministries. We will smash our own idols of consumerism, individualism, and materialism, so that we will be able to minister the Good News of the Kingdom of God to the poor and marginalized.


BEH pt I

The Business End of the Hammer:
The Implicit Orientation of the Vineyard toward Ministry on the Margins

for the Society of Vineyard Scholars 2014 
Being the Church in the Time Between the Times: 
Suffering and Kingdom Expectation 

Disciples of the Kingdom labor at the margins of society. The call of the Kingdom is a call to enter into the plight of those who suffer; to experience their suffering, to offer them our hope, and to bring the resources of the Kingdom to bear upon their lives. Like salt, light, and leaven, by our very presence, we carry the tools of the Kingdom into the tumble-down places of our world. A paradigm formed by the Kingdom of God leads to a simple, yet profound, pastoral response to suffering; we embrace it.

This has serious implications for the future of the Vineyard Movement; which would be to simply mirror it’s origins. At it’s inception, the Vineyard fed the hungry, prayed for the sick, and welcomed the spiritually homeless into it’s communities. From it’s birth among Southern California’s counter-culture, and it’s theological center as a Kingdom Movement, to it’s strong emphasis on practical demonstration, the Vineyard is uniquely equipped by God for ministry at the edge. How then, should Vineyard people respond to suffering?

We must be attracted to it.


The Problem with Politics

"I agree with your politics, but I don't share your vitriol."

Obviously I don't agree with everyone's politics, but even when I do, I still find myself uneasy around people when they talk politics.  It's not because I don't enjoy hearty debate, or thinking through practical issues, or engaging in theoretical hypothesizing.  It's because I'm sick of the posturing.  At almost every point along the political spectrum the one commonality is the demonization of one's political opponents.  This tendency is not only immoral, but counterproductive.

It is precisely after hearing something like this that most people will respond with "uh-uh, cuz they did it first, and they do it worse!"  Which only proves the point...