Last week I had the opportunity to head to attend the  “Healthy Lives, Leaders, & Churches” conference,  hosted by the Duluth Vineyard, featuring Phil and Janet Strout. Phil is the new Vineyard USA nation director, so I was looking forward to hearing Phil cast vision for the future and to especially hear his heart.

I found the conference to be extremely encouraging, challenging, and somewhat concerning. But those feelings where all good for my soul and I think good to work through and reflect on.

Encouraging Stuff
Phil is awesome. I am ready to follow his leadership and to love him and pray for him and to trust him enough to hopefully continue to form a lasting relationship with the Vineyard Movement, as the Lord wills.

In fact, Phil’s approach to hermeneutics and Scripture and the necessity of conversion was quite the encouragement for me.

I also thought his talks were rather good. He was passionate for the right things and was a good speaker on top of that. I was greatly encouraged.

Challenging
Our congregation needs to get in the game of church planting and needs to also do better at developing (training!) leaders. Speaking from my role as a pastor, I can see that I need to push this issue more. I think we overlook the importance of good leadership too often… I was challenged to reconcile this.

Another issue that I was challenged by was in my own interaction with the concepts of “family ministry” or “children’s ministry.” I have some pretty deep reservations about much of the “split-the-kids-up-and-get-them-away-from-their-families” methodology but equally realize that much of the church that insists that everyone be together overlooks some key hermeneutical and practical issues. Either way we approach the issue demands that we take serious the goal of training our children in the ways of the Lord while equally acknowledging that it is the Lord who draws people (children!) to himself. I’d like to see more theological understanding of soteriology within the general populace of children’s ministry workers. But that’s a different blog for a different day..

I was really challenged by the kingdom focus during most of the music… in fact, one of the things I plan on doing this coming week is meeting with our music team leader and discussing some of the things I think we do well as well as the things we do that need to improve. The improvements seem to center around our church’s shared commitment to the kingdom as a present reality (while also acknowleding the “not yet” dimension that some church’s seem to ignore within the charismatic movement).

Concerns
I hesitate to even voice some of these concerns because I don’t want to (1) hurt anyone’s feelings, (2) misrepresent the intention behind some of the praxis, and (3) sound like I’m a constant critic.

Yet I am a pastor and a theologian so I figure I should offer reflections in areas that concern me because I believe they are areas that need to be either explored and   explained or, possibly, changed.

First, I was a bit concerned with the amount of Vineyard branding that seemed to take place. And I say that with a little reservation because I love the Vineyard. Yet I was a bit uncomfortable with statements like, “we’re going to build the Vineyard” or “these are Vineyard kids” and other similar declarations.

I did a few years of my undergraduate training on a denominational setting and regularly heard statements like, “our denomination is the most on fire for God.” Or, “we’re the only group of Christians who want the Holy Spirit to work.” This attitude seemed to breed a very unhealthy view of the wider body of Christ, so muchh so that some couldn’t even imagine marrying someone who was not committed to that specific denomination!

Whenever I heard these ridiculous statements, I remembered thinking, “Really? You’ve visited every denomination and have been able to accurately determine just how on fire for God every other group is and you have been able to equally determine their love and value upon the Holy Spirit? Wow.

You see, this type of thinking wasn’t good for the kingdom of God. And I’m concerned that if we’re not careful as leaders within the Vineyard, there will be a negative and shallow ecclesiology that begins to shape and inform our eccumenical interaction, learning, and influence.

I believe Vineyard has something important to contribute to the wider Body of Christ. The emphasis on inaugurated and enacted eschatology is important for a proper understanding of so much biblical teaching. So this isn’t to say that I think we’re “just another denomination.” I wouldn’t be  leading a church through the Vineyard adoption process if I didn’t believe that the Vineyard movement is “home.” But we must keep this in light of our greater citizenship in the kingdom, and in our awareness that God has been doing a lot of cool stuff through a lot of other groups/movements for a lot longer than the last 30+ years.

Secondly, I have some reservations about both the biblical understanding of the nature of NT prophecy and its praxis. Granted, I have done a lot of research and writing on the subject, so I realize I am quick to be nit-picky on this subject, but I think some of this is important. Here’s my concern:

There was a moment where the 500+ people were told to prophesy over the children standing before everyone. I am concerned that this may give people the idea that (1) people can prophesy whenever they want and (2) that whatever we speak “in faith” becomes a prophecy, similar to the “name it and claim it” theology of the Word of Faith movement. These are problematic for me because (1) Paul states that spiritual gifts (in this case, prophecy) are given as the Holy Spirit wills (1 Cor. 12:11) and that (2) prophecy is never described in the Bible as something that human beings come up with on their own and God is bound to carry it out because it’s been proclaimed “in faith.”

I guess I’d like to have seen either a little more clarity or at least some teaching that would give some support to such praxis. The main reason being is because I simply find no biblical support for such actions, AND I think they could end up causing more damage if people take some of these things too far.

Of course, I am an advocate of Third Wave theology when it comes to the spiritual gifts, but I am that way because I believe it provides the best exegetical evidence and hermeneutical care.

Conclusion
These brief concerns come nowhere close to representing the majority of my thoughts, regardless of the differing lengths in this short survey of my thoughts.

I loved the conference. It was great getting to see many friends and to spend the weekend with my wife, four children, and two dogs. Yes, it was a great time.

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