The first Vineyard church I attended was the Smoky Hill Vineyard and the date was sometime in the early 90’s. At the time the church was meeting at a local middle school and it was the first “church plant” that our family ever attended. The worship gatherings were marked by hunger, intimacy, and a longing for the Spirit’s presence and power.
In addition to the praise and worship, strong sense of community and excellent Bible teaching, I noticed that in the Vineyard, everyone was equipped and everyone was encouraged to participate in the work of the kingdom. There were no superstars and the common “clergy” and “laity” distinctions weren’t nearly as obvious as in other denominations or churches that I had attended.
John Wimber, considered the “father” of the Vineyard movement, spent his entire life applying Ephesians 4:11-16 to the ministry Jesus gave him. He was an equipper. In fact, he was known for stating numerous times the following:
“Everybody gets to play.”
One of my favorite stories from John Wimber is when he invited some young children to come up front during one of his conferences in order to pray for a man unable to use his legs. In front of a large crowd, everyone witnessed the miraculous healing of the person and John Wimber said:
“See? Everybody gets to play … even little children. How complicated is that?”
That’s vintage Wimber right there. In fact, Wimber’s daughter Christy writes:
“This was the reason why John wanted a magazine called Equipping the Saints. In the beginning of the Vineyard, the evangelism, healing and power stuff that began started in John first, but he was quickly appalled at the idea it might end there. He was not comfortable with the idea this would not be for all of us. He truly believed with all his heart that “the fun stuff was for all of us” and not just for him. This was actually a fairly rare thought for a leader back in those days as it was usually the “anointed one” who was allowed to be the only healer and it was usually with his small team of prophets and teachers that held the whole thing together. But we knew this was not our call. In fact at one point we knew we could either get a tent or turn around and equip the saints. I was proud of John that he chose the latter. There were several occasions where John made this point in public.” (Everyone Gets to Play)
Toward an “Everyone Gets to Play” Ecclesiology
This Vineyard principle was, as Christy notes, unique in the early days of our movement. It was (and still is!) common for pastors to be the “superstars” of the kingdom of God. Since this concept has been reinforced for literally two thousand years, it’s no wonder that many church attenders assume that the pastor does all the ministry. But the fact of the matter is that the only superstar in the church is Jesus.
John Wimber, and the Vineyard movement by and large, embraced this important principle and it’s arguably why the movement grew so quickly and has had such an important influence on the church at large.
While this approach to ministry certainly was unique to Wimber and the Vineyard, it is deeply rooted in what I have previously argued is a historic Evangelical characteristic: the priesthood of all believers.
The doctrine of the priesthood of all believers is part of the Evangelical historical heritage via Luther and the Protestant Reformation (cf. A Short History of Global Evangelicalism, 30; The Rise of Evangelicalism, 17). As the Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms states:
“The Reformation principle that declares that the privilege and freedom of all believing Christians is to stand before God in personal communion through Christ, directly receiving forgiveness without the necessary recourse to human intermediaries. As priests (1 Pet 2:5, 9), believers directly offer sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving to God and minister to the needs of others. Ordained pastors, in turn, are not different from other believers in spiritual status but only in function and appointment.”
It’s from this doctrine, I believe, that we can move toward an ecclesiology that encourages everyone to play, participate, and proclaim the kingdom’s coming. Why? Because the fact that all followers of Jesus are priests and indwelt by the Holy Spirit means that all followers of Jesus are empowered to be witnesses (Acts 1:8). Furthermore, Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, especially chapters 12-14, suggests that it was normative for all members of the congregation to be involved in the charismata. And if we acknowledge that the charismata includes more than just what is considered “supernatural” and includes Spirit empowered acts such as giving, mercy, and serving than we will likely acknowledge that those are Spirit empowerments that we want everyone to express!
In the Vineyard movement you’ll find a lot of people who walked off the street into the kingdom of God who then, after some time and training, were sent out to plant a church. In a healthy Vineyard church, you’ll observe a lot of participation because it’s part of our DNA and we assume that the Spirit works through the church to accomplish the purposes of the kingdom.
So don’t be surprised when you see more than one or two people participating in the ministry of Jesus!
What do you think?
This is continuing a series of posts on understanding the Vineyard movement. We’ve discussed the challenges facing the Vineyard, the upside down nature of the Vineyard understanding of the kingdom, and the fact that Vineyard theology doesn’t mix well with Dispensationalism.