I am going to be celebrating my six month anniversary as a pastor at the Red Bluff Vineyard in about a week. Wow, time has flown by and I am still absolutely loving the city, the church, and
the trout fishing all that surrounds us.
That being said, the last six months has been really fun because it’s been full of discovery, development, and observation. Quite frankly, I think we spent the first few months trying to first develop relationships with people and then, secondly, figure out kind of where we were at. What specific areas of the church needed attention? How could we build on the past equity that the former pastor’s had gained? What could we do to continue to partner with God in the city of Red Bluff for the sake of the kingdom?
About two months ago, I was in a meeting with some friends and my wife Dawn and we were discussing just exactly where we were at… and something popped into my mind. Despite our church being over twenty years old, in many ways what we were actually doing felt like church planting. When we transitioned into leadership, we had to create a number of systems and structures in order to meet the needs of our growing community. For example, over night we seemed to have a bunch of younger families show up with their kids. Uh oh. We better get Vineyard Kids going!
And as the community kept growing, it became very apparent that we needed some type of mechanism to press a bit deeper into discipleship than our Sunday morning gatherings. We needed to get small groups going.
This was a bit different than what I was expecting. When we visited the church in December, March, and had discussions with the church, we were talking a lot about church revitalization. I didn’t even think about church planting or replanting. I think this is largely based on the fact that I was spending a lot of time coaching and consulting for pastors in relation to church revitalization. All of the books and discussions I was having for the past three years seemed to be related to that subject. But we were starting to sense that revitalization was a bit premature. The usual “suspects” that you need to revitalize hadn’t actually existed for awhile. So I found myself scratching my head a lot, praying, and then scratching my head some more. Something needed to happen but we couldn’t quite put our finger on it.
We needed to back up.
After we discussed approaching this next season of the Red Bluff Vineyard’s life through the context of replanting, we felt a huge shift… a huge relief… and tons of peace. Here’s why…
John Wimber used to like saying, “Build slow to go fast.” Other Vineyard leaders I respect have said, “Build slow so you can go far.” This “slow” lean is something I owe to my experience as a “specialist” with the Multiply Vineyard’s Small Town USA team (yeah… ummm… they called us “specialists,” ha ha!). That experience led to me to present a paper on the subject at the 2014 annual Society of Vineyard Scholars’ gathering, “Small & Slow (Rural Ecclesiology and Effective Missional Praxis),” though I also owe a debt of gratitude to many of the ideas in Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus and more recently Slow Kingdom Coming: Practices for Doing Justice, Loving Mercy, and Walking Humbly in the World.
All that is to say that “slow” is not bad and, often times, precisely what is needed. We mustn’t allow our fast paced culture dictate how we go about living as followers of Jesus.
And we needed to pray.
As we spent more and more time praying and talking and thinking, it became really apparent that building slow was the best and most appropriate way forward.
Enter Alexander Venter’s book, Doing Church: Building from the Bottom Up.
The season of leadership I am in here at the Vineyard is a combination of church replanting and revitalization. This means that Dawn and I are focusing a lot of our energy on the following:
- Building relationships.
- Developing leadership.
- Training staff.
- Trying not to have sucky sermons.
- Shaping culture.
The first and last are probably the two that I spend the most time focusing on. We have absolutely loved getting to know the people within our church community, not to mention our neighbors and others in the city. We love these people! We’ve never felt so welcomed, valued, and encouraged. Plus, hearing people’s stories and experiences and dreams is really inspiring.
But a huge part of what we’re doing right now is related to creating, maintaining, and overall shaping the culture in the church. Just what kind of church are we going to be, a question we looked at in a sermon about what kind of church was Jesus’ favorite (hugely inspired by my friend Steve Burnhope).
Shaping culture means that we need to first know what kind of culture we want, which is, in the Vineyard, informed by our values, not to mention our distinctives and mission of “knowing Jesus and making him known.” Once an understanding of what kind of culture is being sought, a ton of vision casting, teaching, preaching, praying, and discussion has to happen around that culture.
In fact, everything you do has to reinforce that, retrain it, and, as Peter Scazarro writes in Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, “reparent.” The ideas or structures (or lack of structures!!) that work against the culture(s) being shaped and embraced have to be identified and addressed, rejected, or, as is often the case, “starved” (don’t feed what you don’t want to live!).
So after six months, we have a team of people we’ve been starting to meet with and our plan for 2017 is to read through Venter’s Doing Church in order to make sure everyone is on the same page regarding the Vineyard and our theology and praxis. And hopefully toward the end of next year, we’ll begin a leadership/church planting residency in order to develop other leaders for the sake of God’s Mission.
It’s super exciting.