Vineyard Pastors: Practice the Practices!

The Vineyard group of churches has a published set of values. Any church wanting to become a Vineyard needs to embrace those values. This is normal practice for most church movements. However not many Vineyard pastors consider how we arrived at our values. Our list of values comes from a list of initial practices. This may surprise some pastors, because we assume the values came before the practices. But let me explain using an example from what happened at the Vineyard early on.

The Vineyard movement started as a home group. People hungry for God met in a house and began to sing love songs to God out of a desire to express themselves and engage with him. They found simple love songs similar to contemporary ballads enabled this. And soon they were composing their own.
At the time most churches were singing a combination of hymns and praise songs. The praise songs were songs about God and what he did for his people. They usually did not address God directly as these new Vineyard songs did. The Vineyard had stumbled upon a new way to worship and many different churches and worship groups followed this approach later.

So this initial home group had a practice: singing simple love songs to God. When outsiders noticed the difference in style, they would naturally ask, ‘Why do you sing these types of songs?’ At first their answer would have been something simple like, ‘Oh, I don’t know, it just feels right. We love God, so we sing love songs to him.’ But later on it became necessary to explain it better. Vineyard people knew their practice worked, but why? And after reasoning it through, they came up with one of the first Vineyard values: Intimacy in Worship. The reason the Vineyard sings simple, love ballads to God is because such songs enable a deeper intimacy with him.

But notice what happened. A practice came first. The defining value came later. And if any Vineyard leader reflects on it, they will realize that this was the same with every one of our values. I could go through each one and show that a practice came first.
Why am I emphasizing this? I’m doing it to show that our practices are very important. If our practices came first, we need to be very careful about dispensing with them. If we dispense with a practice that formed a value, all we have left is a nice concept, and nothing that gives the concept expression. What’s the use of that?

I was once trying to explain to the pastor of another denomination what the Vineyard is, and I went straight to our values. As I went through each value he said, ‘Yes, we believe that too.’ But his church is very different to a Vineyard. And that’s when I realized that every church would agree with the Vineyard values. They are actually not what distinguishes us. So I started to explain each value by saying, ‘And so we do this and don’t do that,’ showing the practices. And suddenly the pastor went quiet because he saw the difference, and found them challenging.

So for example, at the Vineyard we value humble leadership. Ask any church denomination if they value that and they will say yes. But if you say, ‘And so we don’t use titles. We call pastors, prophets, and evangelists by their first name, because those are just functions, not titles.’ Suddenly they go, ‘Oh that is different.’ And it challenges them. So our practices give our values their expression, their teeth. Our practices enable our values to have their distinguishing impact.

When I first walked into a Vineyard church, I was mesmerized by its practices. The pastor wore jeans and a T shirt. I didn’t know why, but I liked it. When he spoke he didn’t shout and perform, he spoke like he was having coffee with one person. I didn’t know why, but I liked it. But there was more. I found new expression in the love songs, as explained above. And I liked how the worship team looked and acted like a regular band. And I noticed that most people in the congregation were used to laying hands on each other, and many could give prophetic words to one other. These were practices I could see, which I had not seen elsewhere. I knew nothing about Vineyard values, but the practices were right before my eyes. And I loved what I saw, and joined the movement.

So our practices distinguish but they also attract. If you want people to see the way of the Vineyard in your church and be drawn by it, then go all-out on Vineyard practices. You can talk all day about our values, but its practices that make the impact.

Now, when planting a Vineyard church in another culture, we tend to think we must give up our practices and just push the values. Why? Because we are worried that our practices may offend a different culture. But as someone who has lived all his life in Africa, and has planted a Vineyard and led it here for 20 years, I want to say, ‘Don’t do that!!!’ Yes, it is true that some Vineyard practices are more challenging to some cultures, but that isn’t a reason to dispense with them. If anything, it’s a reason to emphasize that practice even more! Let me explain.

Cultures are not morally neutral. There is good and bad in every culture. And the message of Christ refines every culture. It makes the good in the culture shine, and demands that the bad in the culture be corrected. And if a church practice expresses an aspect of Christ’s message, as it should, it will challenge that culture to godly transformation. The practice brings healing!

Let’s go back to the example of singing love songs to God. Some cultures may find that challenging. They may feel it’s not right to approach God in a way that’s bordering on romance. It’s easier to just sing about God’s greatness instead of saying, ‘I love you.’ But do we just accept that that culture doesn’t need intimacy in worship? No, of course it does! It needs to learn that intimacy. And there is no better way than the practice of singing intimate love songs. To not push through with the practice is to deny adding intimacy with God to their total worship experience.

We can apply the same thinking to the use of titles. Some cultures are very big on titles. And it is in their churches. The reason we don’t use titles in the Vineyard (or are not supposed to), is because of how it exalts leaders, makes them more special than their followers, and produces pride in them. It’s exactly why Jesus said, ‘You are not to be called Rabbi’ (Mt 23.8).
Now, in my experience, titles produce these bad effects in all cultures. And we certainly don’t need those issues of human exaltation and pride flowing from the culture into the church. Rather we want the church to set the pace in healing the culture. Which means we need to dispense with using titles in the church.

Often people have told me, ‘It’s hard, because of our culture.’ This we can understand. But, it’s not a reason to dispense with the practice. It’s a reason to emphasize it. I have not found one Vineyard practice that isn’t good for Africa. All of them are needed here. In fact I would say Vineyard practices are the solution for much that is wrong with the church in Africa. And I can imagine they would be the solution on many continents where the Vineyard movement is new.

So I want to challenge all Vineyard pastors to not compromise on Vineyard practices. Put your full weight behind them. They are our cutting edge.

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