During the week of July 6 -10, three of us from Winnipeg Centre Vineyard, along with our dear friend Noel Isaacs from the Himalayan Region Vineyard churches, attended the Vineyard USA National Conference in Columbus, Ohio. This was no ordinary national conference, however, as Vineyard people from around the world were invited to participate in a “rich, intentional ‘family reunion’ [to] celebrate our roots, calling, and destiny together.”
The conference was hosted at the immense premises of Vineyard Columbus and within minutes of arriving I met a person from Turkey, another from Kenya, and (as if that beggars belief) still another from Ohio. Our movement is comprised of over 2,400 churches in 75 countries worldwide; amazingly, around 60 countries were represented at the conference.
It’s easy to focus on what God is doing within our local faith communities, but amidst a palette of people from many tribes, tongues, and nations, I was again reminded that we are part of something far greater that God is doing across the earth. It is humbling when the limitlessness of his kingdom becomes visible and it is particularly inspiring to realize that we have Vineyard brothers and sisters – propelled with similar vision – from so vast an expanse. We are far from alone. Even more, despite our geographic and cultural diversity, there was a palpable sense of togetherness and camaraderie amongst us throughout the conference. It really felt as if we had known each other for ages. We are a closely knit family, growing closer still and, as was said frequently during the week, we are “better together.”
Each session began with worship and the first time we sang together, we sang in Swahili! Every worship time featured a pair of different worship leaders as well as an additional language to English. This was a wonderful testimony to the diversity of our movement. Add to this our gifted worship leaders, the sound of thousands of us singing our hearts out to God, and a lovely sense of Jesus’ presence as he inhabited our praises and it’s little wonder that our times of worship were so spectacular. Worship is such a hallmark of the Vineyard and at our gatherings it was both obvious and encouraging to see (and hear!) how deeply it characterizes us.
There were several meetings alongside the main sessions, one of which was a worship leader lunch. Several hundred worship leaders gathered in the gymnasium and after lunch, David Ruis shared a few reflections on simple devotion to Jesus. He asked us to open our hands and invited the Spirit to come and as we did, it began to rain outside. There was something refreshing, even magical, about the room being silent except for the sound of rain. Somehow, it feels as if a new spring of worship is upon us! We so desperately need God’s life and presence to rejuvenate us, to fill us with new creativity and artistry, and to sustain our hearts as we go on to lead others in worship. May we always remember that we are first worshippers and lovers of Jesus whom, by some grace, he’s invited and entrusted to serve in worship in our communities.
The Kingdom of God
We are also a kingdom people – bristling with an expectancy that the glory of God’s kingdom can break into the present at any moment and all the while steadied by the notion that its fullness – when all things are made new – is yet to come. In the midst of worship one evening we laid hands on and prayed for all those who needed healing. In the midst of worship on the last evening, David Ruis and Noel Isaacs led us in a very powerful time of crying out and interceding for our family in the Himalayan region devastated by the earthquake. We celebrate healing and empathize with suffering, and our worship rightly featured both. May we continue to faithfully hold this important kingdom tension.
“Come, Holy Spirit” and Everyone Can Play
I was overjoyed with the many ministry time opportunities throughout the week as we gave space and time for the Holy Spirit to do what only he can do. It was especially encouraging to see hundreds upon hundreds of people receiving prayer, and hundreds upon hundreds of people praying for them. There was no sense of elite ministry personnel; rather in true Vineyard fashion, we were all invited to participate. Without doubt, the Spirit was gracious in his power, presence, and gifts during these times and I believe God touched many people in deep and significant ways.
The teaching was superb and featured a variety of speakers from around the world (Brazil, Zambia, and South Africa to name a few). John and Eleanor Mumford – National Directors of the UK and Ireland – began the first session, with the latter giving an articulate and impassioned portrait of our distinctive Vineyard values. If anyone was on the fence about whether they’d like to be part of this thing or not, her talk would’ve surely tipped the balance! The next morning, Rich Nathan – pastor of Vineyard Columbus – provided a truly fantastic outline of Jesus-centred leadership and its expression in the Vineyard.
An especially poignant talk was by Rev. Dr. Charles A. Montgomery, who shared brilliantly about the kingdom being a place where dividing walls of hostility come down. Against the backdrop of recent incidences in Charleston and Ferguson highlighting racial division in America, and coming from an African-American preacher who vulnerably shared his own journey in racial reconciliation, it was incredible to hear such a clear, prophetic call towards being people who prioritize following Jesus above mere cultural allegiance.
It was a stirring talk, understandably received with a standing ovation. Martin Buehlmann – who along with his wife serve as National Directors in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland – had both the sensitivity and maturity to forego his planned talk (scheduled immediately afterward) in place of facilitating a time of reconciliation, saying “We have to respond.”
There was a sober call for any who felt particularly convicted of racism to come forward for prayer. People trickled forward and as they did, they too received a standing ovation. After this, several people groups – African Americans, Africans, and Indigenous people from around the world – were called forward as others – on behalf of their own groups – asked for forgiveness for being disrespectful, judgmental, and exclusive. Words do not do justice to the weight of the moment, which is perhaps why Phil Strout – National Director of the USA – described what was happening as a “kairos moment.” Suffice to say it was a sweet, profoundly moving kingdom moment in the conference – perhaps even a watershed one.
Nathan and I attended a Vineyard Justice Network (VJN) breakfast, where around 130 people who are either interested or involved in justice-related work in their churches gathered to fellowship and network. I was one of two peopled asked to briefly share about the personal meaningfulness of the VJN summit two years ago in Chicago. I spoke about how the summit helped enlarge vision for drop-in – not that we would simply have a more efficient, effective ministry, but that we would also have an eye on what it would take to eventually close down. In other words, what would we need to do to end poverty in our neighbourhood?
I also attended a Vineyard Educators and Trainers forum where, in light of our recent articulation agreement with Vineyard Institute, I shared about the vision of the Vineyard School of Justice. I met with other leaders of Vineyard discipleship schools including Heroic Leadership Institute and School of Kingdom Ministry and it was fun to brainstorm about what collaboration might look like.
Both these gatherings were helpful in terms of connecting with and learning from other people involved in justice and education, as well as enhancing exposure about what we do at WCV and in the SOJ.
At the very least, a family reunion ought to evoke joy for those who participate – joy in actually gathering together and a kind of rejuvenated, subsequent joy in being associated with one another.
The Vineyard is not the only movement in the world. It is not even the coolest or best. Nonetheless, it is a movement of God’s making. I loved being with our people during the conference and couldn’t be more thrilled to be part of the Vineyard Global Family. May we continue to be a people of joy, loving each other well and bringing delight to our Father.
To hear audio from the sessions as well as to order DVDs of the conference, visit Vineyard Resources.