Servant Introduction

You would not have to speak with many servants within the Christian church to find a member dissatisfied with the weight their service has placed upon their shoulders. Churches are notorious for taking everything a volunteer has to offer, wringing them dry, and then scrambling to find an equally gullible replacement when the previous servant could do no more. There isn’t anything malicious, per se, about this behaviour from the churches in question. Rather, it is simply the nature of the work: when one relies on volunteers, one often has a static or growing body of work with a small and potentially diminishing work force. Over time the workers the church has are required to carry a heavier burden than they are capable of.

When we were investigating a new church (Vineyard, by the way, which we have since joined), I was curious how they treated their volunteers. When people volunteer to help lead worship, or to work in the nursery, or to clean up, are they alone in their endeavour and subsequently worked to death? To find this out before we committed ourselves, I volunteered to cook for a Church Painting, where the outside of the building was being redone, to see how people treated and reacted to me.

I think this sort of introduction to a group is the most telling because it really lets one take a look at how they act. When a new person visits a church, it is easy to target them, to introduce oneself to them, and to invite them to small groups and social events. It is easy to make them feel the center of attention and valued. But when someone places themselves in the roll of a servant, in a corner or off to the side, how will the members treat them? Will they be taken for granted, or will they continue to be valued, included, and appreciated?

Thankfully I was able to find this out before we joined, and the results were quite pleasant. Everyone was complimentary of my cooking, people came by to see how I was and chat while I was at the grill, and other people volunteered to help set up, clean, and tear down the cooking area to my own service was equitable (if not minimal). The Vineyard has a strong and large group of servants, so one gets the sense they are serving alongside the church body, rather than simply for its sake. By way of another example, the worship team cycles regularly so no one person has to do it all the time, and there’s no pressure to always “be on.” Enough people volunteer that everyone gets a decent break.

Next time you want to find out how people will really treat you, serve them. You never know how someone will truly act towards you until they are placed in a position of power over you, and it is better to learn such a lesson before one commits.

Hold my Hand

The first of many prayers I’m going to post here as a regular feature. While singing “Invitacion Fountain” on Sunday morning, I found myself thinking, “I would follow you Lord, but I need you to take me by the hand…”

“If you lead me Lord, I will follow
where you lead me Lord, I will go.”
I mean it God–I won’t sing empty words–
but I don’t follow through. I’m too weak, too

pitiful to give you my life. No excuse
because you have been my lamp, my light
your Word my guide and map, and after all
I hear your voice. Yet still I fail.

I need you Lord, more than ever. More than
I did before I first heard your Son, I need
you to take my hand, to pull my arm hard,
to drag me behind you as you walk. I feel

like trash asking, asking, never satisfied
after all you’ve done, but I cannot climb,
nor swim, nor even see the stars. Terrible,
terrible, I can’t do this on my own…

Pouring out my heart
in song, dancing my prayers,
I can dream of strength, of crowns cast before you,
and I beg, “Come and heal me Lord, I will follow.”

I will follow you.

First Prayer Walk in GBPN

April and I have been taking a close look at the Springfield Vineyard church recently, and after having attended several Sunday morning services we wanted to learn more about the community. As such, we are attending various church events in a bid to meet people, and last night was the second of those attempts. Though April was sadly unable to join me, I met a number (10, to be exact) of other Vineyard-goers for a prayer walk around our neighbourhood.

I was particularly excited about this because it really is around our neighbourhood. Specifically, we prayed for the Grant Beach Park Neighbourhood, and Grant Beach Park is just outside our back door. It is not just a blessing to me that the Vineyard is serving the community in which I live, but I’m also really excited about [potentially] having the opportunity to join them in further service in the future. April and I, if you aren’t aware, are pretty introverted and quiet people, so we’re hesitant to just go out and meet our neighbours and be unilaterally active. Having a group we can join that is already doing these things is a lot easier.

The prayer walk was really good, but talking afterwards with everyone was even better. I feel like I may have potentially found the community I’ve been looking for for years, right here in my back yard. It’s startling to me and I keep waiting for the hammer to fall, for everything to fall through, but I can’t foresee that at this time. What’s more, when I have had glimpses of this sort of community, they were always in the context of college ministry, which is transient at best. People are in and out, and its ever-evolving nature means that what community can be established is quickly gone. It has to be continually rebuilt, relearned, and reshaped, and there is never enough time.

Most of the people at the Vineyard are here to stay though, and that gives me hope. The girl at whose house we met lives just a few blocks south of us, and another is moving in even closer. Opportunities abound, and I’m thrilled.

In addition to the communal aspects, the prayer walk was humbling as I found myself having a great deal of difficulty listening to God. I always have some trouble with this, but I can usually get to a quiet place, close my eyes, still my mind, and hear God speak. I can’t when walking, and the truth is that I won’t always have the luxury to get away physically. I need to learn how to separate myself from this world spiritually so I can hear God no matter the circumstances, and I think there are people at the Vineyard who can help me with that. The people I walked with seemed to have it down better than me, that’s for sure.

We’re out of town this weekend so we won’t be able to attend church, but next weekend we’ll be bringing food and helping cook at the Church Paintin’, which is something of a dedication of the new church building where a bunch of people will be painting the outside. The best way to get to know people is by serving them, and that’s what we’ll be doing in a couple of weeks. At that point, we’ll have done all the community-based things we can except attending small groups, which April might try (though she hasn’t said anything about it yet). Sadly, I won’t have time for small groups until after I graduate next spring, but I’m already pretty confident about this church. No final decision yet, but I’m pretty darned ready.

Great times tonight, and God’s sovereignty was foremost in my mind. God is good all the time, and all the time God is good. Hallelujah.

Theological Inspiration

Since I began carrying a moleskine notebook around with me, I’ve been jotting down copious notes about stories, blog entries, and poems that I’d like to write. Specifically, and notably since we began visiting the Vineyard on Sunday mornings, I’ve had a lot of theological inspiration resulting in a number of theological blog entries.

I’ve got more lined up for the story about Sargent Faithful, and I’d like that to become a regular feature here at SilverPen, but my writing time is pretty limited right now and at the end of the evening I found that I had written three pieces about religion and absolutely no fiction. I had meant to write another story, but here we are: 10 PM, I’m about to go to bed, and the next part isn’t written. I guess maybe next week?

I’ve got several more religious pieces percolating in my drafts bin that will make their way to the surface in the coming weeks as well. It is definitely a testament to the Vineyard how much it inspires me–I must have pulled out my notebook and written something down at least ten times last Sunday. Do you know what “the sevenfold glory of God” is? I’m not entirely sure either, but I’ve got a Bible verse, some notes, and a strong desire to explore the concept through fiction. I don’t know what that will look like, but I’m anxious to find out.

Goodnight everyone, and apologies in advance for the lack of diversity in postings here for the next couple of weeks. I usually try to mix things up so there aren’t a ton of the same category all in a row, but these things come in waves sometimes. One month I had almost nothing but technology, and this month I will have almost nothing but theology. Hopefully history will be gentle with me.

Laila tov!

Interview with Springfield Vineyard Church

April and I have been considering changing churches for several months now, long before the announcement in January that they were cutting the college minister’s position to part-time. We already had some issues with the worship and preaching at First & Calvary, so the stuff with the college ministry just highlighted how some of our priorities differed from those of the church leadership. Subsequently, over the last few months we have been visiting other churches and asking around to see if there might be a better fit for us here in Springfield.

I had been invited to the Vineyard numerous times over the last six years, but I had never managed to visit. Now that we were shopping around, though, it seemed like an ideal opportunity to check it out. As I have since learned, Vineyard is more of a movement of affiliated churches rather than its own denomination, though labeling it as the latter wouldn’t take too great a stretch of the imagination. We didn’t know much about Vineyard as either a movement or a church, though, and beyond knowing a few of the members we were pretty hazy on what this congregation was like. Though we are going to participate in some of the community events they have coming up, we had a few topics we wanted to discuss specifically with Tim, the pastor of the Springfield Vineyard Church.

Spiritual Gifts

This was the biggest topic of the night and the one on which we spent the most time. In general, I have never felt particularly free to practice or express giftings of the Spirit in church, but that freedom is something I am desperately seeking now. I wanted to know how the Vineyard approached spiritual gifts and what they did about/with them.

Tim’s response was a bit of a surprise because he began by telling us how the Vineyard first came to be. In short, the man who eventually founded the denomination was on mission in Africa and he noted how certain ministries’ mesages were received. Those who embraced the gifts of the Spirit, performing healings or prophesying in the name of God, were well-received by the natives and took root. The more conservative missionaries who performed no such acts were largely ignored. After all, if a man can go down to the witch doctor and be healed, why listen to someone who cannot heal you?

If God is ready and willing to act in such a manner (such as healing), why should we avoid it? Therefore, the Vineyard embraces spiritual giftings and seeks to employ them, but it attempts to do so in a method that leaves room for… disbelief and error, I suppose. They don’t want non-believers to feel particularly uncomfortable, so if a person is prophesying, that person will phrase it in a way that allows the recipient to say, “No, I don’t think that’s for me.” Likewise, humility is essential in the exercise of the gifts, because it is entirely possible for us to misunderstand God or God’s intent.

The conversation on this point was rather lengthy, so I’ll leave it at this: I appreciated his response, and while I don’t particularly agree with always phrasing things in non-committal terms (I think that when God reveals himself, or commands us to do/say something, that’s unequivocal and shouldn’t necessarily be couched in terms that could imply relativity), the openness and acceptance towards those giftings was encouraging. I was satisfied with Tim’s response.

Missions

The Vineyard is a church planting movement, which is to say that one of their primary focuses as a denomination is to start more churches. They believe this is the most effective way to spread the Gospel, and so the job of a Vineyard missionary is to enter an area, start a church, train indigenous leadership, and after a few years hand that church over to the new leadership.

The Springfield Vineyard church supports three missionaries and also supports a team on short-term missions. In addition, they regularly schedule community service projects in local neighbourhoods, including the one in which April and I live. Their priorities seem pretty solid here.

Finances

Tim admitted that their church is struggling, just like every other, and this is due to a combination of different factors. Their budget, originally made three years ago, assumed a congregation of 150 members (at the time, they had 115). However, they recently bought a church building and moved. At this time, a number of the families that had previously attended the Springfield Vineyard stopped attending (presumably due to the longer drive). The Vineyard is now around 90/150 members, has a building to pay for, and all this in the context of an economic downturn.

Despite that, Tim shared the algorithm for judging church financial health with us: a financially average/healthy church receives $20 per person per week. The Springfield Vineyard is around $30 per person per week.

So, while they have less money than they need to meet their budget, less members, and specifically less affluent members, the numbers are encouraging. I’m glad to know that people are giving. I also appreciate the way the church goes about collecting money (it’s pretty understated, but also very transparent–Tim lets everyone know what’s going on along the way, and the weekly email sent out includes a budgetary summary). Tim told us that the Vineyard has always had an emphasis on serving the poor, and their previous location in an upscale strip mall in the nicest part of town was incongruent. He feels they are truer to themselves now and better able to serve God’s vision for them, and that’s what is important. I am confident the finances will work themselves out, and appreciate the transparency on the matter.

Church Leadership

Over the last three years, I have become accustomed to the somewhat democratic organization of the Presbyterian denomination. There are committees and subcommittees and voting sessions and nothing takes less than six months to get done. This system has its strengths and weaknesses, as you might well imagine,

The Vineyard is almost completely opposite, and Tim wanted to be very up front about that. The denomination believes in local control, so there isn’t really a hierarchy or strict set of codes by which local congregations must abide. There are no dues that I know of. And there is no congregational voting or even appeal. The only restrictions placed on Tim, as he put it, are ones he places on himself. That being said, there is a body of elders that leads the church and makes the decisions. The number of elders is currently… two. And Tim’s one of them.

This doesn’t particularly bother me, as I’m personally fairly oligarchical. I don’t think running an organization by referendum really works, so I think the key is getting good people in leadership and letting them do their job. If you don’t approve of the job they’re doing, you kick them out or go elsewhere, problem solved. But you can’t have ninety people with their hands at the tiller. I do hope the number of elders increases soon, but apparently there are more people involved than just those two, so that’s something. There are also the spiritual leaders and the Board of Trustees.

Sermons

After the frustrations April and I have both encountered with the sermons at First & Calvary, I was curious what Tim’s sermon prep was like. He told us that he knows what he’s preaching every Sunday through the end of the year and that average weekly sermon prep is about twenty hours. After hearing him preach twice, I was already sold though: he can manage 30-45 minutes sermons without notes, pausing, losing his place (except once, briefly), or repetition (unless such repetition is called for). As someone who has to do a decent amount of public speaking, I found his oration skills particularly impressive. Tim said that he has been doing this since he was thirteen years old.

Final Thoughts

We met for about two hours and left feeling better about the Springfield Vineyard Church than when we sat down. I was already pretty positive, and I’m even more so now. I think April is more satisfied with the church as well now.

We are attending a communal dinner with six other people on Saturday night, and we’re going to volunteer to contribute food for the upcoming church painting. After we’ve spent some more time with the community of the church, we’ll know better which direction we’re going.

Until we make a final decision, we will continue tithing to First & Calvary, but I’m definitely leaning towards the Vineyard. We’ll see.