No One Gets To Always Be On Home Base
Co-Pastor, Mercy Vineyard, MN
I have been pondering the implications of the 2015 Vineyard Leadership Conference in Columbus, Ohio, where Vineyard representatives from 60 countries came together to pray, hear the word of God, minister in the Spirit, and sing in many languages.
A Global Faith
If you’ve paid attention to Christian thought in the last decade or so, it has become a truism to note that the focus of world Christianity is moving away from Europe and North America to become a truly global religion.
The great centers of growth are in the global south—from China to India, from Brazil to Kenya. in this sense, the experience of the Vineyard is not especially unique—it (encouragingly!) seems to express what God is doing all over the place.
As we move to the next generation of Vineyard leadership, it is important to be thoughtful about how to steward the new things that the Father is doing. We can see many great examples of this already among us.
Our National Director has deep roots in world mission and great relationships all over the world. The worship community has been at work for years learning how to cross cultures in music and song.
The Vineyard International Executive, led by John and Eleanor Mumford, is bringing together AVC’s in peer relationships for connection and assistance. Vineyard Institute has brought an intentionally global focus to theological education.
A Bilingual Model For The Vineyard
One of the great challenges Phil Strout ever offered was that those who work internationally try to learn new languages. He learned Spanish while ministering in Chile, and can still write, preach, and lead bilingually.
This strikes me as a model and challenge for the future of Vineyard leadership.
It is a challenge not simply to extend Vineyard ministry in our language, in our culture, but to learn the culture of the other, to put ourselves in someone else’s world, in their language, so that we understand what the Spirit is doing in their lives.
No One Always Gets To Be On Home Base
The Evanston Vineyard, pastored by Steve Nicholson, is one of the most multicultural churches in America. They have no majority cultural group and over 40 different nations represented in their congregation. They have worship in multiple languages across their campus each week.
Steve has a favorite saying when folks ask how to launch out into diverse ministry—he says “No one always gets to be on home base.” That is, everyone will be uncomfortable sometimes. No one always gets to have things their way.
I have many friends (including my wife!) who are among the pioneering diverse leaders in the Vineyard in the United States. All of them tell stories of how they felt welcome in the Vineyard, how they were loved, mentored, cared for, and valued for who they are.
At the same time, they all have stories of times they felt on the outside, times they felt ignored, or pushed aside. In most cases, they will say that this was not necessarily intentional, but simply the result of other people not understanding the consequences of their actions. All the same, the result was pain and a sense of isolation.
Follow The Leaders
As we move into the next phase of becoming a truly global family, both in the US and around the world, it seems that we need to follow the lead of folks like Phil, Steve, and the multiple pioneering diverse leaders in learning to not always be on home base, in learning to learn the language and the world of another.
This takes discipline—long slow learning, relationship building, practice, and making mistakes. Perhaps the greatest encouragement is that this sounds a lot like the early days of the Vineyard—and of the early days of the church.
In this vein, perhaps we can learn something from the early church about what it means to not always live on home base. One of the great realities of the early church was coming to grips with realities of trying to be a global church. This involved hard, cross-cultural, theological work.
Being Part Of The Global Church
All kinds of complex questions came up, and came up quickly. How to deal with the Old Testament food laws? What about sabbath? Did these new Gentile believers have to get circumcised? What about sexual issues and idol worship? What about emperor worship and pagan deities?
The New Testament is rich with this kind of questioning- and the answers are never simple. Sometimes the answer is a firm “no”, sometimes it is a gentle “yes.” Sometimes the answer is in between, a complex “it depends.”
Cultures Have Their Unique Sets Of Questions
This brings me to a book recommendation—a recent compilation of essays on global theology done by InterVarsity Press. After a few opening chapters, the work proceeds with short essays from evangelical Christian thinkers from many global contexts.
There are a set of essays from non-western contexts, including China, India, Latin America, and the MIddle East. The second set of essays deals with globalized North American theologies. These include essays on African-American theology, Asian-American theology, Latino-American theology, and Indigenous theology.
Some may be tempted to ask—why do we need all these different theologies? Isn’t there just one Bible? Isn’t there just one Jesus? And of course, there’s truth in this. The very fact that all these different cultural groups can unite around a common faith is evidence of a unity in Christian theology—a glorious unity that is to be celebrated and savored.
At the same time, every culture has its own unique set of questions, and its own unique deposit from God. There are aspects of God’s revelation that we might never see until we learned to see through Kenyan eyes, or speak with Chinese words.
An Exciting Time For The Vineyard
Thus, a volume like this offers us riches—the ability to discover things about our God we never knew before. At the same time, it offers challenges—ways of understanding that may be new, or ideas that make us think differently. But that is just fine, because it means that none of us always gets to be on home base.
We are entering into an exciting time in the Vineyard. The riches of the Spirit are being celebrated in ways we never could have imagined before. There will be parts of this new time we relish, and parts that challenge us in new ways.
Everyone still gets to play, but no one gets to always be on home base.
Global Theology In Evangelical Perspective
by Jeffrey P. Greenman and Gene L. Green