Tuesday, March 03, 2009


I’m writing this from a hotel room in Oklahoma City before speaking at a conference called “The Small Church Conference”. Craig Groeschel from LifeChurch.tv and Toby Slough of Cross Timbers Community Church north of Dallas are speaking as well…all from megachurches.

There’s a little obvious irony here, eh? Israel Hogue, pastor of The Edge Church, is sponsoring the conference. As Israel puts it on the conference website, “Craig, Toby and Dave have all come from small beginnings. They know what it means to be a local church with not a lot of people, money, or resources. They didn't start "mega," they started "micro" and grew from there.”

It got me thinking about those early days with Steve Sjogren. There were a lot—and I mean a lot—of sacrifices made by him and his wife Janie to see a different kind of church launched in Cincy. When Anita and I came on board in 1984, we were meeting in Bruce and Sandy Ullrey’s living room with twenty or so people on the north side of Cincinnati. Like many starts, everyone was in their late-twenties or early-thirties, mostly bored with church as we knew it, and wondered why there couldn’t be a church that we actually liked going to. And couldn’t it be simple and just have authentic no-big-show worship and have a heart for the poor? Maybe a message that didn’t sound canned? And a service that didn’t make you feel worse than when you came in? Spirit-led…but not weird? Authenticity. Simplicity. Relevance.

I led worship for four years every weekend as a volunteer. I wrestled with coming on staff in 1990; I wasn’t sure I wanted to be paid to do something I liked doing…as if that might mess things up. We had probably grown to about 700-800 adults by then. After coming on staff (I use that term loosely), time marched on and things heated up. There were a number of years where I was gone at least four nights a week when our girls were little, eventually doing eight celebrations a week, leading worship at each of them, teaching every midweek, often on weekends, and pulling off seminars and conferences. Those were heady years. Everyone wore lots of hats; many of us easily put in 60-70 hours a week. I can remember pulling many an all-nighter for a video, print or music project. We were on a mission.

Looking back, it obviously wasn’t healthy. We were a bit crazy and addicted to our own adrenaline.

Now 25 years later, there are still formidable hurdles, mega-problems, new issues, and big challenges to conquer. I don’t think it ever gets simple…because life in a fallen world is not simple. And besides the corporate decisions, personal choices are still the most difficult (we’re in good company: Jesus sweat drops of blood wrestling with his decision in Gethsemane).

One more thing, though.

Sometimes I think when people want to return to being a “New Testament Church”, there’s an idyllic myopia. When people ask me why we can’t be more like the New Testament church, I answer “Which one? The church in Corinth was sexing it up every which way and getting drunk at the church potlucks. The Colossian church was worshiping angels and beating their bodies to prove they were holy. The Galatian gang was legalistic and racist. The Thessalonians were sitting on their hands waiting for Jesus to take them away, hoping for a Left Behind scenario. And check out the things Jesus said to the churches in Asia Minor in the Revelation. It isn’t pretty.”

Just a reality check.

I’m not sure how this works, but either Jesus views us as we shall be, or else He sees us through a lens of love that “covers a multitude of sins”. Somehow this is His plan: “to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.” (Ephesians 5:27 TNIV).

Big, small, messy, tidy, broken, bruised, lethargic or vital…we are the Church.


  1. I am just going to say this...

    If you asked me which New Testament church I wanted to be and then presented me with those scenarios... I would quickly choose Corinth. They sound like a more fun bunch!


  2. Man.
    Great read. Thanks for both the insight into the old days, and the present.
    I hear that "we should be just like the church in the 1st century" line a lot.

    Great Post!

  3. Wow Dave,

    It is so humbling to see how we have grown, yet kept our mission and our heart for Cincinnati intact. What a privilege to look back and see how God has moved.

    What a priceless photo... our Vineyard Communications department doesn't know how incredibly easy life is with our Adobe programs, high-end printers and thousands of fonts!

    The Best is Yet to Come!

  4. Nice touch, the Diet Coke and the bottle of Liquid Paper were your best friends in those days.

  5. So is Vineyard an emergent church? Are we here to tickle ears or proclaim the Word of God. Is the Holy Spirit powerful enough to reach the lost? Does what we think matter or what He thinks matter? More of Jesus and less of Me. We can be so concerned about doing "cutting edge" that we forget that. I'm tired of being entertained just give me Jesus and His word not someone else's interpertation or ideas and allow the Spirit of God and His Word to do their jobs. 2 Timothy,
    I Thess. 12-28, Deut. 6:5, just read it and do it. Simple. Man makes it complicated so that he can feel his own importance in Gods plan. Its like being busy so people will think that you are needed and important. How does that work with "Be still and know that I am God".

  6. Hi Purlygirly,

    I’m not sure what triggered your question: “Is the Vineyard an emergent church?”, but I think the emergent church (which really doesn’t have a monolithic voice) has been unfairly characterized by some evangelicals and stereotyped inaccurately with a one-point paradigm: “truth is relative”. While I found sections of D. A. Carson’s book "Becoming Conversant with the Emergent Church" enlightening, other parts were straw-man arguments in my opinion.

    But to answer your other questions, “Are we here to tickle ears…?” No. “Is the HS powerful enough…?” Yes. And yes, I agree it’s simple. But not easy. And I think that’s what we try to communicate.

    Thanks for commenting!

  7. Thanks Dave for your reply. The reason I asked the question was that I had a young lady ask me if Vineyard was an emergent church. I could not give her an answer. Her concern is that when trying to be culturally relevant, God's word can be compromised.

    As far as communicating how it is not easy to Love one another or live out your life here on earth, I think people may already know that. It could be why they seek Jesus in the first place. Maybe that is why Jesus' message was not about the here and now but about our future with Him in Heaven and a Hope for eternity. Just a thought....

  8. PS. I think that your comment about how Jesus see us as we "shall be" or as "though a lens of Love",is not an either or idea. Our sins are covered by His blood (Love covers a mulitude of sins)and He sees us for who we will become as He transforms us.

  9. Dave, I don't know if you remember me but your church, its healing, its grace, God's presence there pretty much saved my life and set my life on course so I could be successful, happy, have an impact, and live free of guilt and so many toxic feelings. Thank you. I enjoy reading what is happening there all these years later. When I started there, we were about 120 people...I'll never forget you and your kindness.

    -Daphne now living on the Olympic Peninsula in WA