Monday, March 01, 2010

the vineyard

I’m sitting in a hotel room in San Antonio thinking about my tribe. I’m here because of a national Vineyard leadership gathering. I would guess that most people who attend Vineyard Community Church in Cincinnati aren’t all that aware we’re part of a larger community of churches called Vineyard USA, a movement of about six-hundred churches. I think I find an element of safety and accountability in being a part of something more than just an association of churches. Don’t get me wrong: I totally love the idea of associations of like-minded churches who are similar in mission and vision.

But something’s missing in that.

I’m trying to think through the role of authority in ecclesiology beyond the local church. It wasn’t always easy for me to even acquiesce to local church authority structures. Being an aging baby boomer who wore black arm bands in high school to express solidarity against the Vietnam war (I ended up with a high number in the draft lottery) and who argued with the school board to repeal its ‘no hair touching the collar” dress code (we won), I struggled with authority and the often myopic (in my young eyes) stances of leaders.

Then I became a believer. And I really began a transformation in my thinking.

Once you surrender your will to God, there is no question of who has the authority: He’s got it all. But that also plays out in the Church, Christ’s body. An ecclesiological governance was so developed in the early church that the writer of Hebrews insists:

Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you. (Hebrews 13:17 TNIV)

Even more so, Paul asserts his own authority throughout his letters to different pastors. His instructions to Timothy and Titus have more than a simple mentoring feel to them. He instructs Titus to appoint pastors for local churches in Crete, implying levels of a leadership hierarchy across the whole Church. But in our American Protestant cultures, we are fiercely independent and autonomous.

In the end, I find myself wanting to be in systems of leadership…and I find it difficult to believe we can have accountability in leadership without real authority structures. I may not totally agree with everything my tribe does, but it seems healthy to learn to live out submission in “real life” beyond the spiritualized idea of “just me and Jesus”. And it seems disingenuous that we senior pastors want that in our local church but have little desire for it in our relationships with larger church systems and relationships.

I think the Roman Catholics got it right on this one.


  1. I think that relationship to a larger "authority" can be very helpful. Certainly Paul was an authority figure to many local expressions as were the other apostles.

    I think where the denominational churches have missed "it," is understanding church government as having some sort of Western or American corporate structure that is taught at Harvard Business School.

    Paul was very clear about the hierarchy. It is outlined in Ephesians 4. There is Jesus, the foundational ministries of apostles and prophets (a "starter group") the local expression with teachers, pastors and evangelists. The 5-fold group being elders - co-equals. They were to oversee and equip the local churches.

    Way too often, we see only pastors - some of whom are good teachers and others that are not. Add to that an anemic prophetic ministry, evangelists trying to convert the converted, and a very bad paradigm for apostolic ministry, and we can get in a real mess. Thus causing the church to look like a corporation filled with managers and subordinates.

    Statistics and attendance records bear witness to declining church attendance. As the we press on to the End Times, the church is going to need every tool in its spiritual arsenal - and just being part of something small (small groups) or being part of something much bigger is going to require more sacrifice, commitment and love, as believers spheres of influence grow.

  2. I never thought of it before reading your post, but as a former Roman Catholic (twenty-two years), I can substantiate. Since the local "Pastors" (Priests) answer not to local boards, but off-site hierarchy, they may be more relaxed and free to genuinely minister to their attendees without the fear of on-site political ramifications, and at the same time know they are accountable to others above them. Being a Christ-follower since (twenty-five years), I have experienced and witnessed a greater likelihood of non-Catholic autonomous leadership and/or pastors to either abuse their authority without accountability or, contrarily, walk on egg shells and thereby not fulfill their role as pastors as effectively. Rich

  3. that thing did not really work in the Catholic church.

    they got it wrong I have to disagree.

    Did we not have a child abuse scandal come out of this church recently?

    Which I think is due to authoritarian priests not being watched by people who were local to that church. This is completely turned upside down from Reis pointed out about offsite authority.

    Down thru the ages the Catholic church has abused this authority from gathering wealth to lording their absolute authority over people.

    Hate to say Catholic church does not show the example of being a servant to its assembly.

    Is not the authority of the church turned upside down by Christ and that servant attitude?

    I cant talk I am really sick of church, disappointed in a lot I have seen. So what is the point about authority figures? Most get a big head and never follow the Christ servant authority attitude.


  4. as someone in the Vineyard, i am really encouraged by your thoughts and that at a greater level this is being discussed...and i think the grassroots-nature of the Vineyard movement isn't opposed to it, perhaps that makes it much more challenging and forces us beyond easy and fast answers (which is totally a good thing), but i do think this is a positive direction.

    i also think that unraveling some things that have been bound-together previously might help our perspective: like thinking about authority unbound from control, and certainly the relationship and interplay of authority, accountability and gifting...that's a big one.

  5. Hi Dave,

    I'm a Vineyard pastor in the Uk and encouraged by your post.

    I think you hit the nail on the head with highlighting the need for identity that is more than just 'me & jesus'.

    The church is the body of Christ, and our identity is supposed to be in that with Jesus and others. Yet so often it's all about me making my life, with Jesus, and church is there to resource that life, instead of being a way of life with others.

    Warmly, Jason

  6. @Steve - I agree. It seems time to take a much closer look at things like authority and control and get God's perspective.

    I see the church as an organism; breathing in and out to the things of God.

    I am a Vineyard guy too. But after lots of years, I am seeing that there are some areas where we can grow as we better understand what the body is to be like.

    I think John Wimber was a pioneer, and thank God! I would also agree that he did more than scratch the surface, but I think there is more.
    He was just beginning to see the essence of what some call the 5-fold ministry.

  7. Interesting concepts here. What I don't see in churches today is the close personal relationships being built upon with in a church as in former years in smaller churches.

    Certainly hard to be noticed or acknowledged with in the church even when you volunteer to serve with in the church.