Wednesday, August 25, 2010

firestarter safety

I’m sitting in a hotel room in Dallas thinking about the weekend (Firestarters) and what I wish I could have said. Because of our quest for the elusive fifty-five minute celebration (trying to cram in three celebration start times between 9 and 11:45 on Sunday is a challenge), sometimes there simply isn’t time to unpack a particular point. I would have liked to talk a little more about the idea of safety in relationships. It wasn’t critical to the main thrust of the message, but it left some things unsaid.

I mentioned that many of us at VCC came from messy family systems with varieties of dysfunctions that make us nervous about any real depth of relationship. But in this New Family that God was forming, there should be a sense of safety. Otherwise, we can’t admit our failures or shame without fear of judgment or rejection. Without safety, there’s no real intimacy or depth of relationship.

Months ago I was both amused and sad when I got an email with “Bless me, Father…” in the subject line. It began with:

“I have a confession. I have been at the Vineyard for years. I still am not a Republican. Is there a Growth and Healing group for me? I'm being obstinate here, but I was there in the conservative church in the early to mid-60's. The MLK video triggered some flashbacks. I admit I don't understand the attraction of the right wing for evangelicals. I also know that even discussing political issues can painfully divide churches. I don't even admit my political views to my small group, who know more about my dirty secrets than anyone else. My casual friends know I voted for Obama, but my small group leader said they thought it possible that Obama is the Anti-Christ. They really said that, and they’re one of the most caring and sincere people I know.”

Obviously, some tongue-in-cheek, but between the lines is real pain. They went on to write:

“Sometimes hesitate to invite my liberal friends. I still crave acceptance from other people and I'm afraid to leave my particular ‘closet’.”

Regardless of your personal politics, that seems sad to me that they don’t feel safe in their group. As many of you know, the Vineyard works really hard to be apolitical; the staff is a mix of backgrounds, sensitivities and politics. What’s more, because of our high value for recovery ministries and the power of redemptive, restorative and reconciliatory relationships, we deeply understand the need for safety, transparency and vulnerability in order to be whole people. I find it fascinating, though, that because of our politicized and polarized culture, someone can feel free enough to expose their deepest secrets but scared of admitting a particular political slant even in passing…for fear of rejection and reprisal.

Jesus told His disciples that people would know they belonged to Him because of their love for each other. The kicker?—they were a diverse group of personalities with extremely different political views and socio-economic backgrounds. But God’s New Family would reflect His Kingdom…and the evident power of the Holy Spirit to tear down walls that separate us—whether they are walls of ethnicity, race, politics, education, gender or whatever. Or as the apostle Paul would say, In Christ’s family there can be no division into Jew and non-Jew, slave and free, male and female. Among us you are all equal. That is, we are all in a common relationship with Jesus Christ. (Galatians 3:28 Message Version).

And so when we invite outsiders to our gatherings, there is an obvious message that goes beyond words and slogans. Imagine a spiritual family that includes men and women, the wealthy and the under-resourced, Republicans and Democrats, blacks and whites, singles and married, young and old, all broken and bruised…all in the process of healing and reconciliation. What do you think that would communicate? I believe people are longing to belong to a real family.

There was a long history of racism and hostility between Jews and Gentiles in the Roman Empire. It had sociopolitical and religious roots…those are two strikes right away. In the second half of chapter two in Paul’s Ephesian letter, he doesn’t sweep any of this under the rug but fully exposes it. And at the same time, he doesn’t avoid the chosen status the Jews had in their covenant with God, and that those outside of that covenant were truly lost and apart from intimacy with God.

But Paul understands that a new covenant has been made, a covenant that makes the old one obsolete, as the author of Hebrews writes (Hebrews 8:13). God is doing something radical in the human race…and Paul outlines it further in Ephesians 2:

For Christ himself has made peace between us Jews and you Gentiles by making us all one people. He has broken down the wall of hostility that used to separate us. By his death he ended the whole system of Jewish law that excluded the Gentiles. His purpose was to make peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new person from the two groups. (Ephesians 2:14–15 New Living Translation)

Safety is critical if we really want to grow as Christ-followers. How are you on the safety scale with others? Are you a safe place, a city of refuge?


  1. I'm trying an experiment right now. I'm just going to be honest about my perspectives and what I think because it shows I too am just someone trying to follow as best I can.
    I admit it- I'm not a republican either. I actually have a hard time being on either side of the political isle because both seem to do what Jesus warned against: the desire to mandate the kingdom politically instead of starting with the heart. Maybe I should blog about that;)

  2. I totally agree with Zartman. In fact, I've been registered as an Independent for as long as I've been voting. I was never quite sure why I had to decide my party line before entering the voting booth. I'm not a robot. I'm not cattle that simply gets herded by one party or the other. I vote solely based on the individual, despite what party they belong to.

    It actually concerns me a little that person who emailed even felt as if them not being a Republican was a BAD thing at VCC. Where did that feeling come from?

    I'm am 100% convinced that Jesus did not have our system of government in mind when he spoke of helping the poor and giving away what we have. I happen to be one of those people that is okay with the money I work for going to someone else in need. Dare I say, even if they are not truly in need, but abusing the system. It is not MY job to judge them. And the things that I have here on Earth are not mine anyway. I would have NOTHING if it weren't for my God providing it. So to give it away isn't noble, it's expected. But our system of Capitalism (as it functions now) does not promote these things. The rich get richer, the poor get poorer. It's crazy and cannot be pleasing to God.

    Read Crazy Love by Francis Chan. He says it much better than I ever could.

  3. safe place is at home not at that big church. sorry had to say it, but i think that big campus is not a good thing. I oftened vvondered vvhy they did not send out more groups to start more small churches? Not really interested in going again, so sad. Not sure vvhat to do really. I remember sitting there in the midst of all them people and not knovving any of them. Ya i knovv find a small group, did it done it.

  4. I get a little tired of the oversimplification, "Just get in a small group and everything will be wonderful!". I've been coming to the Vineyard for 20 years, and in those 20 years I've been fortunate enough to be in several great groups, however most of the groups didn't mesh or didn't click and didn't work out. It's hard to find a group that fits and then you get married and have to try to find a group that fits both of you, even more of a challenge. A good group with safe people is worth its weight in gold. If your in one you're very blessed. Maybe one day I'll find one again...

  5. Ask yourself if you were to put all the employees in a room with you, especially companies like P&G and GE would you feel the same as you do in a big church service with a bunch of strangers?

    In order to feel like you belong, you have to belong! Why is it we will work with strangers but not worship and hear God's word with strangers. Is it because we are being paid at one and not the other. If it was as hard to walk out on our church as it is our job, would we force ourself to seek out a band of brothers or sisters.

    We go to work daily and park in huge parking lots sharing elevators, atriums, lunchrooms and bathrooms with complete strangers. Strangely enough we even belong to the same team and are supposedly working together for a common company goal.

    Our identity and ability to function in these environments is found in small groups. We are the human resources team, or the facilities team. Maybe our identity is found in the corporate office team or the field team. Maybe it is a group of cubicles that occupy the same corner of a 10 story building near the window. Or maybe it's simply the lunch table we all gravitate to near the smoking section. Maybe it's the fact that I'm Joan.....from the 5th floor. Or Jason from the mail room.

    Why is it ok everywhere else in life to run in circles of complete strangers, but when we sit in church we feel like we have to know everyone. Or is it that we are sitting in church for ourselves and we feel we are owed something. We need to be fed something, or is it just my time and not the company's dime.

    I'm not arguing for or against large churches, just asking that you apply the same standards to your church, as you did on your first day in college orientation, or your first day at bootcamp, or orientation at your big company.

    The human factor is, it is not good for us to be alone. And in churches, the ability to feel comfortable is to ensure you have a tribe that you roll with. Familiar faces each week. Small groups allow you to make those connections.

    I believe if we divide we are conquered! Does that mean we have to have one big giant church.....uh yea! That was the plan.....Jesus was making disciples of men and women, they were the giant church. If churches all over the world could come back to the church of acts, we would be an immovable army. It would not matter if you were republican or democrat, male or female, black, asian, white or multi-linqual! We would simply be an extension of the Gospel. Our neighborhoods, schools, governments would be transformed and our voting block would be able to elect anyone to any office in the world. If Jesus's most famous message is the sermon on the mount, then we should all model our messages and our vision for a church around that. We would have to leave the doors open and put up PA systems in the parking lots so everyone could hear. People would be drawn to the transparency, honesty, and simplicity of the word.

    So treat your church like your job for a change, and make it hard to leave. You might be surprised.

  6. Being safe takes work/sacrifice. Listening takes work/sacrifice. Seems like many of us think that an insight from the Lord + an opinion = an answer to another's problem. (This naturally opinionated writer has to fight this tendency like a bad toothache) The human soul is way too complex for that. This is not to say we're not to speak the truth in love, but boy does that take wisdom, and a measure of maturity.

    This is what got Job's friends into trouble. Help us learn to listen, Jesus. We need this more than anything.

  7. People make a lot of interesting points, but here is the burning question for me:

    Anonymous #1, is your "w" key broken on your keyboard? If not, why do you keep using the double v as your w?

    If so, I would like to buy you a new keyboard. Unless it is attached to a laptop. In that case, you might have to stick with the double v for a while.

  8. Politics in our society is best described as which candidate can lie the best and convince the masses they are telling the truth to get votes.

    Church politics is what keeps many away from church seeking the grace of God. A new seeker comes to church only to be disallusioned by what they find ( click groups, snobery,not feeling welcomed, and totally ignored or judged by their looks or social status).

    This mega church spend a great deal of money to get people into their church and have a great deal of programs to choose from but they seem to fail in getting new attendees involved with in the church or feeling welcomed. Hard to break into the click groups if one is an outsider.

    Perhaps that is why this former member chooses to meet people seeking God outside the church and sharing fellowship in a small group not affiliated with this established church.

  9. I've been attending the Vineyard for over 20 years and I think it has grown beautifully. Small groups, growth & healing, volunteer opportunities, outreach, etc. are all a means to get involved and meet people and form relationships. Newcomers have many opportunities as well, beginning with the connect card. They can just turn it in; they can visit Connections after the celebration; they can attend Square One, Roadmap or Alpha. For as large as our church is, I think they do an excellent job of welcoming people and providing opportunities to get involved. The leaders can't drag or force a newcomer to make contact and get involved. All they can do is provide the opportunities and encouragement to get involved. I grew up in a small church and there were cliques and snobs, and there were no volunteer opportunities. And, there was certainly no outreach to the community. I'd take our megachurch any day!

  10. since when is being a church member like a job? get real

    If a church member is like a job i would never go to church.

    what kills me is the way people think they have to run churches like corporations.

  11. Dave I love the Vineyard. I'm glad we're apolitical and a large church. I love the outreach component. I belong to the Vineyard and not just a little bit. It’s an amazing place. I’ve been a part of a small group since The Call and every now and a then I’ll pick up another small group for a very short period of time. I volunteer on a regular basis and I can’t imagine life without it. Not that we can’t be better but surely my experience isn’t unique.

    I don’t know you, really, but I pray that the lord will hold you so close that every time someone looks at you all they see Him. Thanks for your leadership.

  12. The shoe is sometimes on the other foot. Our family was part of the Vineyard from '95 until '06, when we moved to Indianapolis. VCC is a hard act to follow anyway, but one church up here we were in for a couple of years was hostile to conservatives--at one small group we tried, the hostess greeted us at the door in an "ObamaMama" t-shirt!
    On another facet, as a Cincy native I think the problem is not so much a Vineyard political atmosphere as a Cincinnati thing. Liberals have dominated the City of Cincinnati itself for years, but the overall metro area is largely conservative.

  13. It confuses me to talk about politics and religion as if they are somehow connected. I would ask how you identify yourself - are you first a Republican/Democrat or a Christian?

    Another thing that has confused me is something you said a few weeks ago, Dave. I think you said that we are not all children of God. But the next week I think you talked about Jesus saying we are all in God's family - Jew and non-Jew. What am I misunderstaning?

  14. I began attending the Vineyard about a year ago. I was invited into a small group that had been together for years. I am a Christian first so political affiliation was not a concern, as a matter of fact, I like to listen and learn. At some point during every Bible Study, someone in the group would bring up political issues. I heard much during my six months with this loyal Vineyard Small Group who listened more to FOXX News than Dave Workman. After almost six months of listening, I brought up a few "personal" things I had heard about George Bush and was immediately attacked by a loyal member of your Prayer Team at the Vineyard who was a part of this group. She must have truly thought she was fighting the devil. Never before had I brought my thoughts into any of the opinionated conversations I was priviledged to hear. Never again will I get the opportunity. I cried myself to sleep that night and several nights after that as well. I was never invited back again and I left the Vineyard. This was my first small group ever. I don't mind sharing my life with people who can help me become a better Christian, but I do mind sharing with members of the Vineyard who will quickly cast me aside when they hear I MAY NOT have the same political oponion as they do. Again - my experience at the Vineyard was more about FOXX News and Glenn Beck than the Bible or Jesus.

  15. sad how people want to attack you for having an opinion. Shows how much people never learned how to listen. strange that a prayer team member just dogged you about your political affiliation.

    But I used to be a prayer team leader, the biggest problem I had is team members giving their opinion and not listening. So I guess it is par for the course that its not safe. Why the leader did not stop that type of behavior really does not surprise me. I dont know how many times I had to tell people to stop the cross talk and keep opinions to themselves.

    Confrontation is a big concern for everyone and to get it in a small group just kills everyones soul, but could of been turned around, how IDK, must be lack of training or just had their side. Run away is probably a good thing, I do it too and dont blame you.