Let me start off by saying that ministry is messy. Nobody except Jesus has ever done it perfectly. So when I share my views on Anaheim Vineyard’s decision to leave Vineyard USA understand that I am not pointing fingers at imperfect people. I am only relating my views as I see them in the context of my own experience.
Also, in the effort to be transparent in my views on this, the reader should know that I am a former Vineyard pastor. I spent 10 years loving and serving Vineyard people. I left quietly and without animosity. After I resigned from my pastorate at Mid Penninsula Vineyard Christian Church in San Carlos, I moved to Mesquite Nevada, and planted a church that we did not affiliate with Vineyard USA. Thus my reasons for leaving obviously shade my perspective on this whole situation.
I became aware of the Vineyard Movement in 1982 when I attended the North Hollywood Vineyard. The next year John Wimber came to L.I.F.E. Bible College and spoke to the students at the chapel service. There was an amazing move of God’s Spirit during that service that was rarely seen at the school anymore. (It was the school that Aimee Semple McPherson founded.)
In 1985 I attended the Signs and Wonders Conference at the Anaheim Vineyard. This was a fundamentally transformative experience in my life that set me in a direction that I have been on since. Although I did not serve in the Vineyard in the early years of my life, (I served as a Foursquare pastor.) I thoroughly embraced the early Vineyard values and practice.
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Over the years I pastored 3 Foursquare churches, 2 Vineyard churches and now have planted a church that is affiliated with Global Awakening. (Many of us call it Classic Vineyard.) So I definitely have a perspective that is experienced with the Vineyard movement.
The Elephant In The Living Room At Vineyard USA
When I first came into the Vineyard Movement, my area pastor was Terry Helseth. Terry was a long-time Vineyard Pastor who shepherded the pastors in Montana and Wyoming. He made a comment to me that has stuck with me to this day. He was speaking of the outgoing Vineyard USA National Director Berton Waggoner. He said that “Bert both saved and almost destroyed the Vineyard.”
I didn’t understand his meaning until much later. Bert kept the movement from dissolving which is where Todd Hunter was heading. Bert gave the Vineyard purpose and direction after the death of John Wimber. However, Berton was not a theological conservative. He came from a hardline pentecostal background in the Pentecostal Church of God.
The Pentecostal Church of God was primarily filled with uneducated people. Berton revealed by his reminiscing of those times in the PCofG and by his actions that he had made a vow never to be like them. Not totally a bad thing. I also have some roots in the PCofG. My uncle who mentored me for ministry was also part of the PCofG and although I learned some good things, I also learned a lot of what not to do. Unfortunately, it seems like Berton threw the baby out with the bathwater.
Berton promoted getting education through a theologically liberal seminary. He promoted people who were of the same mindset and asked numerous pastors who were theologically opposed and part of what I will call the “Holy Spirit Camp” to leave.
I remember Robby Dawkins telling me that Berton had requested him to come and see him and that Robby’s pastor/mentor advised him not to because Berton was getting ready to throw him out. That was near the end of Berton’s term as National Director.
When Phil Strout became National Director, those in the Holy Spirit Camp had high hopes that once again the Vineyard would embrace its roots. I remember the first National Conference under Phil. It was definitely Spirit-centric. We felt the boat was righting itself. Unfortunately, this did not end up being the case.
I believed, although I am not sure today that I was correct, that Phil was trying to bring the Vineyard back to a Spirit-centric orientation. Today I have to acknowledge the possibility that Phil was just trying to appease the Holy Spirit camp and give it more time before continuing on in the trajectory of turning the Vineyard into a theologically and politically liberal charismatic church. As oxymoronic as that sounds.
The reason I believe this is that it was announced that Happy and Dianne Leman was heading up a spiritual renewal committee and was going to be giving input into how the Vineyard can renew the fires that first started the movement. Nothing more was ever heard about this committee or its recommendations. Shortly afterward Happy and Dianne was removed from the Vineyard National Board along with several other seasoned Vineyard veterans and replaced with those from the younger generation that was more closely aligned with Berton’s values.
Phil also brought social justice causes to the forefront. But only those from a left-wing perspective. Immigration, CRT, and allowing those of us of Caucasian descent to be stereotyped as racists. This was done at the last conference I attended 4 or 5 years ago. The woman who had this viewpoint was again from Berton’s church and on his board.
In 2016 Phil signed on to a letter from many liberal denominations decrying the policies of then, President-elect Donald Trump. He signed on behalf of all the Vineyard Churches as the National Director of Vineyard USA. It was in my opinion, a virtue signal based on politics and not scripture. The Vineyard had never taken up the cause of immigration prior to that.
Finally, Phil led the way to another restructuring of Vineyard USA. In that restructuring, many people with concerning views and political leanings were put into leadership. Now the Vineyard is embroiled in conversations about race, CRT, deconstructionism, and other subjects that are in my opinion, not compatible with the original call and mandate given to the Vineyard when John Wimber was leading.
This brings us to the present day. The Vineyard has come from being a movement that teaches people how to hear the voice of God and follow that leading to one that “needs to have a conversation about how God speaks” according to the newly appointed National Director of Vineyard Jay Pathak in a video he recently released.
The elephant in the room that nobody has wanted to talk about for years is that as the Vineyard movement has walked away from its original core values and mandate and embraced cultural relativism, and that those in the Holy Spirit camp have been walking away for years.
Vineyard Aneheim’s Choice To Disassociate from Vineyard USA
Alan and Kathryn Scott are long-time Vineyard leaders. Alan has been part of the Vineyard all his adult life and Kathryn has led the Vineyard with great worship like “Breathe” and “Hungry” which were both featured on Vineyard Music CDs.
They have been the lead pastors of Vineyard Anaheim for 4 years. Since that time they have grown the church from 300 to 1,000 people. They have done this by returning to Vineyard Anaheim’s original values. Bringing the Kingdom of God to its community, signs and wonders, power evangelism, and waiting until the Holy Spirit would actually come in a tangible way, worship that was simple, reproducible, and heartfelt.
You can see this by their choice of staff. Jeremy Riddle as worship pastor with Matt Redmond assisting. Mark Marx is the outreach pastor and gifted in teaching power evangelism. He formerly started HOTS which means “Healing On The Streets.” They have also thrown away the 20-minute worship service and the fear of the Holy Spirit getting messy in their services. They have returned to teaching all that John Wimber taught in the beginning.
It does not look like they have left “Vineyard values or practice” instead it looks like they have returned to Vineyard values and practice.
The Scotts did not come in and take over. In the structure of Vineyard ecclesiology, the Scotts had the right to come and ask for the resignation of the entire board. They did not do that. They waited until the board finished out their terms, and then placed new people in those positions.
As a pastor, I can attest that this is normal in any pastoral transition. It is not nefarious in any way. In fact, John Wimber talked about the need for the pastor to be autonomous and not board ruled and that a church should not be board controlled.
The Scotts have remained honoring and affirming of the Vineyard movement, Vineyard USA, and the people in the Vineyard. They have followed the mantra of John Wimber when he said “my brother is never my enemy.”
The Vineyard is a voluntary association. The motive for an association is for accountability, a common mission, and greater influence in the world. Unfortunately, the area of common mission and possibly greater influence were removed when Vineyard USA transformed into something else than what it started out to be. At least that was the case in my life. So it no longer was a fit. I believe the same thing happened to Vineyard Anaheim.
Conclusion – Supporting Vineyard Anaheim
I pray that everyone that reads this will read it with open ears and a humble heart. In no way do I have any desire to wound or cast aspersions. As I mentioned earlier, I am no longer part of the Vineyard. I explained the reasons I left. I have never met Alan or Kathryn or any of the leadership at VA and I have not talked to any of the VUSA leadership for approximately 3 years. My last contact was with Bubba Justice when he invited me to the conference before last where Carol Wimber gave the leadership a prophetic word concerning “needing everyone.”
In the end, if Vineyard USA feels God is leading them in the direction they have been going, then they should be secure in that. They should also not desire churches that do not agree with that direction to stay with them. They should bless them and love them as they pursue what God has called them to do.
However, Vineyard USA should deal with the 1,000 lb elephant in their living room. They need to decide where they are going and stay there and quit trying to please both camps in their midst. That is a recipe for failure and the Holy Spirit camp will continue to leave one by one. In fact, when I was asked to pastor the Vineyard Christian Fellowship of Pine Haven Wyoming, Vineyard USA had over 750 churches in the United States. Today according to their home page, they only have 500+ churches. That is a lot of one by one.
4 Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. 5 Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first worksRevelation 2:4-5b
Praying for all involved.
Pastor Duke Taber
It has been 4 days since I published this. It has given me more time to reflect on all of this.
The first thing I considered is the question of why. Why would the Scotts want to leave Vineyard USA after decades of service to the Vineyard? And why would Vineyard USA cry foul about this disassociation vs. the hundreds of disassociations in the past? Including those with major property holdings?
So I attempted to put myself in both parties’ shoes.
When the Scotts came, they told the pastoral search committee that they loved the Vineyard and had no intentions of leaving. I believe that they felt that to be true. Although I have never interacted with Vineyard UK, I can imagine that it could be very different than Vineyard USA. I can also see the Scotts being naive that the two would be very similar. I think I would make the same mistake if I was in the same position. So I do not believe they were disingenuous, they just found themselves part of an association that they did not agree with. So they did not want to continue.
I then asked myself that if I found myself in a similar situation, what would I do? Personally, I made different choices when faced with the same dilemma. However, I can also understand not making the same choice as I did. If I had made a different choice, my next step would be to enter into discussions with the board on if we wanted to continue to affiliate with a group we did not agree with and could not follow. If we came to a consensus, then the next step would be to figure out how to lead the congregation through the process of transition.
I cannot say that this is where they were at. I don’t have any insider information. I did hear that they had chosen to try to make the disassociation quick and clean. There was no way to disassociate and not cause pain. So to make the pain as short-lived as possible, get it over with all at once. As much as that might sound good, I am not sure that method was realistic.
What I do know is that in the midst of the process of leading the church down the path of disassociation, it got messy. Shortly after Alan and Kathryn graciously allowed Global Awakening to rent their building for a Kingdom Foundations conference, Vineyard USA asked them to meet. According to Vineyard USA, they were going to ask Alan and Kathryn to be in some type of leadership role with the association. This put Alan and Kathryn in a very unenviable position. How do you say no to an offer of leadership in an association without explaining why? In all honesty, you can’t. So they shared that they were planning on leaving.
From what I understand, the conversation deteriorated from there.
I know from my own experience and what I have seen happen in the past when people have left the Vineyard or have been disfellowshipped from the Vineyard, I would not have trusted that they would stay silent. Just look at how this whole situation has been handled and how private communications have been leaked publicly.
I would have had only 1 choice. To send out a communication immediately stating what was going on and that the board had decided to disassociate. It would be messy but I would have felt I had no other choice.
And I would instruct my leaders and staff to stay quiet concerning the situation. Not to return vile accusation with accusation. I would instruct them in every way possible, to take the high road.
Then I asked myself why is Vineyard USA reacting to this disassociation differently than many others in the past? Although they badmouthed many of the leaders who left after the Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship was disfellowshipped, there was not a cry about property values, nefarious schemes, or such. Neither did it happen when the Blue Ocean churches left. Why is Anaheim different?
I believe there are 3 things at work here. The first is that Vineyard USA has emotional ties to Anaheim and rightly so since it was the mother of the Vineyard movement. It feels like abandonment and in a certain sense, it is. Many parents have faced this decision in life. They have to make a choice to stop supporting their kids in directions that are not healthy or not right. They love their kids, but they cannot support where their kids are going.
For Vineyard Anaheim to do this is a major slap in the face to Vineyard USA. I can see why they would take exception to their leaving. Vineyard Anaheim leaving Vineyard USA is different than any other church that has left.
Secondly, Vineyard Anaheim leaving takes away Vineyard USA’s monument to John Wimber and his ministry. To many in Vineyard USA, Vineyard Anaheim is Mecca. The place where it all began. To take that away feels like their roots are being taken away.
I understand how that feels. When I left for Bible College, Easthill Church was my Mecca. When I returned, my pastor Jerry Cook was gone and the church had switched from being Spirit-centric to Seeker Sensitive. I had a great sense of loss. I had to come to understand that all of what Jerry Cook instilled into me was not tied to a facility, but to the principles. To this day I still live by what was instilled in me. They are my Mecca.
So too, Vineyard USA is experiencing a great sense of loss. But maybe this loss will also bring a sense of reality. Vineyard USA is not the Vineyard that John led and pastored at Anaheim or oversaw across the world. Those that want to live out the original Vineyard values can still do so, without a monument to a great leader.
Finally, Vineyard USA is facing the most serious crisis it has ever faced with the departure of Vineyard Anaheim. It has the potential to cause the association to crumble. I do not know how many churches that are Spirit-centric or conservative-leaning are left but I imagine it is still 30-40 percent of the association. Vineyard Anaheim leaving signals permission for the rest to leave. Everyone knows this.
It is imperative that Vineyard USA takes the high road in all of this as well. They cannot handle this departure the way they have handled many departures. If they do, it will destroy the association.
The vitriol, accusations, and blaming have to stop. They have to clearly speak their values. Who they are today. And lead with wisdom, peace, and gentleness.
If I may make a suggestion, I would suggest if I was in this situation either as the church leaving or the organization being left, that they enter into mediation. I would choose Alan Scott and Jeremy Riddle to represent Vineyard Anaheim. I would choose Jay Pathak and Carol Wimber to represent Vineyard USA. And I would choose 2 leaders outside of the Vineyard movement to be the mediators. I would choose Randy Clark and Thom Rainer or Ed Stetzer. This would give a Spirit-centric mediator and an Evangelical mediator that Vineyard USA would trust.
Hopefully, this would lead to an amicable departure where Vineyard USA can bless their departure and set a new precedent.
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