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  • Reagan Waggoner

The Vineyard, Autocracy, and Local Pastors

Updated: Mar 30

Summary (TL;DR): The long standing Vineyard governmental model has given VUSA and its officers autocratic control over Vineyard assets. This has historically been balanced by local pastors’ ability to choose whether they want to be in the association. Local churches are autonomous and free to leave the association depending on their own convictions, bylaws, and local church commitments. VUSA’s recent ReOrg process is signaling a take-over of this autonomy and has left local pastors with no mechanisms for participation and influence in the association. Theological definitions, polity, pastoral succession, and more can be determined solely at the discretion of the national office and its officers. This autocratic control could include removing our ability to opt out. The recent departure of Vineyard Anaheim could justify and accelerate this process. The assertion of this letter is that we should not allow the continuation of this trajectory without wide scale facilitated grassroots two-way discussion and built-in mechanisms giving local pastors legal influence and representation regarding decisions determining our ability to maintain our “associate member” status in the association.


The Vineyard, Autocracy, and The Role of Local Pastors
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Dear Vineyard Family,

I love the Vineyard. That might sound like a phrase that will be followed by a “but….” And you are not wrong. Like many of you, my love for the Vineyard and lifelong investment [1] in this movement have shaped a narrative around the current challenges. We all have the dots that we connect and form our picture, our story, about who we are and what’s behind our present realities.


Paraphrasing Brené Brown (2017), this is the story I’ve made up to connect the dots. My story may not be reality. But it’s my best attempt at getting there. To the best of my knowledge and scrutiny, the dots represent care in documenting concrete encounters that are hopefully less subjective than my interpretation of them. In other words, real things happened. How I make meaning from these real things is subject to my limited perspective. There are likely other dots that I am not privy to that paint a more extensive (and maybe different) picture. But this is what I have. This paper documents the story I’ve made up.


I hope to promote dialog that I perceive to be sorely lacking. I might be emphatic at points, but I may also be wrong. The inability to talk is at the core of my story. So, let’s talk.


Further, I have prioritized avoiding personal attacks. I want to avoid the “fundamental attribution error” (Ross, 2014) (watch a video explainer here). We are all sorting out what we think is best. We are brothers and sisters in Christ. I make no pretense about my own track record of leadership as I have learned much through harmful mistakes.


This document is part one of at least two.


Vineyard Autocracy

VUSA asserts through its bylaws and practices autocratic control over the national institution and its assets. Those assets do not include local churches. Local churches have had independent control over their own bylaws, governmental structures, pastoral selection, properties, and even theology (since we have not been a confessional movement). If churches pay their 3% apportionments and adhere to copyright agreements (and not marry or ordain LGBTQ+ people, apparently), we get to use the Vineyard name. We are part of the tribe.


There is both provision and precedence for dismissal from the Vineyard and use of its name at the discretion of the National Board. Or, as John Wimber did with the Toronto Airport Vineyard, the National Director can also do this. The home office does their autocratic thing within the world of their paid staff, governmental infrastructure (leadership appointments), and use of the Vineyard name. But apart from that, churches' alignment with Vineyard initiatives and gatherings is voluntary. The voluntary nature of this relationship is written into the bylaws of the church where I serve, meaning we can decide whether and how much we play. [2] This autonomy is a freedom we have in the present landscape.


Some of this system seems problematic (when churches like the Anaheim Vineyard leave, for instance). However, since pastors have no actual votes and participatory/representational structures within the movement, local church autonomy is our only system of checks and balances within the organization. Take away that, and we have no way to hold our leaders accountable to our individual churches’ needs and values. Take away that, and we are simply employees of the National Director and a board appointed by the National Director … who selects the national director (and only ratified by local pastors). What could go wrong?


To be clear, the ReOrg is essentially a reorientation of our national structure to fix the control problem (the extent to which the autocracy reaches). Still, it has nothing to offer regarding the accountability problem (the ability of local pastors to exert influence). The ReOrg team presented a pyramid that was up-side down to give it the appearance of a non-hierarchical structure. But, let’s be honest, the entire structure is to establish an infrastructure and leadership team who are now no longer volunteers but under the national office's payroll (and autocratic control). These leaders serve at the goodwill of the ND and are tasked with enforcing the priorities of the home office.


“How can you say that, Reagan? Don’t these leaders value our opinions and want to help us succeed?” They may or may not. But if they do not, we have no voice in the process. We don’t get to select them. They are appointed. And the system of appointment is a closed-loop. They are in no way representatives for Vineyard pastors and local churches. They are agents of the home office to ensure the home office priorities have full compliance by individual churches.

What I see coming, and I hope I am wrong, is that the home office will demand more control. Without that control, the ReOrg will have been for naught. Without that control, none of the stated problems given as assumptions to the National Leadership Team in 2020 will have been addressed.


So, let’s talk about those assumptions.


At the March 2020 Vineyard USA LT Meeting, many assumptions were given (Anderson, 2020). For instance:


It is our assessment that we hold by default to some values - - often ascribed to John Wimber and then named “Vineyard” - - that may be impeding our ability to tend to the “sacred trust” [3] we have been given by God. These tend to begin with the maxim that we are not a “denomination” (however one might define that), but we are a “decentralized relational association.” Some implications of this self-definition are the following:


a. We should not have centralized ordination.

b. We should ask churches for as little money as possible.

c. We should rely on volunteer labor for various mission-critical roles.

d. We are not a creedal movement.


We need to consider the relationship between holding to these values and our ability to lead the Vineyard toward a long-term future. (p. 2, footnote mine)


And:


Our “hybrid ecclesiology” means that we have very limited means of enforcement when pastors misbehave. [4] In almost every case, we have only one option: kick a church out of the movement. We cannot revoke a pastor’s ordination, nor can we incrementally censure a pastor or a church.


VUSA generally has no authority, either formal or consultative, written into the bylaws of a local church.[5] Beyond the power of persuasion in relationship, all we have is the “nuclear option” of kicking a church out of the movement. And, of course, by the time a pastor gets to the point of significant misbehavior, a relational approach is often ineffective. This means we lose churches instead of disciplining our leaders. (p. 3, footnotes mine)


We can only assume that these assumptions are based on some level of diagnosis and that some diagnostic strategy or tool was employed to set the aims of the change initiative. To my knowledge, the diagnosis process has never been disclosed. We were simply told, “It is our assessment...” (p. 2). It was distributed as fact to the National Leadership at the onset of the process. We were told repeatedly that “facts are our friends” (Anderson, 2020). However, the messaging represented a smattering of facts with broad interpretations of those facts. We need to understand the difference. Collection and interpretation of facts are both critical in the diagnosis process, but they are not the same thing. I assume that the National Director and his team listed their frustrations, and this formed the core of the diagnosis stage. Maybe it was determined by the ReOrg team. I can only guess.


But this is a problematic start to the whole ReOrg enterprise. “In the absence of a rigorous diagnostic process, consultants and organizational leaders are likely to address the wrong problems and/or choose the wrong solutions (Meaney and Pung, 2008)” (McFillen et al., 2013. P. 224). I’m sure the home office felt this process was rigorous. After all, they sacrificed a substantial amount of time and energy, and money—all fine and well if grassroots pastors don’t count as important in the diagnosis stage. Maybe you see where I’m headed.


The above is an essential point because it was communicated to the March 2020 Vineyard USA LT Meeting that we might need to scrap some aspects of Vineyard culture that will not carry us into the future. The vagueness of this statement is disturbing. Our centered-set ethos? Theological diversity? Autonomy of local churches? Non-confessional ecclesiology? Our “values” statement has been nuanced over the years arbitrarily, so there is precedence for moving the goalposts.


What remains is the local church’s freedom to choose to play or not. We vote with our feet (as Wimber was known to say about our parishioners).


In the field of organizational development, it’s understood that the interventions and strategy of change tell a lot about the desired outcome. Models and interventions like Appreciative Inquiry (AI), for example, demonstrate a high value of grassroots participation (Appreciative inquiry 2021). AI works to discover what’s best about who we are and seeks to find ways the organization can live into that more fully. It begins with the good instead of broadly stated assumptions about all our problems determined by those in control. AI is just one such model. There are others designed to engage people, help them talk about their perceptions, and collectively forge a way forward. However, the home office chose a model that presumed a more autocratic outcome. That is, a team at the top (hierarchical) who defined the problems (problem based instead of asset-based), took suggestions but controlled the narrative, issued their solution, and forced compliance (autocratic). The whole process pointed to the outcome.


The ReOrg is slowly implementing control mechanisms beginning with the ANDs and SRLs (can we change this name?). We have yet to see other aspects that have been telegraphed such as a revised and binding Statement of Faith, pastoral disciplinary procedures, national ordination, national control over pastoral succession, overtaking of local church bylaws, etc. Local churches will no longer be able to “vote with their feet.” What accountability is left? The autocracy will have reached its full potential, and local pastors will be left with no recourse.


I remain convinced that the old way is broken and required repair. I’ve talked to very few pastors who would dispute this. But local pastors are getting the short end of the stick. We needed change. We needed better definition. But cutting out local pastors by the absence of any representational or participatory mechanisms is deeply problematic.


While it is important for leaders to create and communicate a vision for the organization, if they have sought and used input from all levels of the organization to create that vision, not only will they help form a culture in which open sharing is encouraged, but they will also aid the adoption of the culture by making it less “dictated” and more “owned” by all. This is also how you create the “shared vision” necessary for building a learning organization, as described by Senge, Kleiner, Roberts, Ross, and Smith (1994). (Carter et al., 2013 p. 92)


But didn’t they do this? After all, once the process began, weren’t we pastors invited to send our ideas and suggestions? Didn’t the ReOrg team meet with countless pastors to solicit their input? Wasn’t this a banner of the whole enterprise; participation and transparency?

Well, that depends. Some pastors felt very included. Their voices were valued. They were privy to the inside scoop. There were trusted to influence the process. They are the in-group. Maybe that was you. Or maybe you were in the out-group. I suspect your experience with the ReOrg was largely contingent upon where you fit in this scheme.


In-Group and Out-Group

To understand what I mean by in-group and out-group, we need a short primer of Leader-Member Exchange Theory (LMX). LMX emerged in the 90s (actually the 70s but began to mature in the 90s) to examine the relationship between leaders and members. “LMX theory predicts that high-quality relations generate more positive leader outcomes than low-quality relations” (Northouse, 2022). Since VUSA has repeatedly claimed that we are a relational movement, this leadership model might offer some insight into our situation … perhaps even direction. After all, we are “A Community of Churches.” [6] Right?


LMX suggests that every organization has an in-group and an out-group (Northouse, 2022, p. 311). The differences in how goals are accomplished by in-groups and out-groups are substantial. Working with an in-group allows leaders to accomplish more work in a more effective manner than they can accomplish working without one. In-group members are willing to do more than is required in their job description and look for innovative ways to advance the group’s goals. In response to their extra effort and devotion, leaders give them more responsibilities and more opportunities. Leaders also give in-group members more of their time and support. (p. 311)


So far, so good. Leaders, rightly so, have their trusted inner circle. Every pastor can probably identify who these people are in their church. In the ReOrg, these are the kind of people that get invited to be on the ReOrg team. These are the people that are friends and allies (“keeners” in Canadian parlance). These get positions like Super Regional Leader and Associate National Director and Regional Leader. A good case could be made that LMX justifies these kinds of appointments.


But what about the “out-groupers?” This group can include those who meet minimum requirements and, in some cases, are just not “on board.” They are troublemakers at worst, dead weight at best. In this sense, they self-exclude.


But this is not always the case. Further development of LMX has recognized other kinds of out-group people. They can be essential to the organization:


… out-groups can perform other valuable functions. Out-groups can help prevent groupthink during group decision-making processes by questioning assumptions, resisting pressure to conform to group opinion, and offering alternative perspectives that challenge popular proposals. Out-groups can bring up uncomfortable truths that majority group members may prefer not to face, such as the environmental cost of developing and marketing a new product, or that a group’s research is incomplete and should be redone, or that a school’s mascot may to have racist connotations. Out-groups are also in a position to help a majority group see its biases, asking questions such as “Why are there no women on this committee?” or “Why isn’t our student body any more diverse than it was five years ago?” (Northouse, 2021, p. 253).

There are many different reasons that out-groups form. First, out-groups form because people disagree with the social, political, or ethical position of the majority—they sense that they are in opposition to the larger group. (p. 254)


What is to be done with these kinds of people? Since these people can be the fly in the ointment of ReOrg efforts, indeed they are problematic. But the goal of the leader is to move the out-group in. Expand the base. Value the whole—in-group and out-group. Northouse (2021) proposes six strategies.


  1. Listen to Out-Group Members

  2. Show Empathy to Out-Group Members

  3. Recognize the Unique Contributions of Out-Group Members

  4. Help Out-Group Members Feel Included

  5. Create a Special Relationship with Out-Group Members

  6. Give Out-Group Members a Voice and Empower Them to Act

If you ever get a chance, read through these explanations (see Northouse, 2021).


My experience is that out-group people in the ReOrg process, and broadly in Vineyard praxis, have been treated with egregious violations of these strategies. I contend that this has contributed to family system dysfunction leading to system failures like the Anaheim Vineyard’s departure.


A Few Examples

While I’ve heard numerous examples of this by other out-groupers during the past few years, let me illustrate with my own experience. At the 2021 NLT meeting in Phoenix, a status update was given to national leaders (I was an Area Leader at the time). Much of what was coming down the pipe was unveiled. After the meeting, participants were invited to participate in a survey about their experience. I responded with some positive observations, including an affirmation of the need for change. However, it was disconcerting that the new plan further disempowered local pastors. This accentuated that the whole process sorely lacked participatory mechanisms that would assist pastors in making meaningful contributions and accountability to the system. For instance, in a Q&A, I asked if any substantive changes had been made based on pastoral input. The only example supplied was that a timeline had changed based on RL input. I expressed in my survey that this was troublesome to me. Very soon after submitting my response, I received an email from the ND. I was told in clear terms that I was wrong. Further, the ND scolded me for being a bad leader in the process. I should have, I was told, spoke up earlier—no seeking understanding and no empathy. Just a stern rebuke.


Was he right? After all, out-group people like me had access to a suggestion box. That is, we were able to email our thoughts into the ether. I have no evidence (I could be wrong) that any suggestions presented this way had a substantive influence on the methodology or direction of the ReOrg. If you, like me, felt the futility of this option, you likely didn’t utilize this offering. My conversations with many who did reinforced my perception of its futility. And a suggestion box is not a participatory process. It’s one-directional. Gatekeepers manage it.


A common misconception by managers is that participative management involves simply asking employees to participate or make suggestions. Effective programs involve more than just a suggestion box. In order for participative management to work, several issues must be resolved and several requirements must be met. First, managers must be willing to relinquish some control to their workers; managers must feel secure in their position in order for participation to be successful. Often managers do not realize that employees' respect for them will increase instead of decrease when they implement a participative management style. (McMillan, n.d., emphasis mine) [7]


Burris (2017) writes about the dysfunctions of suggestion box systems, even in the digital realm:

  1. Having a system available doesn't mean people will use it

  2. Organizations focus too much on collecting ideas and not enough on evaluating them

  3. “… electronic suggestion boxes breed a sense of futility, much like their older-school physical counterparts collecting dust in the corners of offices.” (too few ideas are actually implemented)

On one occasion before this exchange, I did meet with a Board Member to express my concerns. (This Zoom exchange was recorded, I believe, so I’m sure this can be verified). I expressed my belief that suggestion boxes are not participatory structures. We have no opportunity to interact with others, share ideas, learn from each other, and the like.


The lion’s share of the conversation was the Board member assuring me that I was wrong. At one point, however, the Board member conceded that it might be the case that the ReOrg bypassed participatory options. The problem was, he contended, that we didn’t have time for that. If we took the time for a robust participatory process that invited pastors (or even the NLT) into the diagnostic process and ongoing meaningful participation, the Vineyard would be dead before we finished. The urgency of the situation was communicated clearly. If we don’t act unilaterally and quickly in the way we are currently progressing, I was told, the Vineyard will not survive.


First, I was thankful for the candor. Second, I was shocked at this reality. Third, this is a valid methodology in an emergency. I have an MS in Human Resource Development and have studied (and practiced with clients) organizational development and change management. In crises, organizations are forced to bypass typical participatory models and act autocratically and swiftly. I get that.


What has troubled me is that, though some urgency was communicated at the onset of the ReOrg, candid conversations about Vineyard dying were never, to my knowledge and recollection, part of the public discourse. We were at a “crossroads,” we were told. The ND was emphatic when his “crossroads” prophetic impulse was communicated at the national conference that we were not in a crisis. Further, why the pretense about broad-scale participation? Why not acknowledge that this is a stop-gap measure and participatory/representational structures will be built once we stop the bleeding? However, every indication so far is that this is not the case. We are being handed an autocracy, and the present crisis is the justification.


At the NLT meeting in Phoenix, leaders were asked to hold the fort for one year until positions could be filled. Shortly after this and after my scolding by the ND, our region received news that the ND dismissed our Regional Leader. This RL had also posed questions about the process and was beginning to be treated as an out-grouper. In the official communication from the ND, no reason was given for the RL’s removal but only that it was done in broad consultation.


I emailed the ND and asked for clarification:


Good afternoon [ND],

Can you offer some clarity regarding this decision? Your letter stated that this decision was made in consultation. In the spirit of transparency (a much lauded aspect of the reorg process by the reorg team), can you clarify who was consulted? Were regional pastors included in this decision? What were the factors leading to this decision?

I am deeply troubled (read: “angry”) by these developments that confirm my suspicions about this reorg process, the lack of participatory structures, and the implementation of control mechanisms designed for top down enforcement by a few people.


The reply:


Hey Reagan,

Sorry for the delay, …

I am not sure anything I say at this point will be helpful. We have tried to consult and seek advice, we are addressing many changes, (not just your region).

It's obvious I have not earned your trust through these years and for that I am sorry.

Blessings,


My reply:

Thanks for the reply. Does this mean I won’t receive an answer to my questions? This feels really dismissive.

Reagan


I never received a reply after this. [8]


The strategy employed for handling out-group people has very little to do with listening or any of the other six strategies above. The strategy for handling out-group people is “trust me.” So, one can imagine how any communication that assures pastors that everything is under control and to “trust us” might be met with some suspicion. The same might be understood when “broad consultation” is used.


Shortly after, I was dismissed as Area Leader without explanation.


Originating from several in-groupers privy to in-group discussions was another deeply troubling exhibit for consideration. The ReOrg team and Executive Team were aware that the interventions proposed in the ReOrg would result in losses. (I can document this upon request). Perhaps as many as thirty percent of the churches could be casualties, leaving the Vineyard fold. Maybe they would be defined out by theological changes—a possibility confirmed during an NLT Q&A in 2020. Perhaps they will not want to relinquish the autonomy of their churches. During one conversation with an ET member, when I presented this rumor, suggested that maybe these are churches that were never really part of us and are not giving or playing in meaningful capacities; out-groupers. Another source suggested that the sentiment was that this was ok … as long as the thirty percent was “the right thirty percent.”


So, to my point, in-group and out-group people have wildly different narratives about the ReOrg. In-group people can’t believe that anyone would think that they could not participate. In-group people can’t see beyond their own experience. The unfortunate result is that out-group people are vilified, told they are being unreasonable, chastised for not being “on board,” even told they are divisive … not biblical in their responses. And then the fundamental attribution error kicks in, and we are labeled as bad people.


The Elephant in the Room

There’s an old Indian parable about six blind men and an elephant. Each blind man feels a part of the elephant and describes that part as being what the whole elephant is. For instance, the one who feels the side describes the elephant like a wall. The one who feels the ears describe it like a leaf. And so on.


John Godfrey Saxe (1816-1877) wrote a poem about this. It’s worth looking up. The end of the poem goes thus:


So, oft in theological wars 


The disputants, I ween, 


Rail on in utter ignorance 


Of what each other mean; 


And prate about an Elephant 


Not one of them has seen!


In our context, the elephant might be John Wimber himself, cited to justify every side of an issue. The elephant might be the Vineyard, whose definition and identity seem elusive and are understood differently in different regions and enclaves around our movement. Were you an OG Vineyard Sign and Wonders person? Did you come in with the Kansas City prophets? Did the Toronto Revival attract you? Where you drawn by the scholarship of the Society of Vineyard Scholars? Or the Vineyard Justice Network? Or focus on church planting?


We never got all us blind men and women together in the same room to collect our stories of the elephant to fill out the picture. Instead, we left it up to a group of delegates representing some of the blind men to ReOrganize how we talk about the elephant. And then we devise ways to punish the other blind men to make sure their stories are not heard. “Trust us,” they tell us. “We know what the elephant is.”


Suggestions

The ReOrg is done, and all that’s left is the implementation. I am asking that we press pause until we can collectively define how pastors will be able to shape critical decisions that need to be made. We need mechanisms that enable broad-scale participation in tasks such as developing a new Statement of Faith. [9]


Every pastor that has written their 3% check to the Vineyard has as much stake in this as everyone else. We need mechanisms to decide who our NDs, ANDs, SRLs, RLs, et al. are. These roles should be clearly defined as having representational functions. No new restrictions/boundaries or enforcement mechanisms should be implemented until these participatory mechanisms exist. I’m asking the leadership team to trust the pastors who make up this movement to define who we are, not a select group of people. I’m not asking for full democracy. But we need ways to participate. And this will likely mean that our definitions are broad and not narrow.


Jay, take a listening tour around the US. Let’s come to the table and talk about how to do this. Let’s spend money bringing pastors together. There are not that many of us pastors. We are kind of like a medium-size church. Bring in a facilitator to help us know how to ask questions and hear other people’s questions instead of just assuming that a suggestion box is all we need. There are lots of good models for this.


Most of what was communicated at the 2020 NLT meeting has been incorporated into the ReOrg strategy. We’ve yet to hear about what will become of this assumption: “VUSA generally has no authority, either formal or consultative, written into the bylaws of a local church” (Anderson, p. 3). Do we think this is the best solution? Pastors, are we really ready to give up our bylaws which is essentially giving up full control of our church, pastoral selection, properties, and more? I have not talked to a single pastor who thinks this is a good idea and would comply.


Final Thoughts

It would be wrong to dismiss the Anaheim crisis as the byproduct of one individual’s misguided stewardship of the church he pastors. I share the anger and frustration over Anaheim’s departure. I have had formative encounters in that building, as many of you have. The carpet at that alter has been soaked in my tears more than once. Maybe yours, too. But as any good family systems therapist will tell you, family dysfunction reveals the whole system, not just individual components.


If we don’t deal with the broken system and address the shortcomings that devalue out-group people and punish dissonance, Anaheim will not be the last departure. That is not to say that participatory processes would have changed the outcome of Anaheim and kept them in the movement. The Scott’s seemed uninterested in participation. It feels as though they are not out-group people but rather competitors driven by a completely different agenda. But the health and unity of our movement are now feeling the stress. If we relegate pastors to subordinates with no representation mechanisms and no voice in determining who we are and who we want to become, we will find it harder and harder to rally in these moments. If we must keep people in by leveraging control, we might already be in trouble.


Participation breeds trust and resiliency. Saying “trust us” does not. Control narrows and excludes. Which is more consistent with our kingdom theology? That seems like a worthwhile conversation to have.


Churches may vote with their feet while they still can. We might begin to feel we are the expendable thirty percent. The in-group will get smaller. We will narrow our theology and marginalize our influence. I fear that this crisis will justify more autocracy rooted in need for fear-based control, a narrowing of the in-group, and further marginalization of outliers.


We can do better. We must.


Reagan Waggoner

reagan@thevineyard.church

Notes

[1] I first attended a Vineyard church service in 1983 at the Yorba Linda High School. Since then, I have been deeply embedded in the movement. I have served on staff in a Vineyard church since 1994. I’ve been a Senior Pastor of the Vineyard Church of Sugar Land/Stafford since 2009.


[2] ARTICLE 3: The Church is autonomous and maintains the right to govern its own affairs, independent of any denominational control. Recognizing, however, the benefits of cooperation with other churches in world missions and otherwise, this Church may voluntarily affiliate with any churches (Christian churches and ministries) of like precious faith. (Bylaws of The Vineyard Church of Sugar Land/Stafford, TX)


[3] The phrase “sacred trust” is itself an embedded term. Who gets to decide what this is? These assumptions arbitrarily embrace or reject selected ideas rooted in our shared history. What is this selection based on?


[4] Is “enforcement” as a role of the National Office an assumption we would agree upon? I’m sure we have varying opinions about this. What do we mean by “misbehave?” As I will document presently, “misbehave” seems to include asking certain questions. For those who have experienced “enforcement,” even in its present forms, this might trigger suspicion. When this language is used devoid of pastoral input around these definitions, suspicion may be warranted.


[5] Does this imply an assumption that VUSA needs to have control over local church by-laws? How do we feel about this?


[6] Where does a statement like “A Community of Churches” imply regarding the locus of authority in the movement?


[7] An important caveat is that pastors are not employees and the Vineyard hierarchy are not our managers.


There are two metaphors that are insufficient toward defining the pastor/VUSA relationship. First, as noted, pastors are not employees. Second, the relationship between the ND and pastors is not equivalent to pastor/parishioner relationship. I know at least one version of the by-laws for VUSA defined the ND role in this way … as the senior pastor of the movement. This is deeply problematic. For one, pastors shepherd people with wildly varying levels of commitment, maturity, participation, knowledge, etc. But senior pastors in our movement have made great sacrifices and have given their lives to lead their movements. They have paid the price in blood, sweat, and tears. But also, even in local churches, there is no one “biblical” model of church governance as evidenced in the plurality of leadership models in denominations and churches who are equally committed to Scripture.


A more interesting issue for me is whether our leadership and government model best reflect our commitment to the Kingdom of God and the values we derive from that. I would contend that participatory models align better with our theology. We might disagree on that, but shouldn’t this at least be a starting point for our discussions?


[8] All the Area Leaders in our Region were united in our concern around the decision to remove our RL. A year later, both RLs in the Gulf Coast Region have resigned. The SRL has assumed the role of RL, stating in a letter to the region: “As we discerned together we decided the Lord was inviting me to serve as an interim RL.” I don’t know who “we” is. To my knowledge, local pastors were not involved in this discussion. So, a respected RL was removed and we now have a vacancy with no one to fill the position except an arbitrary appointment of the SRL. What is going on that would lead the home office to decide that a regional leader from across the US is the better than our previous RL?


[9] The current Statement of Faith (SOF) was a relatively late development and was never intended to be prescriptive for pastors as permission to play in the movement (see the National Director Diversity Letter, Waggoner, 2012, for more history and perspective on this). Vineyard functioned as a wide-reaching movement with no theological criteria for participation. The SOF was Wimber’s key into evangelical circles. He was late to the party in these circles and needed theological credentials, which any keen historian will acknowledge did not exist in any form in the Vineyard. Vineyard folks came in from all over the map and brought their theologies with them, augmenting them with a kingdom grid borrowed from GE Ladd. And John himself was a moving target. These discussions come up all the time in the Vineyard Preachers and Teachers FB Group. Wimber was all over the place on issues like women in ministry and spiritual warfare. Check out Vineyard Reflections, July 1995 – February 1996 (Wimber, 1996) for John’s overall centered-set ethos. John Wimber’s grilling in Australia exposed his theological convictions in that he hadn’t fully developed some of them.


Wimber graciously responded to the harsh and brutal criticisms of Philip Jensen and other Sydney Christian leaders who “wished he would go to hell” and acknowledged that he had failed to give full place to the cross. Wimber, in fact, called the Vineyard’s main songwriters together and exhorted them to put out more songs demonstrating the centrality of the atonement. A number of songs flowed directly as a result of this gathering, among them, “It’s Your Blood that Cleanses Me,” “You Gave Your Body,” “At the Cross,” “The Blood of Jesus,” and many more. Wimber tempered his views on the demonic and in 1985 found himself in strong disagreement with Peter Wagner over the extent and influence of principalities and powers. Wimber had come to the view that the “strong man” had already been bound in the ministry of Jesus and that there was therefore no need for praying against regional powers. At a major conference at Anaheim in 1993 all the Vineyard leaders were instructed to follow Clinton Arnold’s counsel, who stated: “I can find no Scriptural evidence suggesting that we have the right or authority to ‘serve notice,’ ‘evict’ or ‘bind’ spirits over cities, regions or nations.” (Scottland, 2012)


It's worth looking at The Briefing’s (Jensen, 1990) claims and Deere’s (1992) response taking issue with several of Jensen’s claims. My point is that the Statement of Faith was born out a need to position Vineyard (Wimber in particular) in Evangelical (and largely Reformed) circles, not out of theological dialogue across the Vineyard or even what John had taught in any significant capacity prior to these accusations. I would contend that post-Wimber, we need something more reflective of the broad diversity of thought in the Vineyard. Anything theologically narrowing and restrictive would represent a coup of Vineyard theology and marginalize people who were welcomed into the Vineyard without such criteria.



Works Cited

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Jensen, P. (1990, April 2). John Wimber changes his mind. The Briefing. Retrieved March 26, 2022, from http://thebriefing.com.au/1990/04/john-wimber-changes-his-mind/


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Ross, B. (2014). Fundamental Attribution Error, explained! YouTube. YouTube. Retrieved March 25, 2022, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HR_q96-YRzk&t=28s.


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