The New Wanderers (as I call them / us) come in a wide variety of packages. This is definitely not a "movement" in any kind of formal sense. There are no central leaders or clearing houses. What I observe is a number of courageous pioneers who are willing to break with the pack when considering the normal assumptions of "doing church" and ministry thinking in order to pursue Something More. However, this Something More is not so much "something more for ME". Rather, it is Something More for the Kingdom of God and, especially, its mission to penetrate the world with God's rule and reign. It is, in other words, focused on how we as Christ-followers can be more outwardly focused and (here's that word again) missional.
We of the Vineyard are no strangers to risk-taking and the risks of being misunderstood and missing the mark that go with such risks. Even so, I confess that my own quest has made me me a bit of an enigma to some of my fellow members of the Vineyard tribe. After some twenty five years in this movement, that has been a bit difficult for me. However, I am learning that I am actually not as alone as I first suspected. It seems the pioneer spirit of the Vineyard is actually alive and well after all.
Two of those I have recently come to appreciate for their pioneer spirit are Rose and Rich Swetman of the Vineyard Community Church of Shoreline, Washington (near Seattle). I already shared a few things about Rose's presentation on The Practicing Church delivered as a workshop during the Vineyard National Conference in Galveston (see my earlier post: "More From Galveston"). I had actually heard a bit about the Swetman's journey of faith and leadership at an earlier gathering of Vineyard leaders some months ago and was impressed. Hearing her in Galveston provided many more details -- too many to provide in a blog post, I'm afraid, but I'd like to share a few of the key features of their transformation into New Wanderers.
Taking a cue from Eugene Peterson's rendering of John 1:14 which begins: "The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood..." the Swetman's led their "traditional/attractional" Vineyard church through an extended period of rethinking. One of the questions they faced has a familiar ring to us in VCMN: "If our church disappeared tomorrow, would anyone around us even know it?" The answer (as it often is with churches, I'm afraid) was "no". This revelation moved them to study, think, pray and act on an entirely new paradigm of what it meant for them to be a church in their area.
Lots had to change (big surprise!). Everything -- sacred cows, "the way we've always done it", and even the idea of using and maintaining a building were put on the altar. Rich and Rose began to look at their surroundings anew and, among other things, Rose joined their local community organization dedicated to the area's social welfare. This would come to involve teaming with, among others, a prominent lesbian -- a woman with whom she now regularly cooperates on community welfare issues (can't you feel the support and understanding from other conservative churches just pouring in at this point?).
There is nothing wishy-washy about this Vineyard's theology, philosophy of ministry or missonal commitment to follow Jesus into the lives of those around them. According to their website: "Jesus did not come to earth in the Incarnation to "hang out", he was on a mission. His mission was then and still is now a passionate pursuit of all of his missing children to draw them back into a real relationship with himself."
A key expression of where this journey has taken Shoreline Vineyard is something called Turning Point (www.turningpointseattle.org). A brief history of Turning Point can be found in the following text from their website:
"Since 2001 a group of people from Vineyard Community Church (VCC) wanting to put their faith in action, began serving the residents of a low-income apartment community in Lynnwood, Washington. VCC funded and staffed annual Christmas parties, Thanksgiving dinners and “back to school supply” giveaways as well as other service activities. From this group, Turning Point was formed into a non-profit organization to strengthen families and individuals through education, coaching, and care."
Oh, and -- by the way -- after putting the issue of a building before the Lord, He directed them to what has become "Vineyard Square". In providing this blessing, the Swetman's emphasize that the Lord told them they must make the building available to not only their church, put to the whole community. Thus the name "Vineyard Square" -- a name that is generic on purpose.
There is nothing generic about the Swetman's and their fellow belivers at the Vineyard Community Church of Shoreline, Washington. As New Wanderers, they are a little farther down the road than many given the fact that their shift began about five years ago. Still, as all New Wanderers know, the road ahead is marked more by values, vision, calling and mission than a five-year masterplan. If, at times, this can lead to things feeling a little "dynamic", the Swetman's report that their desire to "grow the church big (as measured by a consuming commitment to God and His mission)" is being fulfilled. And -- wonder of wonders -- Sunday attendance is "up", too.
Many of those now being drawn to this congregation are those "missed" from the Father's family who have been touched by the love of a practicing church made up of New Wanderers. May their tribe increase!