If enough of us just believed…

Chris Busch has a great blog post about Saving Tinkerbell.

In it, Chris says:

Peter implores the audience to show their belief in fairies by clapping and as the live audience is worked into a frenzy, Tinkerbell is miraculously revived and averts certain death. We just needed to believe in fairies hard enough.

I’ve seen a lot of people in business over the years trying to save Tinkerbell. I’ve done it myself. Made a dumb decision, or two… OK, or three, and then believed that in spite of my own bad judgment I could somehow revive Tinkerbell if I just believed hard enough.

It reminded me alot of our decision to close the Vineyard Church of Waterville.

Someone apologized to me last night. “I’m sorry I didn’t show up more and pay more money.” I thanked him but told him that wasn’t the point. It’s not that “if we just believed more” Tinkerbell (aka VCW) would be saved.

Our God is a God of resurrection. Sure, He could’ve revived VCW. But that’s not the way this journey is headed. VCW is going to die. Period. It served its purpose. It’s time to move on.

What will come next? I don’t know. But I’m thinking a resurrection is coming. The Jesus that was raised from the dead was not the same Jesus that died. The Jesus that was raised had been changed. He now can walk through walls and show up wherever he wants. (Really. Read Luke 24.)

In some amazing way, resurrection made Jesus’ body even more “substantial.” So real, even atoms moved out of the way for Him. (Check out C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorcefor an idea of what I mean.)

In his post, Chris says:

As a teenage lad I was grumbling one day to my dad about how hard life was. A man of few words, he never looked up from the big wheel bearing he was packing with heavy grease, but just said, “It’s supposed to be hard.”

Hmmm. Come to think of it, I don’t remember Dad clapping for Tinkerbell.

The death of Jesus was real. Believing in Him didn’t make it go away. This isn’t Peter Pan.

But the Good News is that resurrection was even more real.

May that be the same with VCW 2.0!

Thanks Chris for helping give me some language to describe the part of the journey we’re on!

Closing the Vineyard Church of Waterville

Today, Emily and I shared with everyone that we are closing the Vineyard Church of Waterville.

You read it right.

We’d asked our board about just closing down Sundays. Attendence has been declining over the last 18 to 24 months. Offerings have always been below what is needed. As a pastor, I was concerned for the team. There was no “bench” to draw from. We encourage all levels of leadership or oversight to be looking for the person they’ll pass it on to. But there aren’t those people.

Here’s a graph of our weekly attendence, each year in a different color:
VCW Attendence
You’ll note two things:

  • The 2007 trend line is going in the wrong direction. It’s going down. And 2007 was lower than 2005 or 2006.
  • The purple line is 2008. It’s lower than any other year.

I also showed them this image of last year’s offerings and this year’s.
VCW Offerings

The red line is the barebones budget, less in 2008 than in 2007. What this doesn’t show is that our average monthly tithes and offerings were twice this, around $4000, in 2005.

But other things are going well: our budget course is attended by people from our church and guests. People have been healed and demons have been cast out. And servant evangelism is going through the roof:
VCW Servant Evangelism

Clearly, our church is having an impact far beyond our numbers. And we continue to find amazing favor in our community. But something’s not connecting to make this attempt viable.

I’m so glad to be part of a movement. People wiser than us and in authority over us have been recommending we get some rest. We’ve been working at this very hard for the last 3 1/2 years. Now is a good time to take a rest.

In telling this to one of our leaders, I commented, “I don’t feel I need a rest.” She asked me, “Isn’t that the time you should rest? Before you’re totally burnt-out?”

So we’re closing VCW 1.0 on Sunday, May 18. The old sign is already down.

Then we’ll all enter into a period of rest. My family will go to our sending church, the Vineyard Church of Lewiston, a couple times each month. We’ve been encouraged to go up for prayer every time we can. (No matter what the call is for! 🙂 ) We’ll go to the Vineyard East Regional Conference in July. And we’ll rest and play.

Resting is so foreign to American Christians. But it’s pretty biblical. This is like a Sabbath. It’s stepping back to move forward. Steven Covey calls this “sharpening the saw.”

“Suppose you were to come upon someone in the woods working feverishly to saw down a tree.

‘What are you doing?’ you ask.

‘Can’t you see?’ comes the impatient reply. ‘I’m sawing down this tree.’

‘You look exhausted!’ you exclaim. ‘How long have you been at it?’

‘Over five hours,’ he returns, ‘and I’m beat! This is hard work.’

‘Well, why don’t you take a break for a few minutes and sharpen that saw?’ you inquire. ‘I’m sure it would go a lot faster.’

‘I don’t have time to sharpen the saw,’ the man says emphatically. ‘I’m too busy sawing!’

So many churches are to busy sawing to stop and re-assess.

Interestingly, as I share this with the people I feel called to, they instinctively “get” it. And it makes sense to them. Hopefully this will help us build even more credibility!

At some point toward the end of the summer, we’ll begin to regroup. We’ll be articulating our vision as pastors. We haven’t really ever done that. We’ve always articulated our vision in the context of the reality of having a building. Phil commented that we’ve been planting this church from other people’s vision. So true. Now we’ve been here for a few years and have a heart for the people and the region.

We’ll also do a hard assessment of the first plant. We certainly want to identify what wasn’t working so we don’t bring that into the next plant!

And we’ll begin meeting with our team–who ever is left in Waterville, the board (all in Lewiston), and other people. We’ll be hammering out our strategy for a launch, which we hope will be Easter 2009.

Then we’ll re-engage. We’re planning on starting a good kinship in September. And are expecting to start monthly gatherings in October (6 months before the launch).

Even with the sadness of putting a church down, I’m pretty excited. I know God’s not through with us here in Waterville. And He’s giving us a chance to plant the kind of church we’d want to go to. We’ve always wanted to plant a church

  • that is experiential, not just a head-trip
  • that attracts artists, not just reads about them
  • that inspires community and inter-personal connections, not just talks about them
  • that minsters to people knowingly following Jesus and not knowingly.

To hear more, and many of the questions that I think are good to ask, listen to Emily and me talk about it during today’s sermon Closing the Church: Rest, Regroup, Relaunch.

This isn’t a neat and tidy process. We’ll be unpacking it over the remaining three weeks. As in today’s sermon, I’ve asked Adrian Monk to walk us through the stages of grieving. Just click on this image:

Please be praying for us and the people that call VCW their home. And the people that will call our next church plant, Waterville Vineyard 2.0, their home!

Sometimes we get in the way

I just saw this quote on a website promoting a new book, Jesus Brand Spirituality:

“I left the church because too many self described ‘Christians’ mainly wanted Jesus to do something for them. I thought that what Jesus had to say was more challenging than whether he was God, and if he was, he didn’t need me to tell him. So I left church to look for what Jesus was talking about. But this book makes me wonder whether, had Ken Wilson been my pastor, I might have stayed.”

—Carl Safina, author of Song for the Blue Ocean and Eye of the Albatross

It’s really resonating with me. I hope I can be that kind of pastor.

Thanks to Phil Brabbs for posting this to the Green Vineyard Facebook Group.

It’s not just a Protestant thing

Listening to NPR this a.m., I heard an amazing statistic: 68% of Catholics in America feel they can live a God honoring faith without attending Mass.

This makes my earlier post on not focusing on attracting people to an but penetrating the community even more understandable.

It’s exciting to live at a time when more and more of Jesus followers are once again living their faith in their daily lives. I’m so glad “being a Christian” is getting divorced from merely “going to church.”

But we must not forget Hebrew 10:25:

…not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching…

We were never meant to live this out on our own. The big danger in our 21st century approach is that we’ll reduce faith to the “me and Jesus” mentality of the late 20th century. Oh, we’ll do it in a more sophisticated, sacramental sort of way. But it’ll still be an anemic shadow of the real, vibrancy of faith incarnated in a community of followers of Jesus.

That’s why at the Vineyard Church of Waterville we’ll always keep serving our community in ways the are relevant. And while we’ll always have at least one weekly worship gathering.

Isn’t it an exciting time to be a follower of Jesus?!

Now I’ve got to get to that worship gathering!

A Crash

I read this in The Barbarian Way: Unleash the Untamed Faith Withinover a year ago. It’s still incredibly inspiring!

With insects most of us know that bees are called swarms, and ants are called colonies. Among ocean life, I was aware that whales are pods, and fish are schools. Cattle are herds, birds are flocks, and if you watch Lion King, you know a tribe of lions is a pride. If you grew up in the country, you might know that crows are murders. Maybe the most unnerving one is an ambush of tigers.

I was surprised to learn that a group of buzzards waiting around together to feast on leftover carnage is called a committee. Just this one insight is worth the price of the whole book. This explains so much of what’s going on in churches – a lot of committees waiting around to live off human carnage.

Groups of flamingos are called flamboyant, which for some reason reminds me of TV evangelists. And groups of the less glamorous owls are known as parliaments. They do seem sort of British.

But my favorite of all is the group designation of rhinos. You see, rhinos can run at thirty miles an hour, which is pretty fast when you consider how much weight they’re pulling. They’re actually faster than squirrels, which can run at up to twenty-six miles an hour. And even then, who’s going to live in dread of a charging squirrel? (Sorry – that was a bit off the point.)

Running at thirty miles an hour is faster than a used Pinto will go. Just one problem with this phenomenon. Rhinos can see only thirty feet in front of them. Can you imagine something that large moving in concert as a group, plowing ahead at thirty miles an hour with no idea what’s at thirty-one feet? You would think that they would be far too timid to pick up full steam, that their inability to see far enough ahead would paralyze them to immobility. But with that horn pointing the way, rhinos run forward full steam ahead without apprehension, which leads us to their name.

Rhinos moving together at full speed are known as a crash. Even when they’re just hanging around enjoying the watershed, they’re called a crash because of their potential. You’ve got to love that. I think that’s what we’re supposed to be. That’s what happens when we become barbarians and shake free of domestication and civility. The church becomes a crash. We become an unstoppable force. We don’t have to pretend we know the future. Who cares that we can see only thirty feet ahead? Whatever’s at thirty-one feet needs to care that we’re coming and better get out of the way.

We need to move together as God’s people, a barbarian tribe, and become the human version of the rhino crash. The future is uncertain, but we need to move toward it with confidence.

New paradigm of church planting

I friend of mine, Damien Tougas, blogged a long quote about church planting and goals. You can read it here.

The quote that sticks out for me is:

Their goal is not to attract people to an event but rather to penetrate the community with the love of God and embody the gospel as well as communicate it.

Don’t get me wrong. With the Vineyard Church of Waterville, we’re certainly trying to attract people to our weekly “events”: Sunday worship and small groups.

But rather than experiencing incredible numeric growth over the last three years, we’ve experienced an amazing amount of “penetrating the community with the love of God and embodying the gospel as well as communicating it.”

We’re not compromising on our passion for Jesus. And, like Jesus, we’re being invited back! (I’m often amazed that the Holy one of God went to parties with people snubbed by the religious folks. And He was invited back to the next party.)

God has shown us favor far beyond our size or history.

Here’s a small sampling of blog posts from this year alone that illustrate how VCW is doing at penetrating the community.

I’m still working hard for numeric growth. But I’m really liking the ride Jesus has us on!