Andrea Martin recently wrote about her experience at the Red Bluff Vineyard, as well as attending the Vineyard National Conference. She gave us permission to share her experience here, so check it out!
I have went to many religious gatherings in my lifetime. From Baptist, to Non-Denominational, to New Age, to Bethel, I have been all over the church realm. The church I decided to attend for this project was the Vineyard Church. I decided this because I went to coffee with one of my best friends and we were talking about all the things in our life. The events I talked about were quite dull compared to the light that was shining from my friend. I noticed something very different about my friend when she talked. She exuded joy and happiness from every fiber of her being. She just absolutely lit up when I was with her. She divulged about how she was attending a new church and how it was growing rapidly and with rapid exuberance. She told a story of how the church went from a church of about 20 people to 350 people in about eight months’ time. This enthralled me and I just kept asking her questions from there. This excited me to see her on fire. She said the Lord was prompting her to lead the children’s ministry at the church and her passion was shining so brightly about it! She didn’t even have to invite me to the church, I just had to go partake and see what Jesus was doing. So I did.
I went on a normal Sunday morning and quickly discovered a sense that the Holy Spirit had anointed this church. I knew almost instantly. It drew me in and left me panting for more. I was really thirsty, in a very dry season of life. I realized later that that thirst was to strengthen my relationship with Jesus and my community. I was unsure of what would happen from there, but I knew good things were happening in this church. Community and fellowship were heavily emphasized. I saw this when I saw people embracing and talking to each other closely. They had a corner in the church that was specifically designed to connect people with the church and its people. What a concept! I can’t even number how many times I have been to church and felt disconnected, always feeling like the black sheep. I had a sense that the church really saw people like me and wanted to change those stigmas. People smiled and worshipped the Lord with arms, minds, and hearts lifted. It felt like a nurturing, warm, loving space. The church had a stage with wood pallets placed on the wall and a cross in the center of it all. I am still trying to think of why they chose this motif, but it was interesting to see. To me, the pallets represented all the broken people and the cross was a representation of how God makes all things new. At this church, they didn’t put Jesus in a box and tell Him to just sit there and be quiet. The church invited its people to come alongside Jesus and be all consumed in Him.
I sat by myself and I just listened and watched. The people were like moving parts in a clock, waiting in anticipation of the King. Several people asked me if I was new and asked me questions to get know me. This made me feel very uncomfortable at first because I have been deeply hurt by the church and my walls were completely up, reaching towards something that was beyond myself. I really felt like the pastor was very progressive minded with his sermon being on an emphasis of knowing Jesus and making Him known. I was intrigued by this. I kept wondering why he loved our community so much and asked myself why I wasn’t as excited as he was about loving my community. I left the church actually wanting to come back, not fully understanding why. I could tell that it was only the beginning to a beautiful story and I wanted more. I experienced what my friend had told me about, and it was a sweet taste. Call me a bee to honey, but it was good.
Long story short, and after realizing that Jesus has quite the unique sense of humor, I talked to the pastor after the service about how I was going to school at Simpson University to earn my degree in Organizational Leadership. I discussed several things with him, especially about what the church was doing to help the poor and the marginalized. I told him I read the book “When Helping Hurts,” and he had too. We had a great talk about this. He asked about my vision to help our community and asked me to sit in on a staff meeting. From there he asked me to attend a week-long conference to learn more about the Vineyard Movement. He, along with the church, saw my leadership potential and wanted to help cultivate that. I had never felt more loved in a church that I had just started attending. After discussing travel arrangements, I was on my way to a week-long Vineyard USA conference in Anaheim from July 10, 2017 to July 14, 2017.
Thus starts the beginning of my Vineyard story, a story I am anxious to tell, and can’t wait to see unfold. I hope the plot keeps thickening and that more and more characters are brought in to experience it. At the conference I was surrounded by people who love the Lord our God. I was in the midst of female pastors, church planters, theologians, and newcomers alike. People of all ages were in the building. There was no segregation besides the fact that the children had the option to go outside where they had a big tent set up for them to join services geared toward their age grouping. When we were worshipping as a church body, it felt like a taste of heaven. People of all different tribes were speaking in all sorts of languages, raising their voices to Our King. It was beauty in its rare form.
I discovered that the church was founded by a man named John Wimber which everyone had great esteem for at the conference. I did some research and found that this movement was birthed because people sought a relationship with God and desired to know more of His Spirit. They worshipped and cried out to God and did powerful things in His name. They wanted the kingdom to come. The full scope of spiritual gifts this brought to life gave birth themselves through the members as they learned to wait on the Lord. After hearing a little bit about what Wimber believed, I especially enjoyed hearing that he believed similar to what I did about how faith without works are dead. The Bible says in James 2, “As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.” We are actually called to go out and do great things in Jesus’ name, not just talk about them.
The conference introduced to me a speaker named Adam Russell whom asked and answered a great question, “why do we do church?” He emphasized the fact that we are all looking for transcendence, going beyond normal experiences. He touched on the fact that as humans, we are all searching for more. That “more” is Jesus Christ himself. He went on to say that Jesus uses the weak to shape the wise and he also shed some light on the fact that we have the capacity to experience that with great joy and authenticity. He then added a description of how as the church, we are a pillar and foundation for truth. I absolutely loved that. Many other people spoke at the conference, but this man’s message spoke directly to me.
I had been enthralled by what I saw at the Vineyard, I had to keep asking questions. So I did. The people I went to the conference with were in love with the Vineyard Movement, so I asked for their take on things, as well as asking God in fervent prayer if this was really for me. My head, heart, and body were getting filled up with the Holy Spirit’s transforming power at the conference. I found this to be especially true when I broke down and sobbed like a little baby because I realized how broken I truly was. The people who wrote “When Helping Hurts,” put it best when they stressed that we are all broken, but Jesus can heal us. I simply just had to say yes to it. It was a radical yes, something that just went beyond my personhood. I had to keep receiving more knowledge. I knew that this church was like none other from the experiences I had received all my life.
I have to say that the number one thing I discovered was that this church actually was passionate about growing up women in leadership. Women are not separate, they are heavily emphasized as equal in this church. This set my heart ablaze. The church’s theology is all about equipping disciples for the kingdom. I have been to churches who believe the same thing but perhaps not quite as strongly as the Vineyard. Another part of the Vineyard theology that I saw and loved, was the fact that they are for justice. The church takes a stand to remember the poor, be reconcilers, do justice, and stand up for the voiceless. This was right up my alley. The church is all about empowering others to enact the justice of God’s Kingdom. I felt strongly that I just have to be a part of this.
I have never been to a church and experienced the Holy Spirit quite like I did at the Vineyard. Most churches I have attended seemed to leave that part out, or only influenced the Spirit and nothing else. With the Vineyard it is all about balance. It is the “both/and” experience and I look forward to learning more about this. I’ve been to the scary churches where people are doing odd things and I have attended the scared churches where people keep the Spirit up in the nose bleed seats so as to not scare or offend anyone. The vineyard emphasizes everyone to experience the Spirit, and urges people to step out using their spiritual gifts to be ready for challenge and experience the gifts and callings that the Lord gives us. I kept thinking to myself, “Sign me up, more of you God.”
God’s purpose for His creation is to participate with Him in bringing His kingdom and this oozes out in the Vineyard’s theology. I saw this particularly when I discovered that in this church, it’s like going to an all-inclusive resort. Everyone gets a chance to experience everything that God has to offer. We all get to play. The impact of the Holy Spirit that I saw with the Vineyard Movement empowered me and scared me a little at the same time. However, when I went forth and asked someone at the conference to pray for me, she said something that just struck me in a really powerful way. She basically said, “So what, do it scared”. I thought to myself, yeah, I like this! It caused me to look back at the things I have done in my life when I was scared. I birthed a child, built a house for her and I, lost the people whom I loved more than anything in life, went back to school as an adult, hit rock bottom, went to some interesting churches, and the list goes on and on. I did all of those things scared. However, looking back, those difficult and scary things have shaped me into who I am today. I have learned great life lessons from all of them.
To be honest, I know I have a lot of other things in life that I am going to do scared as well. So I will do them, but I will say this…Doing them with Jesus and people who love Him coming alongside of me seems a bit less scary. We are all hardwired for relationship and community as human beings. This will be quite the process I am sure. I am learning that I am discovering more along the journey rather than having to get straight to the destination to check that box off my list. Praise God for His healing and restorative power. I want to be more like my friend who simply talked to me that day in the coffee shop about her story and now I want to pass it on. Her story, His story, and my story combined with one ultimate goal…to know Jesus and make Him known. Thank you Niki for helping light that fire.
Thanks, Andrea, for sharing that!