‘Everyone Gets to Play’

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It may sound more ‘have a Nice Day’ than ‘have a Nicene Creed’, but phrases like ‘everyone gets to play’ have shaped the theology of church praxis for many within the Vineyard movement. Although I’ve read the available literature about the early days, I must confess I was not a first-hand participant when the term came into use. Nor, sadly, did I get to sit with Wimber and friends chatting long into the night about exactly what he had in mind. So, in reflecting on what Vineyard finds meaningful in it, I am ready to stand corrected by those who were there.

Theological reflection is, of course, always an unfinished symphony. And so far as Vineyard is concerned, the point has already been well made that we are not to become the curators of a John Wimber museum:

With all due respect to John for the gift he was to us, we must remember it was John himself who exhorted us to “take the best and go.” To become the keepers of the “old ways” would go against all that Wimber stood for. (Bill Jackson, The Quest for the Radical Middle (Cape Town: Vineyard International Publishing, 1999), p.351. )

Furthermore, as Todd Hunter has said, the real question is not whether something is Vineyard but whether it is biblical, and Bill Jackson makes the point that ‘Looking back with fondness to the days of old as defined by our point of entry is all right as long as we don’t let that nostalgia keep us from the best days that are ahead.’

So, ‘everyone gets to play’ may be Vineyard, but is it biblical? And does it continue to have meaning and application, rather than simply being a relic of the Wimber era?

My judgement, on both questions, would be ‘yes.’ But let’s start with what it means.

To me, ‘everyone gets to play’ is rooted in the belief that ‘doing ministry’ is not to be the sole prerogative of ‘the leader’, the big name superstar who was so often a feature of individualistic charismatic and pentecostal ministries in the twentieth century. It’s sad, but not hard to see why Christians from time-to-time get drawn towards an iconic, sparkly-eyed, dualistic figure who seems to live in a realm somewhere in-between the real world and the heavenly places, dispensing other-worldly wisdom and anointed ministry, and upon whose mystical spirituality one can but gaze in awe. Someone who has a ‘special anointing’ and is far closer to God than ordinary people, especially if one believes God is located on another planet. Some of us grew up with the assumption that – whether in a local meeting or on the big stage at some national event – this was essentially what anointed Spirit-filled Christianity was all about. Oh, how God must long for more such leaders, we thought. Oh, to be ‘not of this world’ in the same way ourselves. Surely this is what Jesus must have been like.

Parody the front-of-house superstar though one might (or as I would argue, one should), there are some serious theological points here concerning the priesthood of all believers and the way God gives the gifts of his Spirit to the church. It touches on the very essence of the human relationship with God and with one another within his Body. It has to do with our understanding of how God moves in us, through us and among us (plural) as a Christian community, not just in and through me as an individual.

Perhaps because it grew up as a child of the late-Modern era, most charismatic thinking has reflected an almost entirely individualistic understanding and application of charismatatology. However, even the apparently more permanent and more individualised ‘ministry gifts’ of apostles, prophets, teachers and so on, cited in 1 Cor 12:28, are expressly located in the church. There’s an inherent connectedness and joining, both to the church and to one another.

But although this is a part of the message of 1 Cor12, it doesn’t stop at that. The idea of gifted ministries ‘doing the stuff’ together as a team is certainly to be found there, but it’s far from radical. In radical-ness, the text goes far beyond that.

1 Cor 12 is one of those landmark passages that fundamentally influences my theology of how God works and my ecclesiology of what the church is all about. Here are some ideas I find in it, in which I hope we will see a biblical connection to the Wimber concept that “everyone gets to play.”

“… to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.”

1 Cor 12:7 tells us that the manifestation of the Spirit is given ‘to each one’ – not through one to each. Furthermore, the purpose of this giving is ‘the common good.’ Built-in to the moving of the Spirit, then, is a necessary plurality. He is manifest both through the many as well as for the good of the many.

“To one there is given through the Spirit …, to another … by means of the same Spirit, to another … by the same Spirit, to another … by that one Spirit, to another …, to another …, to another … and to still another … All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines."

It is biblically impossible to be a one-person ministry; at least, it is if we expect more than a tiny minority of the Spirit’s gifts to be present in that ministry. God has decided that only in community will all of the gifts be visible. If we want to see the full anointing of the Spirit, it will only be visible in us as a community. Only when we are together with others are we able, collectively, to reflect the full gifts of the Spirit. He gives them to each one, not to just one. How then can we limit those who ‘get to play’, if only God knows to whom he has determined to give each gift?

“If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.” Just as there are many, many different parts in a human body, so too in Christ’s body the church. Just like a human body, to look right and work right requires lots of different bits. A body made up of too many bits of one type and too few of another is a distorted imago dei and dysfunctional, if not disabled. Only through the diversity of the many different members of the Christian community, coming together, is anything approaching the full personhood and life of Christ achieved. We need one another – including, just as much, the ‘less presentable’ parts – in order to be normatively like Christ.

Not just the ‘gifted’ people. Not just those who have their act together. Not just those who are photogenic, married with 2.4 children and have steady jobs. Even the head (Christ) needs the feet (the lowest of the low, in body-terms) – not out of lack, but out of choice. Only together, as a community, with all our varying degrees of presentability, form and function, are we truly like Christ. Only together, as a community, can the full range of the Spirit’s gifts be present. Christ-likeness is only achievable collectively. The fullness of the Spirit is only available collectively.

“… those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable … God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honour to the parts that lacked it.”

Indispensable is a strong word. To use it to speak of the weaker parts of the body is counter-intuitive. Why might that be? Is it just Paul being charitable? Perhaps it has something to do with strength being made perfect in weakness (rather than, as most of us seem to believe, from the ways we act, strength being made perfect in strength). Perhaps it’s something to do with the upside-down logic of the Kingdom, where paradoxically we are strong when we are weak, not the other way around. I don’t think that God has in mind here just some kind of sympathy vote to the weaker members, trying to make them feel a bit better in their uselessness. Again, in our ‘doing’ ministry as a church, the weak have a role and a place, that needs to be honoured, not pushed to the fringes. ‘Each one’ of us is a part of it (v.27).

“And now I will show you the most excellent way.”

It’s a pity, in many ways, that the Bible got chopped up into chapters and verses. It means we split what I Cor 12 has to say about the nature of the Spirit’s working in the community of the church – and through the church to the world – from what 1 Cor 13 has to say on the same subject. The most excellent way of what?, one is tempted to ask. Of ministering as the body of Christ. Of manifesting the presence and power of the Spirit. Love is the most excellent way because it is the end of our endeavours, not merely the temporary means, as are the other manifestations of the Spirit. If I have gifts without love – even the most powerful gifts – ‘I am nothing’ (13:2). Love is more excellent because it survives the transition from this present era into the next. It’s permanent. We take ‘relationship’ with us. ‘Love’ is an overused word these days. Perhaps ‘relating to each other, graciously, generously and sacrificially’ (just as in Christ God demonstrated to us the ultimate gracious, generous and sacrificial love) could sometimes be used instead, because biblical love, like biblical faith, is all about what we do, not how we feel inside or the ideas that we think.

Everyone gets to play in the Kingdom not because the leaders are kind and don’t like to see some left out. Not because of feeling sorry for the less-gifted or less-presentable. No, ‘everyone gets to play’ because God has designed it that way. We can’t be fully like Christ, as churches, if we are any other way. We can’t expect the full presence and power of the Spirit if we are any other way.

Being fully Christ-like as church communities is only possible as we embrace and give full place to the weaker and the less presentable. It’s not about being charitable but about being more Christ-like, and more effective, by listening to the paradoxes in the Bible’s take on things. Being Christ-like is a community characteristic, not just an individual one. A city set on a hill can’t be hidden at night, but ‘this little light of mine’ can be.

Next time we decide who should be praying for the needy in the ministry times, we might want to rethink our natural assumptions about ‘who gets to play’ and why. Yes, it’s weird, but the foolishness of God is, after all, wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength (1 Cor 1:25). God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things so that no one may boast before him (1 Cor 1:28-9). Perhaps that’s because he knew that leaders would do, if he organised his moving in any other way?