When everyone gets to play...

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In the United States there is a television commercial depicting a tennis match. A stadium is filled with people watching a fit young tennis player preparing to serve. As he tosses the ball in the air a woman jumps down from the stands, her own tennis racquet in hand, and bumps the player out of the way while the ball is in midair. She completes the serve while more and more people leap from their seats down on to the pitch, each attempting to play tennis simultaneously. Madness ensues. Pandemonium breaks out in the tennis match. The television announcer intones, “When you let everyone play, nobody wins.” Of course, we in the Vineyard would disagree with the commercial.

One of the great legacies of the Vineyard movement in its first 25 years has been our proclamation, “Everyone gets to play.” Earlier this week Steve Burnhope affirmed that this is not only a Vineyard value but a Biblical one as well. His patient walk through I Corinthians reminded us that “everyone gets to play” is the way God designed the church.

One of the challenges ahead for the Vineyard is that we have not yet fully lived up to this value. It is an easy phrase to repeat. It is a particularly difficult standard to attain. How can we develop communities of faith in which everyone gets to play? While the invitation is extended toward all comers, leaders of Vineyard communities must realize that we are charged with more than offering an invitation. We are charged with creating an environment that makes it possible. We must develop an intentionality that finds its way into all aspects of community life. We must “set up the game” to encourage everyone to play, and in so doing, fulfill our responsibilities to equip believers to play effectively.

I’d like to suggest three issues facing leaders as we re-imagine the Vineyard by implementing the core value of “everyone gets to play.”.

1). The playground is too small. Vineyard services commonly conclude with teams of people--everyday people--praying for the needs of others. “Lay people” stand together praying Kingdom prayers of healing, inner healing, and reconciliation over anyone in need--but when the meeting stops, frequently so do the prayers. The same people who have been trained and released within the walls of the church rarely feel empowered to do the same in any other setting. Alan Scott’s Causeway Coast Vineyard in Portstewart is an example of providing structured opportunities for members of the community to pray for healing in a more native environment. Under the banner, “Healing” a simple chair placed the public square demonstrates by example that empowered ministry belongs to the everyday life of every believer. Their testimony is not one of complete success, yet they have remarkable accounts of the in-breaking of the Kingdom. What if the weekly church meeting became a celebration of successful ministry done during the week?

When the Apostle Paul urged believers to offer themselves as living sacrifice in Romans 12: 1, he was most certainty aware that sacrifice was the duty of a priest, conducted at a specific location--the Temple. By encouraging Roman (!) believers to become living sacrifices, Paul implied that the Temple boundaries had been forever broken down and the “qualifications” for priesthood came via the new birth. God’s Temple extends to all the earth, and His priests may minister in any location. Alan Scott commented to an American magazine “It’s messier this way,” but that is part and parcel of pastoring living stones (I Peter 2: 5). The alternative is to lead dead ones--they stay perfectly, but it’s precisely because they are dead.

2). Do leaders have faith for the people? Meeting the needs of those within the community of faith takes a toll on vision. Along with the first disciples, we need to cry, “Lord, increase our faith!” As an attitude of heart and as an item on our “to do” list, we need to ask ourselves whether we believe the example of Jesus and the sometimes outlandish promises of the scripture. Isaiah 61 (the text for Jesus’ inaugural message) indicates it is the poor, the brokenhearted and those who grieve who will become the agents of restoration for others. Do we believe that? The daily work of ministry to others is demanding and not always successful. It can also obscure the Kingdom vision.

The subtle temptation of a welfare mentality can creep into the both those who give and receive ministry. But these roles should be dynamic, not static. Do we present the Isaiah vision to those who are broken and in great need? Do we share the good news that they, too, can become repairers the breach? Community leaders are sometimes subject to an attitude of noblesse oblige, which is most certainly not a Kingdom perspective. Likewise, those who receive ministry may be tempted to settle for receiving ministry apart from engaging in ministry.

A simple practice among leaders can help remedy this attitude: as we meet together to discuss the needs of the community we should also share our vision for those we train. Moses celebrated the overflow of the Spirit when he said, “I wish that all the LORD's people were prophets.” Jesus danced a jig and said he saw Satan fall like a meteor when his rag-tag band of followers reported their early successes in ministry. Do we do the same?

3). When everyone gets to play, the nature of the game changes. The English Premier League presents football at the highest level: which is great for the sport, but not so great for ministry. In fact, the professional game presents 22 men desperately in need of rest being watched by 22,000 people desperately in need of exercise! It sounds a little bit like church life, doesn’t it? If the goal is to provide a high level of entertainment then excellence is a requirement, but if the goal is to equip others, excellence can become the enemy.

Sometimes a sincere drive for “excellence” morphs into a professional mentality. Veteran leaders tell stories of their own inadequacy when they first started out in ministry but sometimes fail to give room for the inadequacies of those in their charge. The laudable goal of doing all things well for the King sometimes presents a barrier to entry for those learning the do the stuff. Chesterton is helpful here: “anything worth doing is worth doing badly.” Do we provide venues for doing the stuff badly? Do we celebrate failure?

Recognizing the nature of the “game” means adjusting our metrics for success. Jesus is the example of excellence, but his method included entrusting ministry to radically unqualified men. How do we factor that into our communities today?