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Benchmarks | Discipleship

This Benchmark blog was guest written by Dave Hoskins, a member of the Central Vineyard team. He's pretty hard to miss as he's the one with a pretty impressive beard, coloured the finest of ginger. Enjoy!

“And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.’”
— Matthew 28:18-20

For the past three years, I have trained to become a nurse. This involved a repeated process of teaching, observing and practicing. During the teaching stage, I learned the theories and rational of the many different actions nurses must carry out, and during the observation and practicing stages, I was assigned an experienced nurse to watch how they carried out their nursing cares, and then to guide me through completing those cares myself. Now, at the end of this degree, I have the basic experience and knowledge from which I can continue to grow and develop my understanding and ability in order to become an increasingly more proficient and caring nurse.

During his earthly ministry, Jesus’ life with his followers reflected a similar pattern. He would cycle through times of teaching, demonstrating and releasing his followers to continue the work of the Kingdom of God here on earth. Then they would gather together and talk about all that they had done. Sometimes they got it wrong and required correcting, and other times they would return with joy, marvelling at the power carried in Jesus’ name.

Jesus discipled Peter. Peter taught and discipled the followers in Jerusalem. Paul discipled followers all through the Middle East and Asia Minor, commanding the followers in Corinth ‘Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.’ Paul’s disciples Timothy and Titus would make disciples in Ephesus and Crete. And so it has been for two millennia: a disciple has made disciples who have gone on to make more disciples. At a recent Vineyard Conference, Costa Mitchell asked,

“What is the fruit of an evangelist? What is the fruit of a teacher? Can I answer my own question? The fruit of an evangelist is another evangelists. The fruit of a teacher is another teacher. The fruit of an apostle is other apostles. The fruit of a pastor is that other people will be caring. The gifts are given, not so that someone gets famous, but so that the saints are equipped to do the work of ministry. Jesus is supposed to be the only guy who gets famous out of this deal.”

In the Vineyard, we believe that the best way to make disciples is by planting churches. So we plant churches to make disciples, and we make disciples who plant churches. This sentiment has been reflected by others from a diversity of movements and denominations. Mike Breen, an Anglican minister who now leads 3D Movements, a movement promoting discipleship and mission writes,

“If you make disciples, you always get the church. But if you make a church, you rarely get disciples.”

Discipleship is at the core of what Central Vineyard is doing, and we are doing so through four ongoing and intersecting branches:

Finding God: being a disciple involves an ever increasing intimacy with the God of the bible.
Finding a friend: being a disciple involves an ever increasing depth of community within the context we are placed.
Finding a job: being a disciple involves an ever increasing sense of the role we play in the gathered and scattered people of God.
Finding ourselves: being a disciple involves an ever increasing understanding of the people God has made us to be.

Following this command is an intimidating task. For this reason we keep in mind the statements Jesus bookended the great commission with. Firstly, this command is given with ‘All authority in heaven and on earth.’ When discipling and being discipled, we are doing so with all the authority of God at our backs. This authority can not fail. Finally, Jesus says ‘behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.’ He will be walking beside us, guiding us, comforting us, and empowering us to carry out his work in the world.



Benchmarks | Prayer

Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere.
— Ephesians 6:18

I have never been content with my prayer life. 

Please note, I say content. I do pray, and often too – as I hope you might as well. It's a sense of not being satisfied with this simple-yet-complex devotional discipline that I am writing about here though. There's something about it that just always leaves me feeling like I haven't got there yet.

When I read what Paul writes here to the Ephesian church in this Benchmark, it can seem like a big ask, but for Paul it's meant to be the most normal thing in the whole world. Let me explain:

Paul has grown up in a culture where the presence of God was found in a special room within a temple. This temple was the temple found in Jerusalem, and in the temple was a room called the Holy of Holies – a room behind a curtain, where access was strictly forbidden to only the cleanest-of-clean, the highest priest on the Day of Atonement.

Now, if you've read the story of Jesus before, you might remember that the moment he died on his cross, a curtain in the temple was torn – that curtain was this curtain. It's tearing symbolised that the presence of God was now no longer stuck in just this place, but was now bursting forth to be found with the new priests, in the new temples: God's Church, His people. (Read: Us.)

And so Paul, because this is what he thinks of when he thinks of this new place of God's Spirit, says that we are what that room in the temple used to be used for all the time: a place of God's presence.

The story of the scriptures tell us that we are the new royal priesthood, the people who are on the cutting edge of the Kingdom of God breaking into the world. ... Looking at that job-profile, I realise that we always have something to do and unfortunately we will never be fully satisfied this side of heaven. Prayer becomes one of the roads we live all of this out on.

Which brings me back to that feeling of being discontent. Being discontent about prayer is actually all about being discontent about something far bigger - our entire relationship with God and our place in His story. The story of the scriptures tell us that we are the new royal priesthood, the people who are on the cutting edge of the Kingdom of God breaking into the world. In this new thing God is doing, we are to be the people who are to intercede for others, to worship and glorify God, to do acts of justice in the world and to live holy and blameless lives. Looking at that job-profile, I realise that we always have something to do and unfortunately we will never be fully satisfied this side of heaven. Prayer becomes one of the roads we live all of this out on.

So how could you walk this road another step?

Well, there's something very simple you could do next time you notice something spring up around you. Maybe a friend reports to you a sickness, or another looks really tired. Maybe someone has a big decision to make, or someone else might be struggling with something. Another friend may have great news to celebrate. No matter what the scenario, here's seven words you could say that would sum up Paul's challenge in Ephesians 6:18:

"Can I pray for you, right now?"



Benchmarks | Inventive Hospitality

There are a bunch of moments in the Scriptures where authors are writing to new communities of faith, giving them some benchmarks to aim for as they live out following Jesus together. For this blog series we are taking some of these benchmarks and seeing what we can learn from them in our own journey.

Help needy Christians; be inventive in hospitality.
— Romans 12:13, The Message

Last week I got on a plane and headed to Australia to attend a conference. I was with a friend who had done most of the organising of this trip on my behalf (thanks Andy...) and he had lined up a place for us to stay for a few nights with some friends he knew. I didn't know these people, they were strangers – and I also didn't know that these strangers were about to school me on what it looks like to welcome a stranger.

"I'll be comfortable, if you're comfortable." Those were the words that Tim said to me as we introduced ourselves to each other, and boy, did I end up feeling pretty comfortable. Offers to "help yourself" to everything in the fridge rung out; questions of "what are you up to?" were genuinely listened to with stories traded of where we've been and what we've done; more offers to "help yourself" followed by helpful advice for the next day's adventure were then followed by more offers of "help yourself – mate, do you want some ice cream?"


It's amazing to me how such openness to serve someone can take one from being a stranger, to becoming a friend. Every offer of a beer, or a question of "how did you sleep?" was like a drawbridge that was lowered into my world, inviting me to cross over into theirs.

I'm not good at being a stranger and I don't like staying one when I can help it. At Tim and Cand's place in Curl Curl, I didn't stand a chance.

Here in Paul's letter to the Romans he is describing what a life of worship looks like – a life where we point to the glory of someone else. In amongst all kinds of advice is this line that I have made a personal manifesto of how I want to live my life: "be inventive in hospitality." If I could rewrite this, it would say, "be creative and bold in serving everyone with what you have."

Now, a slight tangent for a moment.

A buzzword in church-circles these days is "community". Everyone seems to be "aiming" for it. The problem is, when we make a word like "community" the focus of our communities, we keep aiming for our ideal of it and never really hit it at all, and we end up selling ourselves short and think that just by having a potluck dinner once every couple of months we have "it". But, if we start to break it down into little chunks – little benchmarks like Paul is doing here – and do those things, suddenly one day we look around and realise we have found community as a result.

It's one of those tree/fruit kind of things. "Community" is the fruit of a tree of "service", not the other way around.

Radical service of people with all that you have, whatever that is, is always going to help build community. It will include people and it will humble others. It will use gifts and resources that are in abundance, and it will require sacrifice of things that are tight. It will make some mess, and it will do some tidying. It will love, and it will be loved.

And when all this inventive hospitality of strangers settles, we look around, and we realise that we are now surrounded by friends.

At Central Vineyard, as a church plant, we are preparing to walk this kind of adventure of strangers becoming friends. The call for everyone to be open to inventive hospitality – both giving it, and receiving it – will see us forever in a good direction. In stealing the words of my new friend Tim, "we'll be comfortable, when you're comfortable."



Benchmarks | Him first

There are a bunch of moments in the Scriptures where authors are writing to new communities of faith, giving them some benchmarks to aim for as they live out following Jesus together. For this blog series we are taking some of these benchmarks and seeing what we can learn from them in our own journey.

Don’t grieve God. Don’t break His heart. His Holy Spirit, moving and breathing in you, is the most intimate part of your life, making you fit for himself. Don’t take such a gift for granted.
— Ephesians 4:30, The Message

Stories inform us of where we have come from, and for this Benchmark I want to draw on a great story from the history of the Vineyard. John Wimber was a busy, tired and broken man who had become “internally bankrupt" while working long hours as a church growth consultant for Fuller Seminary. One night as he lay exhasperated in a hotel room the Lord drew him to read Psalm 61 and then spoke to him these life-altering words:

John, I have seen your ministry and now I am going to show you mine.

This phrase sums up the ground work that the Vineyard movement was started on; a group of tired and weary people who humbly sought the Spirit’s work rather than their own – a  group who wanted to see the Lord’s ministry at work before them. This is the right-way-round way to do it and this order has been around for a long time.

In the Prophetic books of the Bible, the prophets are constantly urging the people of Israel to return to Spirit-first living, Jesus heralded this way of doing things, and here in Ephesians 4 Paul echoes it again, laying it out as a benchmark for the new church of Ephesus. He says to them that they should be people who don’t miss putting the work of God up at the front-end of all the proceedings in their lives and their community. It’s a big deal, so he uses a powerful phrase, in a similar way to the prophets: don’t grieve God.

Perhaps a parable might help thread this out a little more.

Now, imagine for a second you are a father or mother, and your teenage kid wants to start playing a new sport – the same one you played and still love as a fan. You have helpful tips ready to give, you have some training in mind to help them build their skills, and most of all you are looking forward to hanging out with them more because of their involvement with this sport. All of this will give you joy.

One day you are waiting in the car for them to finish practice and you get a txt: “I’m making my own way home with so-and-so’s dad. See you later at home."

In the kitchen later that week, when you ask them about how that weak spot of their game is going, you get the reply, “Well, so-and-so’s dad says it doesn’t matter, so I’m just forgetting it for now."

A few weeks later they haven’t even told you where the game is that week. You get a txt late that afternoon asking for you to come pick them up and when you get there they are a little pissy with you that you are so late and left them in the rain.

Your plans of mentoring them and seeing them enjoy the sport you love has now become a new reality: you’ve become the back-up position for when their other plans don’t work out.

To put ourselves first and treat God as a back-up plan is to miss a big point; it’s getting the order wrong. In grieving the Spirit, we are grieving the work God wants to do in us, through us and with us, and that’s a gift we don’t want to neglect.

In this journey of following Jesus and planting this church, we know there's lots of wonderful ministry we could do, but in choosing humility, we want Him to show us His ministry first – and to continue to do so – because the last thing we want is to treat the Lord as our back-up plan.




Benchmarks | Sing

There are a bunch of moments in the Scriptures where authors are writing to new communities of faith, giving them some benchmarks to aim for as they live out following Jesus together. For this blog series we are taking some of these benchmarks and seeing what we can learn from them in our own journey.

Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts.
— Colossians 3:16b

It's been the month of summer music festivals here in New Zealand which means that news sites and Facebook feeds have been full of pictures of people enjoying the sun, their friends and their favorite bands. There's been pictures of crowds of people together, hands raised and shouting lyrics at the top of their voices. A lot of these pictures have shown me something about our culture: we like to sing. 

To sing is human. It's something we do from the earliest of ages; while watching children's TV shows that teach us the alphabet; in our rooms to our favorite top-40-hits as a teenager; belting out the national anthem before a sports game — though perhaps that could be better described as "melodic mumbling" for some of us. Anyway...

Paul gives an instruction to the young church in Colosse to focus on Christ by singing songs together. This would have been nothing new to these people, as they would have liked music and singing just as much as we do today, but there is a new message in the music: Christ. Because of this they are to sing some old songs, some new songs and some songs that haven’t even happened yet.

Paul's first instruction: sing psalms. The Psalms are a collection of songs, prayers and poems in the middle of our Bibles, and this collection had been the words of prayer for generations of Hebrew people.

It had been their words to songs as they travelled.

It had been their words of praise when they held a celebration.

It had been their words of lament when they were suffering in exile.

It had been their words as they journeyed with God through all that life brought, day-after-day.

These words still relate today. There are words in the Psalms for when we don't even know them ourselves yet, and they have been there for generations. There is a deep well to experience if we would engage and sing these words. Sadly, we have left a lot of these behind.

Next Paul says to sing hymns. These are songs that the people would sing together that weren't in the book of Psalms, but were known to each other. Songs that someone at some point had written, for whatever reason or experience, and other people thought it was good enough to join in with. It has always been good to have songwriters gifting the church with songs that have been crafted for us to sing together, and that is no different today.

Lastly Paul says to sing spiritual songs — perhaps better interpreted as Spirit-led songs. Those spontaneous ones. The ones that just, well, happen. It is good to have spontaneous moments of singing whatever the Spirit is leading us towards. It helps us identify it and put words to it and it helps us to return praise to God for gifting it to us in the first place.

So Paul gives us a rhythm to our singing together: dig back into the rich depth of the Psalms, enjoy the current life of what the songwriters are bringing, and look for the new spontaneous thing that hasn’t even happened yet. It brings us to joy and thankfulness. It gives us a healthy perspective, realigning us towards Christ and His story. The presence of God moves and His activity works in and through us.

And all because of a time spent singing.

Who knew singing could be the platform for such a powerful work?

Maybe it’s because singing is an expression – the bit we can hear – of an even bigger activity lurking under the surface: worship.



Benchmarks | Joy

There are a bunch of moments in the Scriptures where authors are writing to new communities of faith, giving them some benchmarks to aim for as they live out following Jesus together. For this blog series we are taking some of these benchmarks and seeing what we can learn from them in our own journey.

Always be joyful.
— 1 Thes 5:16

A couple of nights ago, my sister-in-law and I teamed up to out-vote my health-conscious wife to have fish and chips for dinner. We walked to the takeaways shop to pick them up, and on the way back decided that we needed a bottle of soft drink to accompany the meal. It is tradition after all. I nipped into a convenience store to grab a bottle of Coca-Cola, and while I was waiting to pay for it I amused myself by reading the label:

“Open Happiness."

Sure. Like happiness is really a black fizzy drink, that if you over-consume, can have you at the dentist getting costly work done.

But, a few minutes later as we sat in the last of the summer sun on our deck, with the hot chips and a cool drink of that black-fizzy-happiness-juice, we were laughing and talking together. We were full of joy. Maybe it was because we had opened some happiness – or maybe it was because there was joy in each of us all along, and it took getting together around that table to bring it out.

Do you open happiness, or is happiness the opening of something bigger?

Here, in this letter to the Thessalonian followers of Jesus, Paul is telling them that to live in this new life is to be one of being full of joy. Read enough of Paul and you’ll see why he would say this. His message is continually the Good News that God's activity is near and is restoring the brokenness found in the world through Christ. Everyone is welcome to join in on this, entering what he calls “the new life". It’s a message of grace drenched hope, one that should make us content, and as a result, joyful.

Joy is different to happiness in so many ways and on so many levels; it's much harder to find than happiness, but once found, it’s a generous treasure that is hard to forget. The author Henri Nouwen put it this way: 

Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day.

It seems joy – like so many of the fruits of the Spirit – is made in us by daily choosing it, making a thousand small Spirit-led choices to be joyful in what ever circumstance may show up. 

So what would a church that has chosen to make “joy” one of it’s benchmarks look like? I think it could change everything – if joy was the fuel, I could see a big fire. When we get together, joy would make us sing loud and serve gladly. It would make us celebrate treasured moments, and help us be content with the mundane ones. There would be a healthy motive for us to live out the hope that we could be to our city, with more zeal and self-sacrfice. We’d feel alive because we are completely aware that we are living a new life gift from Christ himself.

And so we choose to aim for this benchmark, and by God’s grace may we make it so that we can bring out the joy to be found in everything we put our hand to, opening happiness along the way.