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Church Planting

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SHORE VINEYARD SENDING SERVICES THIS SUNDAY

In September 2014, I stood in front of Shore Vineyard churches for the last time and was decommissioned as the assistant pastor. Gabrielle and I were being released to begin our explorative journey of what it was to plant the church God was putting on our hearts. We didn't know what it was going to be like, but we were willing to give it a shot. 

Over the coming months our Central Vineyard church plant has slowly emerged. People have signed up and plans have formed. God began showing us what direction to head in and we have started to head there and see what happened. We are now well on our way in this journey – it's not just a hunch anymore, but a reality.

Which brings us to this Sunday: we will stand in front of our Shore Vineyard family again, this time not to be decommissioned to investigate, but commissioned to go and do what we are now doing: planting Central Vineyard.

In the book of Acts is the story of the birth of the Church. Jesus issues the visionary orders that they will be filled with God's Spirit and they are to "go to the ends of the earth." This all becomes a reality by the explosive act of God's Spirit creating a strong gathering of believers in Jerusalem and then, through the persecution of the believers, the church scatters out into the surrounding regions where these scattered-ones don't stop sharing this new Good News and making more believers...

...who form more gatherings. The way the church spread was by the gathered ones becoming the scattered ones, who then made more gathered ones who joined in God's work in that other place. It took being grounded somewhere, but also the uprooting of being sent out.

Our church roots are with the gathered ones of Shore Vineyards, our fantastic church family who have grown us up to be the people we are today, and bitter-sweetly, this weekend we will be with this family for the last time. This Sunday, our SVC family will do like the prophets and teachers of Antioch did in Acts 13:3, who "laid their hands on them and sent them on their way", releasing Paul and Barnabas to go and do what the Holy Spirit was leading them to do.

We know that the Body of Christ is one of gathering together, but also being scattered elsewhere to be salt and light. As John Wimber used to say, “we want to be change in God’s pocket, and He can spend us however He likes” and this is how we are choosing to be spent.

We are proud of our roots. We love Vic and Fran, our pastors who have equipped us and raised us up. We love the countless amount of people we have served alongside in all kinds of ways over the years – many of them are close friends still today, and we will miss doing the work of the Kingdom with them all. There is the sad and painful cost for us in being uprooted and sent, and it's that we don't get to do this with this family anymore. But this is what it looks like to be in a movement of churches that values multiplication – we know that the Body of Christ is one of gathering together, but also being scattered elsewhere to be salt and light. As John Wimber used to say, "we want to be change in God's pocket, and He can spend us however He likes" and this is how we are choosing to be spent.

So we look forward to being with our Shore Vineyard family this Sunday, as they bless us to be sent on our way to go make our new family, Central Vineyard. If you're a friend who is going to be there, we look being with you then and receiving your blessing to go.

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Winter Update

Last week we were in the middle of our fourth monthly gathering at Crave cafe, when one of our team led us all through a prayer time after the worship. James invited us all to get into small groups around our tables and to either pray for a) each other, or b) our church plant.

For the next five minutes I was blown away. I listened gratefully as the room buzzed with the prayers and petitions of people praying for us and/or each other. It's sometimes hard to know how "planting a church" is going, it can be quite immeasurable. But in this moment of planting Central Vineyard, this moment of a room buzzing with prayers, I was overwhelmed with gratitude. We are witnesses to a great thing; Christ is building this church and there is no turning back now.

At times we're feeling like grown-ups already. We've had great things to celebrate such as a couple in our leadership team having their first baby and friends who have been in a season of being prodigals who have given their lives back to Christ. We've also had some hard and painful things to go through already as well. What was it that Paul said in Romans 12? "Be happy with those who are happy, weep with those who are weeping." Yeah, we are getting that one.

Now, a word on what's next. On July 5th we are being released and sent from our sending church, Shore Vineyard. On that Sunday we will be prayed out and commissioned as a team, and from that Sunday onwards we'll be looking to turn up the heat on Central Vineyard church plant and get it ready for the spring months of 2015 to launch it publicly and properly. We'll be planning to start gathering regularly together (rather than just our once-a-month) and making our preparations to become a fully-operating commissioned Vineyard church. It's all very, very exciting.

And now, a word of thanks to some people. For those who are praying with and for us, thank you. We are feeling very loved and led by the Father, Son and Spirit in all of this, and we know it's because of people like yourselves who are praying. For those who are financially giving to us, thank you. You gift is helping us to do church and bless people around us as we need to. For those who are inviting people and sending people our way, thank you for believing in us and what we are doing to trust your friends and family with us.

We look forward to what is going to happen over the winter as we take the steps of planning for the spring – the season of new life, quite literally. Our new life being the intended launch of our church community and playing our part in the loving and serving of Auckland city.

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First gathering wrap-up

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The last time we gathered last year, it filled up our lounge and we had a hunch that we wouldn't be able to keep meeting there due to size. So this week we gathered at Crave Cafe on Wednesday evening and it turned out we were right: we wouldn't have been able to fit this in our lounge anymore.

We had 30+ people come to our "taste-and-see" styled night where we just wanted to be ourselves as a church expression and see who might find a place that feels like "home". Together we enjoyed some great coffee (thanks Heather, the great Crave barista who hosted us!), our team led us all wonderfully as we worshipped together, prayed and listened to the Spirit for a while. I spoke on "learning to walk: community and Kingdom" and to finish we came to the communion table.

It was pretty amazing to see something that has lived for so many months inside our hearts, minds and journals start to come out and become tangible, and it feels like the start of something good.

We want to say a big "thank you" to our growing team who are making all of this happen, and to those who are supporting us. We are so grateful.

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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.


 

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Why we still haven't got out a whiteboard

Last night we had our second monthly gathering with twenty people crammed into our lounge, which was quite a cosy feeling on such a hot, muggy Auckland evening. We shared a meal, chatted, worshipped and prayed, and it was great.

Planting a church is a balance of listening to the Lord for His direction, figuring out what to do with that, and making plans. We have our timeline which we are using as a trajectory, but we don't know all the details yet. I'm becoming increasingly aware that the season we are in at the moment is to enjoy being in God's presence and hearing from Him, and leave cranking out the whiteboard and markers to brainstorm the exact plans for a little while longer yet.

At times people ask me "So, what are we doing?" and deep down I am tempted to try lay out a five-step plan or a bunch of tangible things we can achieve and do. I guess that's just the sign of the culture we live in where people want to know the measurable goals and steps. We want to know what an organisation is doing as a sign of whether it's successful or worth their buy-in. I get that, I fall victim to thinking we have to do this too.

But the words of Jesus call us to a counter-cultural way to make plans and measure success.

In John 15, Jesus says that He is the vine and we are the branches, and that if we abide in Him we will bear fruit. There is a warning in what Jesus is saying here: don't get this around the wrong way. Jesus' advice is that the first "do" must be to abide in Him, and from that all the right things will come.

The season we are in as we head into Christmas, a January summer break, and then kick off again in February, is to do what Jesus says in this passage. We're going to enjoy the privilege of enjoying Christ while there isn't a hundred other things that can rob us of that, and learn how it feels to make this our first port-of-call in all that we do as a church. 

One of the highlights of last night was that we had a friend, Andy Campbell, visit us as our guest and lead us in worship. To finish the set he used this song, which lyrically echoes the sense I have of what we are to do at the moment:

O Lord we seek your face

Your Spirit, truth and grace

Breathe on us

Spirit, breathe on us

Enjoy this song for yourself, and if you would, please join us in praying that we would have eyes to see and ears to hear what He is beckoning us towards, because until we feel we are getting this right, we won't be getting that whiteboard out in a hurry.


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Advent and waiting to begin

Earlier this week my wife, Gabrielle, hung up our Christmas wreath on the front door. This tells me two things: one, Advent has begun and it’s nearly Christmas, and two, we only have one more month left in 2014 before our big journey of 2015 commences; planting Central Vineyard church. 

A major theme of Advent is waiting, and waiting is what we have been doing for quite a few months now - we’ve been waiting to start this journey, and we’ve had small glimpses of getting things underway while always knowing that the summer break over Christmas and New Year is a big deal for the average Kiwi, so we best keep the pressure off till it’s out of the way.

This time of waiting has become a bit like a “rolling-start” for us (a way some motor races begin, where the contestants, rather than racing from a complete stand-still, all drive slowly beside each other until the light goes green and then it’s flat-out racing). Several months ago we started to gather a small “engine room” core team, we launched our presence and identity online, last month we had our first gathering with a dozen people in our lounge, and this month it looks like it will be above twenty people. Slowly support is growing, word is spreading and there is something emerging out of what had just been an idea and a sense of God speaking to us.

This Advent we are joining with the global Church in waiting for the coming of Emmanuel, but also, we are waiting for the end of a year of waiting, and the beginning of a year of starting what we have been waiting for.

P.S. To make the most of the Advent journey, I highly recommend these videos being released by 24/7 Prayer:

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