A couple weeks ago my wife and I made the trek to Arizona for the National Vineyard Leader’s conference. We have our regional conferences one year, and then the following we have a national gathering. That means we don’t get to see some of our friends but only every two years. I always look forward to these events. This year was especially meaningful because of where we are as a movement.
We arrived early for a few days down-time, and went over to see the Grand Canyon, which was just amazing. I can’t even begin to describe what we felt when we first gazed upon the life-size natural iMax scene before us. As the weekend before the conference grew to a close, more pastors and leaders checked into the hotel where we were staying. We ran into Lance & Cheryl, and just had a great time laughing at breakfast. Our old friends Thor & Bonnie arrived, and we made our way to the North Phoenix Vineyard’s campus.
Wow! So, this is what a mega-church looks like! A very friendly volunteer took us for a tour of the children’s facility, where I snapped too many pictures. It was awesome. I was totally impressed with the Phoenix Vineyard’s volunteers. I was greeted warmly, and authentically by no less than ten people each time we arrived. They are a wonderful bunch of very loving and giving servants. Thank you! You set an example for all of us. These volunteers (maybe as many as 250 who took their vacation time to serve us!) were always cheerful, and ready to help.
All the pastors I had talked with were anticipating this conference, not the least of which was because we are about to decide on a new national director. We actually get to vote, or maybe it’s better to say recommend our choice. Because of the recession I did not expect a great turn-out, but I was surprised. Brian’s auditorium (the pastor of N. Phoenix) was probably 80% full, so we had good representation from our churches. It’s a huge auditorium, and there’s not a bad seat in the house. Of course the best times at these things can easily be what goes on in the lobby, at lunch & at dinner with our fellow pastors. This was no different.
Hugs, laughter, smiles galore abounded in the outer courts, as we were encouraged to enter the sanctum of all-things Vineyard for our first session on that Monday evening. I looked to the giant screens to see what “priest” had the duties, and was pleasantly surprised to see David Ruis sitting at an old upright grand piano. David has written some of the most powerful & cherished worship songs in the Vineyard. Plus, though I don’t know him personally, I have heard of his mission’s work, and love for the marginalized and forgotten. This comes through in his passionate leading. From the first note, as usual with David, we were ushered into the presence of God with no effort. It is a true gift to be able to do that. I think this set the tone, and spirit for the rest of the conference. God was here. He was with us. He still loves the Vineyard, resides in it, and always welcomes us into his presence when we gather. Matt Turrigiano, from the Phoenix Vineyard, also helped lead the worship and did a splendid job. Love that rough, scratchy style voice! Plus, anybody that plays a Tele is okay in my book!
Brian Anderson, the host pastor shared with us on this opening night an insightful sermon on the Kingdom of God. It was a fitting topic because the kingdom is one of our most prized values. I especially appreciated Brian’s explanation of the three groups Jesus confronted – the Zealots, Essenes, & Sadducees. As Brian said, we do not need another “Zealot-style” church; we do not need another “withdrawing” (Essene) church; nor do we need another liberal (Sadducees) church. “Our mission is to do everything we can to see the age to come, to come down to the earth now.”
Brian’s message set the tone for our new mission statement – “To Reach the Unreached.”
I was reminded that night that we do have a distinct calling in the Vineyard. We are called to see the kingdom come, to pray for it, to be available to it, to expect it, to look for it, and to join the Father in it when the Holy Spirit brings it.
The first night was not a super, duper, throw-down of a night. It was more of a serious, sober reminder that we are involved in the most important calling in the world…we have some good news for all of the unreached!
Version 1.1 will follow…