Knowing What, Understanding How

Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly as I should. Be wise in the way you act towards outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.
Colossians 4:2–6

We are a Movement of faith communities that spans a wide spectrum of approaches to church development and discipleship, as well as theological nuance and cultural engagement. We call this a "big tent." Our course—past, present, and future—is determined by communal discernment and dialogue rather than solely by statements and policy. For this reason, we have always resisted using denominational terminology. The Vineyard is not a franchise, it is a family.

The most powerful (though not the only) picture of the church is a family. It is not however, the western nuclear family, (dad mum and the kids) but rather the extended grown-up family which consists of many nuclear families, with a connection of clan/tribe name, nature and shared history... There is a significant difference between a "family of churches with a purpose" and a network of related churches. A family has a much deeper commitment to each other, in a similar way that a single man and single woman cheerfully and voluntarily give up some of their individual autonomy in order the have the greater privilege of marriage. In a family of churches we ask each individual church to cheerfully and voluntarily give up some of the freedom of being an autonomous church in order to become part of something bigger and more effective—a movement, clan or family of churches. A network, by contrast, simply connects a variety of churches with differing interests, theological emphases, and leadership styles. There is no need to give away any autonomy, and work together for the common good in a network.
Lloyd Rankin, former National Director of the New Zealand Association of Vineyard Churches

These aspirations require a heavy reliance on relational integrity and accountability. It is also the kind of paradigm wherein things tend to move more slowly than in other organizational models. This is a risk we are willing to take because how we process is, at times, even more important than what we do. Posture determines everything.

The Centred Set

The Vineyard ethos is one of relationship. It is at the core of who we are, which is why the Centred Set model best illustrates our culture. This is also why you will often hear us use the idiom "more caught than taught" in referring to how we operate and engage in ministry and mission. Creative tension is inherent in all relationships, and is amplified in diverse, big tent non-profits such as ours. This is why posture is critical. Our convictions should not quash, ignore, or deny this tension. Alexander Venter, a South African Vineyard Pastor, has been one of our key theologians and church practitioners from our Movement's earliest days. He reflects on how we use the Centred Set:

I was honored to work with John Wimber in 1982, learning, among other things, the Social Set Theory—the three sociological models (Fuzzy, Bounded, Centered)—introduced by Jack Simms, a sociologically trained market researcher on staff with Wimber in Yorba Linda between 1978 and 1982... By definition a model is a pictorial overview of how segments of reality are arranged and work. Models have limits to what they represent, to what they say and don't say. Hence we don't use Social Set Theory for theological or ethical reflection regarding church and society. We must be clear on the biblical theology of church (from a Kingdom hermeneutic) and then see where and how the Centered Set helps us to articulate it, and NOT the other way round. I.e. to make the Centered Set the basis of our ecclesiological or ethical thinking and praxis is to lose our biblical base. "Integrating truth" (a Vineyard value and practice) from other disciplines into Christian-Biblical faith and praxis (e.g. how we do church), needs critical theological evaluation as to its usability and application. We use the language and idea of the sociological models for their original purpose: contrasting views of approaches to society—how communities arrange their common life.
Alexander Venter

Though our emphasis is on the Centred Set, we do recognize that the Bounded Set approach is used by other churches and faith-based organizations, and may be required in certain circumstances. But our opinion is that a Bounded Set can also be easily weaponized for the purposes of preserving organizational integrity at the expense of relational integrity. Where this model reinforces a more top-down approach to leadership, a Centred Set does not emphasize hierarchy. This opens up space for broader participation in discerning our current direction and Spirit-given purpose in the context of our times. We come together because we cannot make it alone. We glean from every corner of our Movement, listening to each other and to the Holy Spirit. Obedience to Jesus is at the heart of it all, as we endeavour to remain true to our faith, be a prophetic presence within culture, practise respect and hospitality in a diverse society, and remain flexible enough to pivot whenever necessary.

Centred Set: Upside-Down Values

Our worldview is that the Kingdom is an upside-down reality. It stands to reason, then, that our approach to developing and sustaining a Centred Set organization is guided by values that could be construed as counter-intuitive, or even counterproductive.

  • Servanthood
    Jesus taught that the greatest in His Kingdom are those who serve. As our friends in the Anglican Church like to say, "Once a deacon, always a deacon." We never graduate from the posture of servanthood.
  • Dignity
    Recognizing that each of us is created in God's image, we must never lose sight of the fact that our Movement is a gathering of individuals. In our philosophy of how we lead, minister, and manage conflict, we are committed to a posture that does not violate the dignity of the individual.
  • Invitation
    A Centred Set approach distinguishes between authority and power—they are not the same. With Jesus as our example, we will not use power to coerce or manipulate people towards our aim. In meekness, we rest in our God-given authority, exchanging a reliance on power for a non-anxious presence. This distinction creates a posture of invitation from which we call one another forward.
  • Learning
    As we lean into the tension of "the now and the not yet," it is clear that our fullest capacity for knowledge and prophecy still leaves us staring into a dimly lit mirror (1 Cor. 13); however, God knows all, and all truth is God's truth. A willingness to learn requires humility, open hands, and open minds. This will lead us to discover truth in even the most surprising ways. This should never unnerve us or threaten our faith. Just as wonderfully disconcerting can be how the Spirit's revelation comes, and through whom. This is the posture of a lifelong learner.
  • Authenticity
    What drew the Gulliksens and the Wimbers together, along with so many others that helped lay the foundation of the Vineyard, was a longing for something authentic. Something real. Authentic worship that was true to the language and culture of the time; authentic faith that not only learned about Jesus, but dared to do the works of Jesus; authentic community that embraced transparency, love for the poor, and being culturally relevant. The Centred Set has always served the posture of authenticity well.