Monday, August 18, 2014

Using Vineyard Institutes in Your Context

One of the great things that came to light at enLive was the richness in equipping opportunities we have in the Canadian Vineyard. Jeremy Burke, who administers course delivery for Vineyard Institutes, recently sent out a letter encouraging folks on how they can use VI courses in their own contexts. Here is his letter:

Hey Everyone,

I'm so glad you took the time to drop by the Vineyard Institute table at Enlive 2014. It was an amazing conference and I'm so excited about what God is doing in our country across the Vineyard Canada family. 

I wanted to pass on some important information about Vineyard Institute Canada and invite you to ask any questions you may have re: VI Canada. Here is some information to consider as you think about where VI fits into your context. 

How would I use VI in my church?

1. Training Key Leaders: 
Have a member of your church who has a teaching gift and loves to preach but isn't sure about dedicating years to attending Seminary? It's easy to shape VI around the development of leaders in a community. You can suggest the VI course on homiletics or perhaps hermeneutics. There are lots of options for leaders developing their skills. 
2. Start with the Core:
If people are curious about VI but are unsure where to start a recommendation could be to start with the Vineyard Institute core courses (Theology of the Kingdom/Biblical Metanarrative). Taking the core courses is a fantastic jump-start into any of the three certificates offered by VI, meaning if you decide to pursue one of the certificate options you are already on your way. The core courses also provide you with a great foundation for Kingdom leadership.  
3. Launch a VI Canada Hub:
A hub is a local church that has three or more students taking VI courses. One of the advantages of taking VI courses as a group is that the students are linked together online and in person. Imagine working on Bible courses with a group of people from your local church. This additional component to the learning model provides developing leaders a chance to learn from one another along with the course material. 
When is the Fall 2014 registration deadline?
The last day to apply for courses for the Fall quarter is August 25th, 2014. Please go here to begin the application today!
Where can I find a detailed list of the courses offered through VI?
For a complete list of VI courses, including the ones offered in the Fall 2014 session, visit our course catalogue.
How much are VI Canada courses?
Vineyard Institute Canada courses are $140.00 

Many blessings,
Community Life Pastor - Ottawa Valley Vineyard
Administrator - Vineyard Institute Canada

Monday, August 11, 2014

Failure Builds the Story

I mentioned in a previous post that I'm rather fond of the indie role playing game Dungeon World. One of the things it does is redefines the concept of failure. In many of the games I've played in the past, if you fail you just fail and move on. But not in Dungeon World - if you fail you gain experience and in some way the story is advanced. It might be as simple as another monster shows up to cause trouble or as complex as you fall through a trapdoor into a room separated from your fellow players. Even dying is an opportunity for the story to advance as the player is transported to death's gate and negotiates with death itself. It is all high drama - and surprisingly the way failure plays out is more like real life.

Two years ago I took a sabbatical to complete my PhD dissertation. But truth be told we had reached a place in our church plant where there were problems I needed significant time to reflect on. In the years up to it we had a very vibrant community, for the most part. Lots of interesting people, lots of opportunities to share our gifts and wealth with others, and lots of challenges. But in the last year or so before my break we were down to one main group. We had two others that started in that time, but the amount of attention our main group required made it difficult to really nurture those groups properly. The ultimate barometer was that my wife stopped attending regularly. She doesn't take a pastoral role in our church (she's full time employed as a pharmacist) but when the church is not a place she wants to go there is usually a problem. In a real sense it felt like our 10 year project had become a failure.

In reflecting on what happened with our last main group I'm able to identify a number of problems. Many of which I rightly shoulder (not developing enough leaders, over extending my time and energy resources, not focusing enough on finances/administration, etc.) and some which just happened. regardless of how and why there are two choices as to how we deal with failure - we can let it rob us of our action (like in older role playing games, nothing is so disappointing as calculating the target number you need, rolling and coming up short!) or letting the "failure" build the story.

My friend Colin Benner wrote a book about failing forward. He starts by talking about the act of walking as a series of falls forward. Each step we take is regaining our footing from the last fall. Every step builds a bigger story than falling face first to the ground. Yet, more profoundly, we never get anywhere unless we actually fall forward. It's a brilliant insight.

Our challenge is to actually embrace this redefinition of failure. As a church planter/pastor I find that I end up at pastoral events in one of two minds. In some instances I'm living out the pain of the old idea of failure - that it means everything we did went to crap. Thankfully, I've not lived in that place a lot. The other times, I come in as one made wiser by the risk and realizing that the story is much bigger than the last failure (desolation), and that the failure actually helps the story move along. In those times I'm able to draw from all the amazing things God did in and through our community over the 10 years we were around. Learning from all that worked and especially all that didn't work but we risked doing anyway. I love the comic Matte started her last post with - the answer isn't making more mistakes but letting our failures build a richer story.

Frank Emanuel

Monday, August 4, 2014

fostering a learning community

Learn From Our Mistakes

Last week a dozen of us from Vineyard Montreal (that's nearly half of our group!) were privileged to participate in the Vineyard National Celebration in Kitchener. I won't give you an in-depth overview of it here, but let me just say that gathering together with people from all over the county (and world) and worshiping together, praying for each other, listening to each other, eating together, and sharing our riches as well as our changes us in ways we can't fully grasp.

Over the course of the week I was able to spend some time with people who have a vested interest in theological education in the Vineyard. We are a diverse group but we all share the desire to develop healthy learning communities. After one of the meetings, Frank suggested that perhaps I could share what has proven helpful for us in Montreal. Since I always do what Frank says, here is my attempt to do just that.

We didn't really plan it this way, but Vineyard Montreal has become quite an articulate, knowledgeable, and motivated learning community. No doubt some of that has to do with being located in a university city where degrees are as common as potholes, but I believe a lot of it has come from developing solid learning practices together. Fostering a learning community will no doubt look and feel and smell different in each location and situation, but perhaps some of these ideas will prove useful to someone.

1. Cultivating a joy for learning. When I first went back to school to get my Masters in Theological Studies, I was so excited about the experience that everyone got to hear about it. Dean, my husband, called it a 2 for 1 education, since I gave him the condensed version of every class right after I got home. And this spilled over to my friends and quite naturally, to our faith community. Insights I had gleaned from my readings and my classes showed up in casual conversations, in talks on Sunday morning, and in our small groups. Certain friends started to regularly ask me what I was learning, eager to hear the latest (a student's dream!). My wonderful faith community encouraged me with comments about how courageous I was to undertake such a strenuous learning journey. They humbled me by pointing out that I was being transformed before their eyes (learning should always be a transformative experience, not just a knowledge boost). Others who had some training, theological or otherwise, offered what they had learned or were learning, and we discovered richness in the shared knowledge and experience of our group. The entire atmosphere of our community has slowly blossomed into one of wonder at and fascination with the endless riches and mysteries to be found in God and this world. The joy of learning is really quite contagious.

2. Does anyone want to learn this with me? Pretty much every time I teach on something in our faith community, I usually mention that it is a topic I want to and need to learn about. When I ask the group if they want to learn it together with me, most of them say yes! How cool is that? I try to remain open, honest, and vulnerable while I learn/teach; transformation is inevitably a catalyst for more transformation. Almost two years ago, we embarked on a course called The Apprentice Series which covers three books: The Good and Beautiful God, The Good and Beautiful Life, and The Good and Beautiful Community. These three books deal, respectively, with developing good and true narratives about God, developing the character of Jesus, and developing healthy communities. About a dozen or so of us worked our way through all three books with several more joining us here and there along the way. It was quite phenomenal to see how people opened up to each other during these courses, honestly sharing their struggles and willingly trying a multitude of different spiritual exercises despite some of them being a bit foreign and uncomfortable. People noted that even if they didn't find a chapter particularly interesting, someone else might be deeply moved by it. This fostered a shared learning experience and got us away from focusing solely on individual progress. At the end of the course there was immediate talk of "What will we study next?"

3. Being both intentional and flexible/spontaneous. Learning usually does not happen unless we are intentional about it so we make a plan, we buy books, we plot a course, we set dates to meet, and we engage in activities and exercises together. But in the midst of it all, we try to make a lot of room for people to be themselves. If someone is uncomfortable with a certain activity, there is always grace to bow out of it, to just sit and watch. People can pass on a question, show up late, miss a few classes, forget to do their homework, or even take up precious meeting time venting about a personal issue. Because we are a learning community that tries to recognize that everyone has something to bring to the group and the group has something to give to each one, we make room for questions, comments, interruptions, and even the hiccups of life. We also try to keep guilt, isolation, and inadequacy at bay. It means that we move more slowly at times or adapt/toss out a lesson as needed. Not every class or meeting will be spectacular, but over time, something special is built in the group as we learn together, witness each other's journey, and share the challenges along the way.

4. Stating the obvious. When a particular plan of action or a particular lesson does not seem to be working, we give people (and ourselves) the freedom to say so. When I make a mistake as a teacher or facilitator, I admit it. Usually we laugh, correct or adapt it, and move on. When I don't know the answer to something, I say so. More often than not, someone in the group will have something to offer on the topic. When I am having a tough morning or evening, perhaps tired and overwhelmed, I say so. Inevitably people gather around, pray for me, and then the group graciously steps up and we share the weight of responsibility. When someone disagrees with a particular point, they say so, and we discuss different ways of looking at things. We may not end up agreeing, but we always learn from these exchanges. Things that are obvious to me are not obvious to others, and things that seem obvious to others can often be revelatory to me. Learning to state the obvious cultivates an atmosphere of trust, a culture of not taking offense, and an openness to the voice of the Holy Spirit. To be honest, this entire blog seems so obvious to me that I wonder why I am writing it. And yet, I know that stating the obvious is a good learning practice. So there.

And now I have to go read a book. Let the learning continue.

Matte from Montreal

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Mark Your Calendars!

So we are on the schedule for enLive. I don't have a location yet, but Tuesday at 2PM there will be a coffee meetup sponsored by the Society of Vineyard Scholars. Come hang out with SVS, Thoughtworks, and Vineyard Institutes folk. Find out what going on. Find out how our programmes and services can work for you.

Can't wait to see you all there!

Frank Emanuel - Pastor Freedom Vineyard

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

We are Going to Enlive!

I'll have a post up soon, just working out the details on a coffee meetup at enLive. This meetup will be jointly sponsored by the Society of Vineyard Scholars and ThoughtWorks. We'll also have an information table set up throughout the conference. Details coming soon.

Frank - ThoughtWorks

Monday, July 7, 2014

what was the question?

Image from
Recently I was talking to someone about the difference between pursuing answers and developing good questions. As descendants of the Age of Enlightenment when reason and the scientific method were posited as optimum paths to truth and reality, many of us tend to be drawn to certainty, to cut and dried answers, to equations that are easy to understand and implement. Just google "Five Easy Steps" and see the number of articles out there offering advice on everything from creating a marketing plan to switching banks to achieving happiness. Unfortunately, life is not a tidy equation, at least not in my experience. Neither are interpersonal relationships, community life, or biblical interpretation. In my learning journey, I have found it more helpful to look for the underlying question than to search out simple answers for specific situations. For example, the question, "How do I get to Montreal?" offers much more room for adventure and creative navigation than asking the question, "Do I turn left or right here?"

One of the annoying habits professors (and good teachers like Jesus) have is to answer questions with more questions, inviting the student to discover something larger than their original query and inevitably, to learn more about themselves in the process. One professor I had always provoked us with her query: "What is your question?" This was difficult for me to answer because I seemed to have so many and they pointed in many different directions. She made a simple but profound observation that I always seemed to be searching for an encounter. Light bulbs went off in my head when she said that! Yes, I was (and still am) always looking to make a connection with someone, to meet the real person, or to get at the heart of a text, to discover what the writer was getting at. In fact, the main question that drove my master's thesis was this: "I should really be liking this writer but I can't seem to connect. What am I missing? What don't I get about her?" My professor's observation continues to guide my doctoral research and has also helped me in how I teach, pastor, lead, read, study, and interact with others. It is my quest. It reflects my deepest values. It is the direction my life points.

A friend of mine told me that her ongoing question is this: "How do I love like Jesus loved?" What a beautiful and challenging journey this question has set her on. When I look at some people, I think their question might not go deeper than "How do I make more money?" Or "How do I get famous?" Or "How do I get people to like me?" That's a bit sad. And even sadder is the fact that the questions we ask as Christians are sometimes not that much better: "How do I get more people to come to church?" or "How can I increase the giving at my church?" Are these really our underlying questions, the ones that guide the direction of our lives and on which we focus our energies? I hope not. I hope that we have much more beautiful questions than that.

For further thought, check out 100 Questions Jesus Asked put together by the Archdiocese of Washington.  Very interesting. I especially like 6, 21, 26, 54, 68, 74, and 98.

What is your question?

Monday, June 23, 2014

How Does God Speak?

I'm reading a book by Tri Robinson right now, and I'm loving all the stories of how God has spoken to him over the years. This is something I've loved about our Vineyard family, that we are quite open to seeing God speaking to us through the situations of life. In the book he was relaying the story of how he came to Jesus, having seen this slide and song presentation about Psalm 42 and then heading into the desert to a significant spiritual place for him. There, crying out for God to reveal if Jesus is really God's Son, a deer walked right up and started at him just like in a recurring slide from the presentation.*

In one of the courses I teach I deal with how we interpret such experiences. It is a bit technical, meant to get at how we can resist the urge to narrow the meaning we derive from such experiences. I love how such experiences can be opened up to grow with us and to help us to grow with them. God's voice is often the voice that has the most potential to challenge and grow us. The reason I think it is important to spend time looking at such experiences academically is because they are such a huge part of my own formation. I look for God in the experiences of life, and more often than not I see and hear God this way.

We run a prophetic workshop through our church, both in our own groups and at other churches that have invited us to come share. The basic premise is that God is speaking to us all, in ways we are uniquely attuned to hear. The problem is that we are not encouraged to recognize or go looking for (listening for) the voice of God. But scripture is full of stories of people who hear and respond to God's voice - a voice that is expressed in a diversity of ways and always full of rich meaning. So in our course we get people to share some of the ways they've heard God speak and how it has shaped their lives. Those are always profound moments.

For myself I've been hearing God speak, in various ways, since before I even came to Christ. In fact it was the voice of God that saved my teenage life, one I had been bound and determined to waste away on drugs. As a teen I was out using some pretty nasty chemicals when I heard a voice tell me to go home. I said no to the voice, blacked out and awoke to discover I was halfway home with the drugs in my hands. God said, "go home and live or go back and die." It was very clear, but it needed to be. After a bit of hesitation I threw the drugs away and went home to have another God story begin - perhaps another post. That experience, which happened about two years before I came back to Christ, convinced me that God did speak if we could learn to listen. I think of my whole Christian life as one of learning to listen.

There have been lots of other ways that God has spoken to  me over the years. Found imagery, such as when I was raising the chalice and bread in a wedding I was performing - and just then a fish jumped (it was outdoors by a lake) superimposed from one element to the other and all I could think was, "this is God's provision for this couple." To scriptures leaping off the page to encourage me at times when I needed it most. For example, once when I was a young Pentecostal preacher an older man challenged me because I had no education. It shook me, but I felt led to read 1 Timothy 4 when I went to prayer that evening, and again God spoke to me encouraging me to be faithful with the gifts I had and trust that God would open the doors for the training and education I needed when the time was right.

I don't know about you, but I love these stories. I love that they happened to me. But I love hearing what and how they happened for others. We are blessed with being part of a movement that values hearing God's voice today. So in the spirit of that, what are your stories of God's speaking to you? How have you heard God and how has God's voice transformed you, encouraged you at the right moment, or even challenged the way you believed? Sharing these stories is important for us as a Vineyard. It keeps that expectation and tradition alive. It reminds us that we are a movement that values the voice of the Holy Spirit. I'd love to hear some of your stories.

Frank Emanuel - one of Freedom!

* You can read about it in Tri's excellent book Saving God's Green Earth (2006, Ampelon: pages 40-41).