Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Making ThoughtWorks Work

My apologies for the tardiness of this post, I underestimated the amount of preparation required to get to Congress. I plan on sharing some of my thoughts on Congress, especially as it relates to evangelical theology, in a future post. But one of the most amazing aspects of conferences like this is the opportunity for rich conversation - among scholars and with the folks kind enough to open their homes and lives to give us a place to stay. I've been staying for folk from the Refuge Vineyard (Cambridge) and have been really enjoying it.

This conversation though led to one of the reasons for this blog - how can ThoughtWorks work? ThoughtWorks was created to meet a real need in our movement, how do working (read: busy) pastors and leaders continue to be lifelong learners gaining a formation in Vineyard values and theologies? And in meeting this need we have several established responses and are always open to dreaming and considering more. This is an important need - we really value the work that local pastors and leaders do and this is our attempt to resource that crucially important work. We are pastors and leaders looking to serve pastors and leaders.

The first response is our curriculum. I know even the sound of that word is somewhat stiff, however, what we mean by curriculum is more akin to a base for ongoing meaningful training. This curriculum represents what we believe are the basic building blocks essential to effective and healthy ministry within our movement. Moreover, the curriculum is meant to be a starting point. We accomplish this by regularly updating the content. Also, by using a mentoring strategy, we allow you to explore the material with someone else who is committed to your development. You may find that the book we suggest is one you already know, your mentor will be able to suggest similar texts or exercises that might enhance what you have already engaged with. The Vineyard is blessed with a diversity of leaders all with differing levels of theological and pastoral formation. We get that one size does not fit all - which is why we created three years worth of material (but what might, in reality, accompany your formation journey for many more years than that).

One other flexibility we have built into the curriculum is that we are not asking pastors and leaders to provide the academic rigor that many of us simply do not have the time to pursue. We do this, though, without sacrificing depth. The books we suggest and the exercises we provide are meant to let you go deeper with what we hope to be accessible training material.

The second response is our intensives. We have a mandate to provide on the ground (local) theological and pastoral training to equip the Vineyard for the works we believe God has created us to do. Currently we can arrange intensive weekend (or shorter) conferences on every course in our curriculum and a lot more too. We depend on you to ask, and when you do we will do our best to make available to you the equipping resources you need.

The third, and newest, of these responses is our blog. Not only is this blog a place where theologically engaged Vineyard folk, from across our country, share their reflections and musings, this blog is a place where we hope to intentionally create community. Again, this depends on how much you participate, but we make this wide open to be a truly national conversation about the things that really matter to us as we labour in our Lord's Vineyards. Think of it as a conference at your fingertips. We are always happy to have your articles as well as comments. This blog is an important way we are attempting to share the wealth our movement has so that we all will be built up in our faith and capacity to live as responsible citizens of God's Kingdom.

These are just the three responses that we have developed so far, we know that our God is creative and loves to help us equip the saints. In this sense the future is open to possibilities - we would love you to dream with us about even more ways to do this equipping.

Frank Emanuel - Ontario Region

Website Down

For those looking for our website I have just discovered that it is no longer live. I am investigating the issue and will have it resolved as soon as possible. Rather than posting a blog with non-functional links I will hold off on this weeks post until the situation with our website is resolved.

Thank you for your patience.

Frank Emanuel - ThoughtWorks National Team

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Empowered Conference Audio

Victoria day has thrown me off! Lots of family fun in the sun - but alas too much sun. Sorry for the delay on the post. I was planning on another edition of Blogs That Get You Thinking but I think I will save that for a future date. I just found something that really excites me. The Atlantic Region just hosted a conference called Empowered: Living in the Father's Love and graciously have posted the audio of this conference for those who could not attend! I am hoping to get someone who attended to share their thoughts, but maybe this week we can let those messages encourage us to experience more of the Father's great love.

Frank Emanuel, Ontario Region

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Dive in!

I’ve been on pastoral staff at Harvest VCF in Edmonton for 15 years.  I, however, didn’t grow into the place that I am now through the same means that are typical of many pastoral ministry workers.

Upon completing high school and entering into post secondary education, my life plan was going in quite a different direction than pastoral ministry.  Having grown up in a home where my parents were in pastoral ministry as were my maternal grandfather and several uncles, I had pretty much resolved that this was not the life for me and that I was going to go a different direction with my occupation. 

Having done well in high school in the sciences, I had entered university pursing a degree in chemistry and physics (double major).  While pursuing this course of study I had a wee personal revelation.  I’m pretty good at this stuff, but if I have to do this for the rest of my life I think it will kill me.  There’s zero life in this for me.  Throwing all thoughts of financial security and wisdom out the window, I transferred into a jazz music program.  I loved it.  I graduated with distinction. 

Like countless other educated musicians with big dreams, after school I had to get a real job that, you know, actually pays.  I ended up staying with the company that I worked with through high school and university and worked my way up into a good management position.

It was a few years after I had been with this business that I received a call to come and join the staff of Harvest VCF as the worship pastor (where I had already been active as one of their worship leaders).  I had a passion for Jesus and all the musical skills necessary, but unlike most people who enter pastoral ministry I didn’t have a formal theological education.

I had been privileged to grow up in a church environment where I received quite a lot good solid Biblical teaching and had been through many programs taking me through the scriptures.  I was familiar with the Biblical narrative and many basic core theologies.  I had also received some ‘on the job’ training and mentorship from some of the pastors in the Edmonton Vineyard churches. Yet I was still feeling somewhat underprepared for some of the challenges and adventure or pastoral ministry.  I realized that I needed more in-depth materials beyond what I had already learned.

A few years into my pastoral ministry my father and a small team of others began to plan and assemble the ThoughtWorks theological education program.  As this program was being put together, I ended up being a guinea pig for my father.  I went through and tested out a bunch of the material.

I must admit that entering the process I wasn’t expecting to enjoy it.  To me theology seemed a little intimidating to start studying.  I remember as a boy watching my father read the New Testament in Greek and asking to learn to be able to do the same.  I didn’t get too much further beyond the Greek alphabet and a few words – which is not bad for a ten year old.  My assumptions about theology, however, remained – that it was technical, difficult, and a little boring.

As I began the process of educating myself, I quickly discovered how much I enjoyed studying things like church history, world history, biblical theology, detailed studies through biblical books, biblical interpretation (exegesis and hermeneutics), philosophy, and historical theology to name a few.  In each of these areas I found myself connecting with a community of believers, most of whom have long since gone befor me, and benefitting from their journey with God.  My study of each of these things opened up my understanding of God, His story, myself and my place in His story, and the place of the community of believers in His story.  It helped me to ask deeper and more meaningful questions and lead me on a continuing journey of discovery.  Through the process, I had developed a love for the subject area that has caused me to continue learning far beyond the material in the program.  With theology, I had become a life-long learner.

What I appreciate most about the ThoughtWorks program was its accessibility.  It couldn’t be easier to access the resources.  As well, I was able to learn at a pace that was compatible with the demands of full time ministry and raising a family – which at times can get overwhelming.  I found that I could go as slow or as fast as I needed to keep a healthy balance between life’s demands. 

The ThoughtWorks ‘theology on the road’ events that would be held in our region periodically were also an excellent resource to further bring life to the subject.  Being able to interact with both instructors and other learners over the material was tremendously beneficial and uplifting.  As well, in our local area (as some other areas do), we have periodically had learning groups going over the same material together under the supervision of a mentor.  This not only enhances the learning, it also makes the learning more enjoyable when done in that kind of relational community.

So, I would like to offer myself as a personal testimony to the usefulness, convenience, and quality of the ThoughtWorks theological program.  If you are like I was – actively ministering (in one capacity or another) and needing more theological tools to help you become effective – I’d highly recommend this resource to begin your journey of learning and growing.  Dive in and enjoy the ride!

Monday, May 7, 2012

The Congregation IS the Band

I am really pleased to be joining the writing team for the thoughtworks blog. For my first contribution, I’d like to post the bulk of a letter I wrote to my worship community of artists, musicians, dancers and the like, just shortly after I came on staff at the Cambridge Vineyard Church two years ago. I believe it paints a broad picture of the values and underpinnings that gird up our contemporary practice of corporate-art-as-worship. While there is some emphasis on worship leading, I believe there is grist for the mill here for all worshipers to ponder. I welcome your feedback and comments.

Let us start as servants.  Of course, all believers are servants of God and one another; this is an essential part of following Christ. In the area of worship leadership (and everyone who has a place of prominence during a worship service is a kind of worship leader), we are servants to the Body. We serve God by serving His bride.  God is not more concerned with what’s happening on stage than what’s happening in the congregation.  If fact, in the eyes of the Lord, the entire congregation IS the band. See 1 Peter 2:4-9

We are a special kind of priesthood. A worship leader can take many cues from the priests of the Old Testament, however Jesus changed things for us, significant thingsAs a result of what happened on the cross, we don’t approach the Father through somebody else in a priestly sense, but rather, together we approach the One Great High Priest, Jesus. Why is this important?  Because musicians, dancers and worship artisans of all kinds primarily serve the Body by creating common expressions that unify her in worship. Our standards, styles, and language are in place to serve the people who have gathered to worship God.  Our songs and worship leaders are not priests for us, they simply unify the priests of the Kingdom.  I’m convinced we get this wrong sometimes.

Excellence and Style
That we are called to serve others helps us understand why some musicians are asked to be public musicians and others are not.  Does a beginner musician worship less than an excellent one by sloppily banging out a tune on a guitar? Of course not, but an unskilled musician wouldn’t serve the body as well (generally, though I’ve seen at least a couple of powerful exceptions).

Does the Holy Spirit prefer one style of music over another? I can almost hear Him doubling over, laughing at the idea.  Let us be clear -- there is not a preferred style, level of excellence or use of language that will “conjure” the presence of God. Such a notion is odious. YET all of those elements come together in service to the Bride of Christ in this place and time and culture. We give considerations to these things because we want to honour HER so she (including “we”) can exalt Him. Who, when preparing a meal for an honoured guest doesn’t first check and see what their preferred tastes are? Consider these things as you lead publicly. Let them be your guideposts.

A note regarding “performance” issues.  The notion that worshippers “perform” before an audience of One is an eloquent and powerful idea. It frees us from the fear of others, from performance mentalities, from pandering, which is good. But I challenge it as a primary motive of the worship artisan. If you are a public musician, dancer or performing artist of the church in any capacity, you have been selected to display your creativity to inspire, usher, beckon and welcome the Body into a time of worship.  When we understand this, it corrects the relationship between us, our art, the Lord and to the people we are serving.  Glory seeking and false humility issues leave quietly out the back door.

God is an artist. In fact, He is THE Artist. All of creation reinforces the reality that God didn’t just “get the job done” when He created everything. He infused every work of creation with beauty, awe, and wonder. He created it to continually confound us. Modern science truly is a marvel.  Even the most basic laws that govern the universe (such as gravity and light) have far more to them than initially meets the eye. The smoothest of glass contains a plethora of textures, while a thing of purest green contains a multitude of shades and hues.  Dig deep enough, and we encounter inherent mystery in just about everything in the cosmos. Together these things create mystery and beauty and beg us to pursue Him. They all remind us that clearly there is a God and we are not Him.

If worship were simply about conveying facts about God, we could all gather in straight rows, reading with monotone voices truthful statements about Him, and be done with it. That would “get the job done”.  Thank God He made things as He did! Genesis 1:27 pronounces on us the great honour that belongs to humanity: We are made in His image. He is creative. He has made us to be creative. Colossians 3:23-24, though in a different context, still speaks to us: “Put yourselves into it, as done for the Lord…” In other words, make it beautiful! Creative! Reflective of wonder! Challenging! Simple! Complex! There’s no “get’r done” mentality going on here. Consider how artistry and servanthood go hand-in-hand.  Artistry confounds us. It creates wonder in us. It inspires us. It helps to remind us that God is not contained by our ideas and understandings. It celebrates Him in ways that numbers and letters alone are insufficient to convey.

We’ve stepped into a bit of tension here that is not easily resolved. We are servants to our community, but we’re also called to step out in artistry -- something that often doesn’t play to the “most” people. Worshipful art can occasionally challenge, while still serving. What’s the grid here? LOVE. We can’t go wrong with love: Love of God, love of the body of believers, and love of those outside the Church. Servanthood and artistry (by which I mean a combination of excellence and outside-the-box approaches) need to check and balance one another. A worshiping congregation that is never challenged to expand their God-box won’t be a truly worshiping community very long. Likewise, worship arts that constantly push the avant-garde will cease to be followed by very many at all. Love the tension folks, it’s not going away!

Worship is an end to itself
This is a biggie. When we come together for the purpose of worship, that is to be our primary focus. There can be no secondary motive in approaching the inner places of God’s dwelling. In other words, it’s an end, never a means. Worship can and should be pulled into every element of our lives, both corporately and personally. Before (and during!) a business meeting, before (and during!) a time of prayer, before (and during!) a time of serving the poor. The Israelites sent musicians ahead of them in times of battle. Let’s do the same, at least metaphorically. When we gather together for a corporate time of worship, this is why we are there: to describe God’s worth back to Him. Let’s not kid ourselves, this is actually why we exist after all. To worship for the sake of some other end, even a really good one, is to tread on thin ice. Though worship may indeed push back the kingdom of darkness, we worship to celebrate the God of the Kingdom of Heaven. Get the difference?

Worship as continual change
One thing I’ve been challenged with over the years is how “fluid” this part of church life is. It’s also something I love about leading worship. Many of our methods of corporate gathering have been with us for lots of generations, and the modern exercise of those disciplines remains relatively constant in substance and style across history – preaching, communion, prayer, etc. Worship expression, however, is quite different. If we could slide back through church history in increments of 20 years, I believe we would see, with great consistency, massive shifts in what corporate worship looks and sounds like, occasionally in substance but very regularly in style. Even within the life of an individual congregation, there are changing seasons of emphases. Celebration may be the order-of-the-day for a time, while another season may be one of lament, and yet another intimacy. As we’ve mentioned before, there isn’t a “right way” to worship in spirit and in truth. Jesus used pretty general language, didn’t He?  God is unchanging, but the same cannot be said of the Church. As a result, in deference to the Body, we need to be willing to adjust to its needs. At the end of the day, our corporate praise happens when the hearts of the people are turned to Jesus. We don’t seek to find the style to end all styles, we seek to serve the body. We need to remain in-step with the culture of our community.  Music and musical style are forms of language. We need, by and large, to communicate in languages that are understood. Polka-style worship? – Here and now– not so much.

We approach this familiar tension, the push and pull between serving the Body and exploring “new/new to us” or “unfamiliar” expressions that might just expand that God-box a little more. Once again, love must be our guide.  It is part of the pastoral responsibility to help worship leaders navigate the balance between tried, true and safe creative expressions that are easy and familiar, while introducing new, edgy and challenging ones that remind us that God is bigger than we think He is.

To Be Continued
This is an ongoing conversation – learning to find our groove together as worshipers, celebrating where we’ve come from, and figuring out where we’re going.  It’s okay that we won’t ever put a finishing seal on it. 
I understand that much of the language in this letter speaks of music, our most familiar corporate expression of worship. It is my desire, however, to create space for as many forms of creative expression as we have imaginations for: film-making, dance, poetry. The visual array of arts all provide new ways of telling The Story. Let’s jump into the fray and see where we end up! The value of the creativity in our churches is probably beyond measure. Let’s unpack it and find what’s there.

And Finally
I remember being riveted to the screen back in 2010 as 33 Chilean miners emerged from their cave after months trapped nearly a kilometre below the surface of the Earth. Every time another man stepped out from the rescue cage I was astounded by the notion of what had just taken place in their lives. They’d been rescued – reunited with the loves in their lives – the future was suddenly opened before them and they were, in a profound way, reborn from out of the darkness. In many ways, we encounter this in the faces of our congregation every time we lead a time of worship. People find their way out of the caverns into the light of the Son. It is a beautiful, edifying, worthwhile, and humbling privilege.