from Pantperthog to Knockando

Thursday, August 07, 2008

A new Cardiff Vineyard? How nice.

So apparently, two years or so after the first incarnation of Cardiff Vineyard folded, a group of people are moving down from Nottingham Trent Vineyard to plant a Vineyard church in Cardiff. Figures vary depending who you talk to – ten couples, 15 couples, or about twenty-five people. But anyway, they’re coming. There’s even a holding page for a website.

My feelings are mixed on this. I don’t care much if people want to launch a Vineyard in Cardiff, although I would suggest they make sure they know who they’re dealing with in the Vineyard’s local area leadership. Without wishing to sound bitter, the fixer fixed us good and proper when we had problems. In retrospect, perhaps that was our own fault. If the issue is one of communication, perhaps you shouldn’t follow the advice to stop communicating.

But I think generally, my antipathy for the whole church plant thing is affecting me more. For all it’s faults, Cardiff Vineyard 1 was a natural, organic group, which arose because people already in Cardiff wanted a Vineyard church. Cardiff Vineyard 2 is a group of people who don’t live in Cardiff moving here to evangelise us heathens (or at least that’s what it feels like).

Truth is we have church plants in abundance in Cardiff. They range from the five-year old New Frontiers church, through to the one round the corner from my house, the Bay Church. There are adverts on buses and in the Metro for the Healing Church – a bold name, if ever there was one, and given their advertising budget, pretty well funded. And just today we had a flyer through the door from the New Hope Centre in Grangetown, whoever they are.

The Vineyard church planters are going to have their work cut out to make their presence felt. And it’s hard to see what they will be offering that’s so different. Contemporary worship is commonplace in Cardiff’s churches, the charismata are in abundance, people are already working with the poor and dispossessed, and there are churches, which emphasise grace (I go to one).

Also, what will Cardiff Vineyard 2 offer that’s so vital that we have to have yet another church set up to do it? The redundancy in running another church is immense – all the things that have to be done to fulfil the programme of the church which are all being done in another church down the road, and across the city a hundred times over. The Church Universal has never quite grasped the concept of efficiency.

So there isn't really a case of "need" for another church plant in Cardiff. However, there are other reasons beside "need" for planting churches. Vineyard as a movement doesn’t have any churches in Wales that I know of. Perhaps there’s a felt need for Vineyard to cover the whole of the UK. Certainly I think the third wave streams of church are seeing the success of New Frontiers – which has put church planting at the forefront of it’s ministry – and maybe people are scared of being left behind.

Ten years ago, when the church I grew up in joined NFI (as it was), there were very few New Frontiers churches outside the home counties and London. The leaders from the Bedford church referred to Shrewsbury as ‘our church in the north’. Now New Frontiers are everywhere. Vineyard, which has a slightly longer history, have been well and truly left behind in terms of size, and also in influence.

And then there’s the fact that some people like to plant churches. It feels great to be ‘sent out’, to be doing the ‘Lord’s work’. And it’s so much nicer to be doing that in a nice, British city, which is a bit hip (the Dr Who effect) and has plenty of coffee houses which serve a decent latte. Yeah we can ‘do the stuff’ but still get a frappuccino on the way to the skate park. Because we’re cool and living out the gospel you know.

Okay, I’m being nasty about church planters there. But there is that question of why Cardiff? Why not some shithole in Turkmenistan? Church planting in the UK isn’t an easy option, but it’s a damn sight easier than heading off with a real missionary agency to somewhere the kids still die of diphtheria, and you’re lucky a hyena doesn’t eat your chickens at night.

So, I have reservations about this church plant because Cardiff is bursting at the seams with churches and church plants, and I would question the motives behind church planting anyway. But there's also my experience of life in a church plant. Cathy and I joined Cardiff Vineyard on the recommendation of a friend who knew there was a Vineyard in Cardiff and knew we were in Cardiff and we were church-less. But one of the things you soon learn in any newly-founded church is that the main source of growth are disaffected Christians from other churches.

Just about everyone in Cardiff Vineyard 1 who joined after I did had prior experience in church. I’m pretty sure most of the people who were there before I joined could say the same. Church plants are a magnet for Christians who don’t fit anywhere else. Now that might make us sound like a bunch of freaks, and some of us were. The reason I was there is because I didn’t fit into a previous church. I don’t think I’m a freak, but other people may disagree.

And the prior experience brings it’s own problems in terms of expectations (‘I thought this time church would be different’), theology (I vividly remember the talk given by one guy about the end times which was so bizarre it was almost comical), and baggage. Maybe one of the reasons we found it so hard to trust each other is because our trust had been abused in other places. Ironically, maybe our desire to be able to trust made betraying us so much easier…

And on a final point, how much is the church planting phenomenon really just an outworking of good old protestant arrogance? We’ve got the ‘truth’ and we won’t compromise. We’re the ‘true church’. Of course, we’d never say that, but secretly we all think it. Those other Christians down in Cardiff, worshipping God in their churches, advancing the Kingdom in their communities, they don’t really know what they’re talking about. They haven’t been to our kind of church yet! (Soto voce: They probably aren’t even proper Christians at all.)

Yeah, I’m paraphrasing. But in a bizarre way it’s a good experience for anyone thinking missionally to be on the receiving end of mission. How patronised would you feel if any church decided your version of church wasn’t good enough and they had to set up their own?

Now, some church plants are needed. And some church plants work out wonderfully – people find Christ, communities are transformed, God is glorified. I don’t have an issue with church planting where there’s a desperate need. I just don’t see that need here. It doesn’t matter that it’s Vineyard and I have history there. The only reason I’m commenting on Vineyard planting a church here is because people know that I have history and keep telling me about it.

It could be any church plant and my comment would be the same. Why are you coming? And I’m sorry, but I think you ought to have a good reason. But I suspect you don't.

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7 Comments:

At 8/8/08 10:13, Blogger Blue, with a hint of amber said...

Interesting series of questions Jon.

I guess it asks an underlying question as to how people consider "church" and how people consider "mission".

You know through your experience locally that just because there is a "church" locally does not necesarily make it any easier to do local mission.

Do you go to the "local" church and waste your time fighting the system? Obviously that is an extreme statement - lots of people feel called to bring renewal within and through current churches.

I think to reach a specific area, or culture within a city sometimes requires a new expression of Church, Whether that is meetings in Cardiff Bay, or meetings with an emphasis on mission to the local somali population or whatever. Does that need a new church or a fresh expression coming from an existing church? Probably either.

Okay, I’m being nasty about church planters there. But there is that question of why Cardiff? Why not some shithole in Turkmenistan?

Newfrontiers has church planting teams in places like Tadjikistan, Mongolia, Zimbawe, Ghana, Kenya, Botswana, and several middle eastern countries which cannot be named for obvious reasons.

Yeah, I’m paraphrasing. But in a bizarre way it’s a good experience for anyone thinking missionally to be on the receiving end of mission. How patronised would you feel if any church decided your version of church wasn’t good enough and they had to set up their own?

With due respect - if everyone thought like that you would be a roman catholic or nothing at all.

And on a final point, how much is the church planting phenomenon really just an outworking of good old protestant arrogance? We’ve got the ‘truth’ and we won’t compromise. We’re the ‘true church’. Of course, we’d never say that, but secretly we all think it. Those other Christians down in Cardiff, worshipping God in their churches, advancing the Kingdom in their communities, they don’t really know what they’re talking about. They haven’t been to our kind of church yet!

I think you have a point to a degree, and certainly sometimes the way things can be expressed makes this assumption sound true. But then my own Church is only 20 years old in a town of 30 odd Churches. I don't think there is a better way of being an effective witness to an estate or people group them living with them and engaging church life in their midst - ministry to the poor, hospitality, preaching the word, prayer for healing etc etc

Now that might mean everyone piling into a tough housing estate not just trying to cream off the nice students who come to town.

Then we have the whole question of "has God spoken" about this.

I guess I would always want a new church to be on a new mission, or on a mission not yet being fulfilled by other churches, rather than just being a new "expression" of the same thing. If they start their meetings on the Glenwood estate I would ask huge questions, whereas we sent a team to plant a Church in Sundorne because there are something like 12,000 people in the north of the town with very few churches indeed.

 
At 8/8/08 14:25, Blogger Jongudmund said...

Hello Blue

Yeah I think NF's commitment to overseas church planting helps to legitimise their UK church planting.

I have no issue with a NF church in Shrewsbury planting another NF church in an under-served and largely forgotten marginal community, either in the same town, or in the town up the road...

But that's not what's happening here, unless Trent have successfully planted into all the tough and marginalised communities in and around Nottingham.

My questioning this whole enterprise is exactly what you said when you effectively asked is this going to be a new "expression" of the same thing. ?

NB - I think your 'we'd all be Catholic' reference was a non sequitur. That would be a difference in theology, not a hard-to-spot difference in church style.

 
At 8/8/08 16:09, Blogger Blue, with a hint of amber said...

I think your 'we'd all be Catholic' reference was a non sequitur. That would be a difference in theology, not a hard-to-spot difference in church style.

Having been a member or two vineyard churches and two newfrontiers churches I would say that the biggest differences would be in the underlying theology rather than the style.

From the outside looking in they would look pretty similar, they even sing each other's songs and serve the same type of donut before services!

But I would say an underlying reformed theology within Newfrontiers compared to an underlying "emergent" sort of journey Vineyard is on is going to make them very very different within a decade, as they are already quite different now, although both movements are quite contemporary so may look just as similar.

Just a few examples:
- Baptism in the holy spirit
- Penal substitutionary atonement
- Elements of what is broadly called "Calvinism"
- Views on scripture
- Ecclesiology, Ephesians 4 style apostolic teams compared to a federation

Not many of those things are going to be particularly shape what "person on the pew" thinks but they are big enough differences for the church to be different enough, even if we all sing Matt Redman!

So much of our "style" is about our theology, in a way. Is charismatic a "style" or a theology? Good questions!

 
At 10/8/08 19:23, Blogger Jongudmund said...

Interesting really. I wasn't aware NF had such a finely developed theological underpinning. That must be something which has only really been articulated in the last couple of years. FTR I'm not convinced there is/will be an immense divergence between NF and Vineyard.

I still think the catholic reference is a non sequitur though. The Reformation as a movement was organic in nature; separatist churches being formed in towns and cities by people who lived in those towns and cities, usually in response to subversive books and pamphlets being made available in the local language.

True some individulas did go out to prosetylise, but generally in a missional capacity. Churches, when they were founded, were founded by individuals in the locality. It was very rare that a group appeared in a particular place aiming to set up an entire new church, with it's own structure and institutions.

That did happen occasionally, but only as a result of churches being persecuted and driven out of their home city. Unless things have gotten really bad in Nottingham, this is an entirely different situation.

In conclusion, I think it's just plain daft to justify the modern trend of church-planting with what happened during the Reformation. It's almost completely irrelevant to the matter in hand.

 
At 10/8/08 20:01, Blogger Blue, with a hint of amber said...

That did happen occasionally, but only as a result of churches being persecuted and driven out of their home city. Unless things have gotten really bad in Nottingham, this is an entirely different situation.

I would imagine things are not that bad in Nottingham!

In conclusion, I think it's just plain daft to justify the modern trend of church-planting with what happened during the Reformation. It's almost completely irrelevant to the matter in hand.

I see a history of movement after movement starting up with a new thing, or a fresh expression of church life or new theological emphasis.

The methodists sparked a revival even though the anglican Church was in every place. The baptists, the congregationalists, the pentecostals have all sensed the need to plant churches across the country with their "new" expression of faith.

I do take the point that the original reformation churches were a lot more "organic", as the initial Cardiff Vineyard was. And indeed, as the baptist church in Cardiff that just joined Newfrontiers is.

But I also don't quite subscribe to the view that "there are lots of churches already" because each of those churches has arrived on the scene despite there being churches there before, which basically traces back to the roman church in this part of europe.

The catholics became anglican by a political decision, then out came the methodists, the baptists etc etc and the Vineyard is one movement of several wanting to plant churches across the country.

I do definitely think that starting a new church in a new place needs to be done very sensitively with the other churches already there, and definitely should involve finding a place with fewer churches, or an estate with no church presence. There are at least two estates in Shrewsbury with over 15,000 people in total with very little active Church witness I can think of. I guess I would hope "Shrewsbury Vineyard" focus there, if they do head this way!

 
At 29/8/08 21:00, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sanballat the Horonite, Tobiah the Ammonite or Geshem the Arab?

 
At 2/9/08 21:28, Blogger Jongudmund said...

Or Anonymous the Commenter?

 

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