Friday, August 31, 2007

Ministry Time Q&A

In the comments to the previous post on the my longing for a return to the Vineyard 5-step prayer model (Pining), Dave Halls raised some interesting questions and insights, which I thought warranted a new post to address.

I've tried to re-phrase Dave's questions into a Q&A format, and I hope this does justice to what he was intending.

Q: Could the Five Step Prayer Model best be seen as "Prayer 101"?
As we used it back in the day, it certainly did function as an introduction to prayer ministry. And while it should never be seen as the be-all and end-all of prayer ministry, the simplicity of it kept us from becoming overly-dramatic (adopting unnecessary language, volume, tone, or physical gestures to demonstrate "anointing"), and kept the focus on the person receiving the prayer, and the co-operation with what the Spirit was doing.
Q: Could the well-known stories of manifestations at Wimber's meetings served as giving “permission” to similar things at TACF, while the five-step model was now "old news"?
Yes, although I had never attended one of Wimber's Signs & Wonders conferences, I suppose what was written in Power Evangelism and Power Healing could be seen that way. I think where things started getting "off" was more when a thinking co-operation with the Spirit gave way to scripted "here's what you're coming for prayer for".

And any prayer model can become routinized. Sometimes, however, the things we seek or allow that get us "out of a rut" may not be of long-term benefit.
Q: Doesn't TACF train their prayer teams to take time with people, instead of the knock-em-down style that was highlighted in the comments to the other post?
I haven't been for a number of years, so I'm not sure how they train their prayer teams. I know the phrase "soaking prayer" was around during those days, and the idea was to take time when praying for others, instead of having the ministry time version of a fast-food drive-thru.

It's apparent that people have had differing experiences of prayer times in TACF, and each of us can speak only of what we personally experienced. Wendy & I were once mowed down by an over-zealous prayer couple who yelled "more, Lord" and "yes, God" as they pushed and pulled a whole line of people down within minutes. Because we were Vineyard pastors at the time, we knew we needed to inform the leaders there about this substandard behaviour, but the leaders assumed we were critics and literally turned their backs on us as we were talking to them.

I don't want to make the mistake of seeing this as a TACF-only problem. It affected many Vineyards and many churches in other denominations, as well.

And it bears repeating that we're not questioning the genuineness of the Spirit's presence at TACF or other places that were "in the river" – we have benefited spiritually from what the Holy Spirit was doing in that season. Those were precious times with Him; it's the way that we allowed prayer times to change that is of concern to me.
Q: Didn't "more Lord" originate with Wimber, or wasn't he at least one of those known to say such things during ministry times?
I don't doubt it, and let me be clear: I'm not advocating for a moratorium on the phrase "more, Lord". Sometimes, it may be the only appropriate thing to say, depending on what God is doing at the time. It's the mindless repetition of "more Lord", as if it were a charismatic incantational mantra, that I'm suggesting has replaced a more pastoral and Spirit-led model of praying for others.
Q: Would it be better to place prayer models, of any kind, into the category of spiritual formation, instead of seeing them devolve into palliative care?
If I'm getting what you're saying here, I would agree that the hard work comes after prayer is over; however, I'm NOT suggesting that the prayer is significant only as a "decision point", with receiving prayer being some kind of participatory indicator of the seriousness of the person making said decision.

For example, when people have come forward requesting prayer for their struggle with forgiving someone, the prayer time is significant on several levels – acknowledgement of the need for change, inner healing for whatever wounds have contributed to the lack of forgiveness, and empowering of the Spirit to "walk out forgiveness" once the prayer time is over and Monday morning reality must be engaged. In this sense, prayer ministry does indeed fit into the category of spiritual formation.

And certainly, there are people who treat ministry time as a magic wand that fixes everything instantaneously and that applies both to those who are praying and those who are receiving prayer. Without in any way discounting or marginalizing the Holy Spirit's touch during those prayer times, we need to realize that the "co-operation" part of ministry time must continue as we walk out those prayer times in real time.
It seems like the theme across greater blogdom this past week has been prayer! Thanks for keeping the conversation going with some great questions. I look forward to seeing this dialogue continue.

Saturday, August 18, 2007


Recently, I have been pining. As someone with a lot of Vineyard history, I have been pining for the old days of the five-step prayer model that John Wimber taught all of us in that movement.

A few weeks ago, the pastor of the local church we attend called all the artistic people up to the front to receive prayer; for the Clan McAlpine, this meant our entire family went forward. Two things really stood out for me during this "ministry time":
  1. It's been a LONG time since I've stood at the front of a church to receive prayer from anybody.

  2. One of the elderly elders came up to me and spoke a phrase that I haven't heard in years: "Hi, Robby. What can I pray for you about?"
Both of these elements gave me pause. WHY had it been so long since I'd received prayer in church?

And why was it so surprising -- and yet, refreshing -- to hear "what can I pray for you about?"

I think the answer to both traces it's way back to the Toronto Blessing. It's well-known that the Vineyard parted ways with the Toronto Airport Vineyard over what became known as the Toronto Blessing over a decade ago, a decision that was -- in hindsight -- both inevitable and probably for the better (imo, of course).

Among all the other things that characterized the critiques of the Blessing -- from the outcry against providing some kind of prophetic theology to animal noises, to the Latter Rain and/or Prosperity teachings creeping in, and the ongoing progression (and justification) of increasingly bizarre 'manifestations' -- the Vineyard made a statement at that time that the leaders of TACF were "redefining renewal" in a way that the Vineyard could not embrace.

I'd like to suggest that something else got redefined, much to our detriment, that is much more basic and grassroots, yet ultimately just as derailing.
Simply put, the Toronto Blessing-style approach redefined how churches in the Vineyard and beyond practiced ministry (prayer) times.
Prayer times previously had followed Wimber's Five-Step Prayer Model, which always began with the simple question: "What can I pray for you about?" There was always an engagement of the person receiving prayer, as well as listening to what the Spirit might be saying either to them (which the question would uncover) or to the person praying (which was always voiced as "I think God is showing me this -- what do you think?").

Once the Toronto Blessing hit, the questions stopped. Prayer was reduced to "More, Lord". Special attention became focused on the people exhibiting wilder manifestations. Those who didn't show "signs of the Spirit's presence" didn't get prayed for, or were labeled "hard to receive (HTR's)" -- which meant they didn't get as much prayer as those "in the river". Altar calls had but one theme: "More".
And "ministry time" went from an active three-way engagement between pray-er, pray-ee, and the Holy Spirit, and devolved into Clone Army prayer teams wandering up and down rows of expectant people, muttering Repetitive Renewal Phrases while making the arm motions that our youth group referred to as the "Wave" or the "Scoop".
And long after the Blessing became less center-stage, ministry times have often continued to resemble a sort of Holy Spirit Filling Station in their approach, which has resulted in less and less people seeking prayer at church, or the same people going through the same motions -- usually the "wail and flail" -- week after week after week.

So, I'm pining.

Longing, even.

You might even say I'm interceding.

I'm longing for a return to authenticity in "ministry time", when the oldskewl Vineyard phrase "dial down" (no hype) was the norm. When there was honest engagement of people sharing their story, and others using their gifts, and the Spirit gently doing His deep inner work in and through the Body of Christ.
Where there is an element of pastoral care embedded in our approach to praying for each other, and there is an equal expectation that those praying for us will be pastorally engaged with us.

Where prayer is not reduced to robotic catch-phrases and supposedly-significant 'prophetic' gestures, and we see people actually receiving ministry, not just being rewarded (or not) for their "performance" on some charismatic scale of Approved & Desired Reactions To The Spirit.

I just want us to be normal people, who are full of the Spirit.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Dingy & Musty

The door slammed behind them, driven by the wind perhaps, or else the seedy wharf-side tavern itself had a strong disaffection to natural light entering it’s questionable environs.

“Dingy and musty, a haven for the nefarious,” opined the Younger, as he took in the sights and smells of the establishment.

“Not so loud,” cautioned the Elder. “The local clientele may not appreciate your literary wit as much as I do.”

They exchanged conspiratorial smiles and threaded their way through the crowded tavern to order their drinks, the Younger momentarily stymied by the unfamiliar assortment of ales proffered. As per their earlier agreement, of course, the Younger paid.

Once they had found a place to sit, in a shadowy booth near the back of the establishment, they continued their conversation from the street.

“You still haven’t convinced me,” began the Younger, ever the skeptic, “that a flat leadership structure is such a good idea.”

“Excuse me -- did I really say flat, or was it flattened?” countered the Elder.

The Younger made a sour face, either in response to the Elder’s question or possibly the unexpected taste of the unfamiliar ale. “You’re not going to start playing semantics with me, are you?”

A small group of rowdies, obviously enjoying some comrade-time after a long day of work, stumbled past their table, at once merry and bawdy. The Elder seemed barely to notice their passage as he responded.

“It’s an important distinction.” A pause for another sip of ale. “There’s really no such thing as a totally ‘flat’ — or ‘leader-less’ — group. Every group has a leader. It’s more a matter of how many unnecessary or redundant layers of leadership there are, that get in the way of the rest of the gathering actually participating. So, I’m all for flattened leadership, but I don’t believe in flat leadership.”

The Younger frowned and studied the dark liquid before him before answering. "But I’ve heard quite a few people talking about their gatherings as being completely ‘round table’, following the leading of the Spirit alone. Are you saying they’re lying, or possibly delusional?”

“I wouldn’t put it in those exact terms,” laughed the Elder, raising his hands in mock surrender. “They’re probably quite sincere in their desire for such a group, but it simply doesn’t exist.”

“Well, then, I guess it’s my turn to play ‘devil’s advocate’,” grinned the Younger, tossing his napkin down on the table with as much force as the thin paper product would allow. “Consider this the ‘gauntlet of challenge’, my friend. Surely there's some way of having a leaderless group that has a truly flat, repeat flat, leadership.”

The Elder gazed at the scoured wall above the back of the booth’s bench for a moment, not really seeing the faded and stained painting of a ship in high seas masquerading as ‘art’. “Yes, I suppose such a group is possible, as long as it (A) is made up of people who already have a long-standing shared history, (B) is small in number, and (C) intentionally does not allow new members to be added to the group.”

“The previously-established relationships would be more likely to safeguard the ethos of the group, and the small numbers would put relationships on a high enough premium that a certain — oh, how shall I say it? — status quo could be preserved. And by preventing the addition of outsiders, the group would be protected from people who don’t have the same shared history and concern for maintaining the relational balance, and who might introduce new ideas or direction.”

The Younger came perilously close to spewing his mouthful of ale across the booth, so shocked was his reaction. “Wow, that’s got to be the most unexpected thing I’ve heard come out of your mouth in... well, I don’t know, maybe ever,” he sputtered. “Why would you assume that new people would bring new ideas that would threaten the group? If somebody came in and tried to change the group, they would just have to be corrected. With ‘gentleness and respect’, as St. Peter said, of course.”

The Elder leaned across the table, his eyes locked with the Younger’s. “And who would do that correcting? The whole group? That would seem like over-kill, I’d think, and the newcomers would probably run for the hills.”

The Younger toyed with the rim of his glass for a moment. “Okay, point made. Somebody would have to take the responsibility to deal with it, BUT…” he also leaned across the table. “The existing group would have already agreed on the direction of the group, so he or she would be speaking on behalf of the group, not just on their own authority.” And he settled triumphantly into the creaky bench seat once again.

The Elder raised his eyebrows. “So, would we then have to assume that the original ‘vision’, if you will, of the first members of the group is binding on all who come later, and that none of the newcomers could possibly have something meaningful to contribute?”

The Younger opened his mouth to reply, thought better of it, and glanced around the booth, the nearby well-imbibed patrons, and the dimly-lit bar. Finally, with a rueful grin, he said, “I hate it when you do this.”

The Elder sighed and slumped his shoulders ever so slightly. “I’m sorry, that was more harsh than I intended. I’ve had some good friends really burnt in this area, and sometimes, like now, that affects how I say things. Forgive me?”

“Of course,” the Younger immediately replied. “I guess when it affects real, live people, it’s different than when we’re just discussing theoretical possibilities, eh?”

The Elder nodded. “We need to probably look at the impact of ministry among the poor, and how it affects the dynamics of flattened leadership as well, but let’s leave that one for later.” He smiled knowingly. “I have a feeling that might be a ‘live round of ammo’ kind of discussion as well. I’ll buy next time, of course,” he finished with a wink.

“Sounds fair,” agreed the Younger, glancing once more around the loud environs. “By the way, what are we doing here? This place is nothing like our usual spot.”

The Elder took an appreciative glance around the somewhat-less-than-trendy drinking hole. “Oh, several thousand millenia ago, when I was a college student, I used to come here after a long day at a summer job with my co-workers. This place is a good yardstick for me, whenever I start taking my ideas and myself perhaps a little too seriously.”

“How’s that? A yardstick? Are you going pre-Metric System on me again?”, asked the Younger, feigning a puzzled look as he shrugged into his jacket.

The Elder favoured him with a withering look before leaning across the table once more, his eyes now taking in the scene around them.

“Look at the people who would call this their ‘regular third place’. Do you suppose any one of them gives a rat’s patookus about modernity, postmodernity, or even calling a tavern their ‘third place’? That’s what I mean. This place reminds me not to create yet another layer of Christendom between myself and Joe Average or Jane Anybody.”

The Younger took another look at the regular patrons of the tavern, with a new sense of appreciation. “Well, at least we’re being ‘incarnational’, by being here, eh?” he quipped, as they got up to leave.

The Elder chuckled as their threaded their way back to the outside street, under the quickly-descending light of dusk. “Yes, I guess we’re more ‘authentic’ this way, but as long as our conversation in this place is on another plane of existence from the rest of the patrons, I’m not sure we're really all that much closer. But we’re getting there. Bit by bit, I really do believe we’re getting there.”