Post-Renewal Woodbridge was cold.
Jim decided to end renewal services (see last blog). He believed that the Holy Spirit would now cooperate by showing up powerfully during the regular Sunday morning service. The Holy Spirit didn’t get that memo.
In fact, we began to see the manifestation of a principle that we have seen repeatedly ad nauseam over the decades in church after church. That principle is “once you have revival and God sweeps your house clean, don’t ever go back”. In other words, when Revival is allowed to end, the “demons” that were swept away come back seven times stronger.
Was there control or abuse in your church? It will absolutely be suppressed during a period of renewal but afterwards, watch out! Your fellowship will be out of the frying pan and into the fire in any number of categories of church unpleasantness.
We dug in deeper to other sources of Holy Spirit fire like our home group and churches that were still in renewal. Our passion to find Him in the streets outside of the church increased as well. We were expanding our outreach with the poor in neighborhoods and parks, even to the Muslims in nearby Falls Church, VA.
I was in Jim’s office one day for this very purpose. There was a sound system mothballed in a church closet that would have been valuable to us on the street. I was asking Jim for permission to use it.
This was the opening of a door for him to share with me his displeasure for our emphasis on going to the streets. “You need focus on your involvement here within the church” he said. Actually, we were very involved in church, in almost every ministry it had!
Jim continued, “If you must do outreach, focus on the people who are like you. Reach the ones in your social class who will likely start coming to church here and tithe. Muslims don’t go to church and they don’t tithe!”
He was not through. For an hour, Jim began to rip at my involvement in other ministries like home group. “Take kinship group, for example” he said. “The Vineyard way is one worship leader, one guitar. What you are doing by allowing everybody to bring an instrument and participate is not how we do things around here”.
Our home group was exploding. People came for the serendipity of it. So many people attended that it was often difficult to fit everybody in. Worship was gorgeous though. The Holy Spirit orchestrated the various voices, instruments and spontaneous selection of songs into a vehicle that seemed to transport the whole room into the heavenlies. Everyone owned worship. It wasn’t a one man show. God directed it with His dancing hand alighting on various members heads and inspiring them. The time in the word was also very much a group discussion, without one leader monopolizing. It was very animated and filling.
I gulped. Doing home group this way would be hard to give up. I was doing my best to internalize this and other criticisms while maintaining a good attitude.
This initial meeting led to other meetings that reached the level of intolerable. In the very office where I had my very first encounter with the Holy Spirit (see “When God Rocked Our World”), my life and ministry with Him were now being shredded.
Tension reached the apex when Jim finally declared, “Dan, you know what church is all about?”
“What?” I asked.
“Church is about only two things – butts in the seats and money in the plate” he said.
I couldn’t believe my ears. It was hard to comprehend that this was actually happening. Here was the man who we had revered, who the Holy Spirit had tremendously used to lead our whole family to Him, spouting the incredible. Jim was our spiritual father. We owed everything to him. I wanted so badly to dismiss what I was hearing but couldn’t.
Thoughts were racing through my head. How could I continue to bring my family here, knowing that this was the MO of the operation now at the Woodbridge Vineyard? I didn’t want my children growing up in this.
After talking things over with Debbie, I showed up for what was to be our final meeting. I announced to Jim that we were reluctantly going to have to leave the church. We would attend a church plant of his.
Jim went ballistic. “How could you leave a place like this where God changed your life? You would have to be an idiot to leave a place like this!”
It got worse.
“Do you know what shepherds do with sheep who stray away from the fold?” He asked.
“What?” I responded.
“They send the dogs out after them!” he threatened.
“Do you know what else shepherds do to those sheep? he asked. “They break their little legs so that they can’t run away any more!”
It was time for this sheep to run.
Someone in church leadership found out that we were leaving. “Run”, she said. “Run, and don’t look back”.
We ran. We ran from the amazing place where we had found God.
Jim forbade us from involvement with any church functions like home group. Also, we were to no longer have any interactions whatsoever, even outside of the church, with any of our church friends. It was like being Amish and being shunned. We obeyed.
Life got colder.
Thankfully, we found the warm fire of God’s presence almost two hours away in north Baltimore. Without that, we might have frozen solid. The commute was worth it’s weight in gold for keeping the fire and passion alive.
It is with heavy heart that I write this blog. My intention is not to spread the dirt on church leadership. It is a warning. We honor Jim as one who God used to literally save our lives. However, he was a great man trapped in a very ungodly system – 21st century American church.
Jim is gone now. Tragically, he died many years ago. If he could speak from heaven, he would probably revise his “two things” policy. He would likely now declare that church is about these two things instead:
1. “Once you get Revival don’t ever, under any circumstances, let it go!”
2. “Think and do church outside the box of the Religious Machine!”
It will be amazing how the first seconds in heaven will change perspective and hindsight immediately…for all of us.
Next – “Of Rats and Men” and “Face to Face”