When Vineyard worship arrived in the UK it brought something vital and new to our vocabulary of worship within the renewal.
In 1982 I was sitting safely in the back row of St Andrew’s Chorleywood on a warm Sunday evening. An orderly service of Evening Prayer had just concluded and our guest was being allowed to host an after-meeting. He sat at our church piano and with a voice like Kenny Rogers began to sing some simple, love songs to Jesus. I was a new believer and did not know where this was going. So I asked the young guy sitting to my right; “What’s going to happen?” He said, “Just more of this, I think.” So I went home. The guest was John Wimber, on his second visit with a Vineyard team to the UK.
John Wimber, Vineyard’s pioneer, leading worship with Carl Tuttle in the 1980s
The next morning at school I learned of the outbreak of Divine power which followed the songs in my absence! At the very next opportunity I made a point of staying and participating.
The songs were different to those we sang previously in the charismatic renewal of the 80s. Previously we sang songs of praise and celebration – often they were songs worthy of the epithet “happy clappy.” Joyful but not always that deep. Vineyard songs carried something different. They were warm, respectful, awed, simple songs – songs we found we could sing, across the generations; “I-to-you” songs which expressed the same vulnerability and intimacy with which a believer might converse with The Father in the privacy of their bedroom.
Vineyard Singer-Songwriter and Worship Leader – John Barnett
The songs Vineyard shared were not songs of forlorn longing, or begging, or separation anxiety; nor were they songs that diminished humanity in order to extol the Divine. Rather they were songs which allowed the singer to acknowledge and celebrate an intimate relationship with God already being enjoyed:
“Isn’t He Beautiful!” “I can feel you flowing through me…” “Love and mercy fill my senses…” “As his your Spirit moves upon me now you meet my deepest need…” “I love your presence…”
The early Vineyard songs matched the experience of that stream of renewal – the experience of people carried together in a river of Divine love and power. As we made our intimate connection conscious and enjoyed through songs like these so the presence we celebrate would become more palpable with incredible manifestation of Divine power. It was the experience of a conversation of of love.
The singer-songwriter and worship leader, Matt Redman, emerged from St Andrews Chorleywood and through his ministry has shared that gift of intimacy in worship with the wider world. I once played a song of Matt’s to a friend who is not a Christian believer. The song was “Heart of Worship.” My friend listened and said, “Now that is what a worship song should be – personal, awe inspired, warm; a love song to God!” Bingo!
To this day I believe that aspect of intimacy is key to what the Vineyard tradition of worship carries. The awe, the warmth, the obedient, respectful heart still speak through Vineyard songs and enable us to occupy the presence of God, intimately together.
For me, personally, the work of Vineyard worship-leader and singer-songwriter Kim Gentes has brought this element of the Vineyard contribution into the new millennium.
It is an unnatural thing to do. Intimacy is not something most of us do in public. So there is a tremendous vulnerability we must allow of ourselves in order to enter this kind of worship together. As we grow up and older our habits of self-protection tend to solidify. In Australia there is a strong culture of self-sufficiency and a tendency to mask our softer sides, and indeed any needs we may carry. So it takes deliberate nurture and decision to keep worshiping in this way.
When we persist in this way together our masks are perforated, we see each other more humanly, we recognise our brothers and sisters as fellow children in Our Father’s house and family. Our worship shapes our reality as community.
That’s why I find it worth naming and always returning to these basics of Vineyard worship. Not to dismiss other contributions – those of traditional hymnody, those of Christianity’s more ancient heritage, those of game-changing writers like Martin Smith. Only let us champion what has been given us as a way to enjoy the Divine presence and love of God together. No small gift.