When Vineyard worship arrived in the UK it brought something important 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?”
I now realise that the guy I had asked was not at that time in a place where he was carefully nurturing his life with God. 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
Only the next morning at school did I learn of the outbreak of the kingdom of God which followed the songs in my absence! At the next opportunity I stayed and observed.
The songs were different to those we had been singing in the charismatic renewal of the 80s. Previously we had sung songs of praise and celebration. They were songs worthy of the epithet “happy clappy”. But what the Vineyard songs carried was different. They were warm, respectful, awed, simple songs – songs that we all could sing, across the generations; songs to sing from the heart to God. They were I-you songs sung to God in the same simple intimacy with which a believer might pray to The Father in the privacy of their bedroom.
Vineyard Singer-Songwriter and Worship Leader – John Barnett
The songs Vineyard shared were not songs that required us to speak untruths about how we felt about God. They expressed truths about God that drew out our love, and awe, devotion and obedience. They were that kind of love song.
And then I saw how the Holy Spirit responded to us as we opened a new layer of ourselves to him. As we presented more of ourselves to him in this intimate way so he more than reciprocated.
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.
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 the church’s hymnody, those of our more ancient heritage, those of game-changing writers like Martin Smith. Only let us champion what has been given us as a way to express our love for God together and to love being with God together. No small gift.