To begin with, Crestwood Vineyard is a convergence of allot of peoples histories with God and the trajectory of their lives. I believe that my part is an important part but it’s not the only part, or even the most important part.
Some personal backstory: I was raised Roman Catholic and encountered Jesus in the early 1970’s during the Jesus movement. It was not long before I found a spiritual home within the emerging “Catholic Charismatic Movement” that was part of a larger worldwide outpouring called the Charismatic movement. It was there I met my wife, Dianna. The Catholic Charismatic movement embraced the thoughtful use of the charismatic gifts, a call to social responsibility, an emphasis on community and scholarship within the context of the Catholic tradition. But there were a lot of young lay inexperienced leaders and with that, an inclination towards abusive spiritual authority coupled with a mounting tension with the historical Catholic Church. On a personal level, I found it difficult reconciling my vibrant growing faith with my understanding of some of the traditions and doctrines of the Catholic Church. The collapse of the Catholic Charismatic movement in Oklahoma gave me the opportunity to pursue my faith and discipleship through the emerging “non-denominational” structures that were developing around this same time.
In the early 1980’s I was introduced to the Vineyard movement. Within the Vineyard I once again found the thoughtful practice of charismatic spiritual gifts, care for the marginalized and thoughtful scholarship. One of the great paradigm shifts that John Wimber, the leader of the Vineyard introduced was approaching the gospels as a “manual for ministry.” The Gospels became for me, the primary source for understanding discipleship and how to participate in the ministry of Jesus. I assumed the position of senior pastor of a small non-denominational church at around 30 years old, around the same time I discovered the Vineyard. I enfolded that church into the Vineyard movement. For the next 20 years I gave myself to learning to do the “stuff that Jesus did” and teaching others to do the same. Over the following decades I trained as many people as I could in workshops, seminars, mission schools, college classrooms and small groups. These workshops spilled over to leading equipping seminars in Europe and Southeast Asia. It is within this context that I began my close friendship with Brian and Jeanine Blount in the mid 1990’s.
By the time I reached my 50’s (2004) there was a growing concern within me that even though I was practicing Jesus’s ministry (as well as I could), there were still large segments of my soul untouched and unchanged by the Gospel. Contemplative prayer became the means by which I learned how to apply the power of the gospel towards my own inner formation. True to my orientation towards equipping, I began equipping others with what I was learning from the contemplative tradition.
In 2006, I received a word from God to “reboot the church.” (Which I reasoned meant, closing the church for a short time and then restarting it.) Along with that word, it felt as though the “pastoring switch in me was turned off.” After much prayer and council, and having no real clue as to what my future had in store for me, we closed the church. I continued to teach and serve in other capacities but I believed my role as senior pastor had forever come to an end. I led prayer retreats, facilitated workshops, did light construction work, wrote books (Prayer as a Place, From the Sanctuary to the Streets, Recycled Spirituality), served as a spiritual director, coached and advised other church leaders. As the years passed, I let go of any hope (or desire) to ever pastor again.
In 2013, (Monday, April 15) seven years after we closed the church, on a plane ride back from a conference Brian Blount and I were leading, the “pastoring switch” flipped back on. I heard God say he wanted to plant a Vineyard church in OKC; and I was to share this insight with Brian Blount and AT Hardgrave. Brian and I were close friends, but I only had a few short conversations with AT the previous year. While still in the air, I shared my impressions with Brian. Upon landing, Dianna picked me up at the airport and I told her of my experience on the airplane. She said, “Well… its been seven years and in the Old Testament, a much used field was suppose to rest for seven years, lets pray about this and see what God wants to do.”
The next day, Tuesday, I asked God to confirm the word he gave me by sending someone to me who I did not know, with a prophecy about planting a church and secondly, speak to me clearly from the Bible. I was 59 years old at the time and had suffered 2 heart attacks, and had a close working relationship with Frontline Church. I felt like I did not have to luxury of mistaking the leading of God on such a major undertaking and change in life direction.
Wednesday, the following day, I met with a spiritual director for our monthly session. I shared with him the word I got on Monday and the conditions I put on God on Tuesday. We talked about this and he prayed that God would make it clear. Before our session was over, we both got a phone call from a mutual friend of ours. He had just picked an Anglican Bishop at the OKC airport and, felt that this bishop was supposed to meet me. They came by the office we were meeting. It is there I met the Anglican Arch Bishop, Sean Larkin. Bishop Larkin served in London and was personal friends with the newly appointed Pope Francis. We talked for a while, mainly about the new Pope and then closed in prayer. While praying, Bishop Larkin stated that he believed he had a vision and a word from God for me. Part of the vision involved John Wimber pointing his finger at me and declaring: “YES, YES, YES!” With each YES, I experienced an infusion of spiritual power and authority that caused me to shake violently in my chair.
Thursday, Dianna and I had AT and Mickie Hardgrave over to our house. AT pastored a small former Baptist church that owned the facility we call Crestwood Vineyard Church. I shared the events of the previous 3 days. We brought each other up to date with our personal histories and agreed to make this a matter in prayer.
Friday, I believed that I had the prophecy that I had asked for but I still needed God to speak to me clearly from the Bible. Mitch Park near my home in Edmond, had become “holy ground” for me. It is there I heard God tell me that he was rebooting the church, its where he spoke to me about writing my first book, it is there he informed me that needed to get a medical checkup (before my second heart attack). As I was walking the park, I asked God what the three YES’s were about. Immediately, John 21 came to mind. In this chapter Jesus asked Peter three times if he loved him and when Peter responds, Jesus tells him: “Feed my lambs, take care of my sheep, feed my sheep.” In this passage, Jesus not only reconciles Peter back to himself, he is also reconciling Peter back to his calling. With this, I heard God saying the same to me. This was the scriptural confirmation I was waiting for. Over the weekend, three other people approached me with prophecies indicating that God was restoring something he had removed, that I was not to old for the new work God was calling me to and a chapter of my life was ending and a new one is beginning.
The following week, AT Hardgrave walked me through the Crestwood Building and joked that there were some old postcards that referred to this building as “Crestwood the Beautiful.” I shared this with Dianna and she replied, “Wouldn’t it be amazing if God made this place Crestwood the beautiful again.”
Towards the end of the week, I flew to Ukraine to help lead a pastor’s retreat. It was there I had the opportunity to reflect on this new call to plant a church. It was at that retreat that God indicated the kind of church he wanted us to be (an equipping church was rooted in an urban community), his intention for us to identify with the history of Crestwood Baptist Church that had served in the Crestwood neighborhood and continue to invest in that part of OKC. I also had a clear understanding that God was using me as a catalytic force to begin the church and set the values and priorities. I had an awareness that I would serve as lead pastor for 2 to 3 years and then release that position to another.
September 15, 2013 (6 months after he called us to plant and 2 months after my 3rd heart attack) we had our first public church service in the Crestwood building. (We called it our “soft launch.”) At this point in time, our senior leadership team consisted of Brian Blount, AT Hardgrave and myself. January 2014, the ownership and stewardship of the Crestwood building was deeded to Crestwood Vineyard. During the next two years we let things grow naturally, encouraged people to take risks, experiment with different kinds of ministry, saw what worked and what didn’t, and blessed what God was blessing. (“You have to let something grow before you prune it.”) From my perspective it was both messy and glorious. The language we used to describe what we were doing was “building the plane as we were flying it.”
2016, proved to be a season of transitions. In the beginning of the year, I began to sense a shift in my role was on the near horizon. The “pastoring switch” felt more like a dimmer switch and it was being be turned down.
In early fall, 2016, AT Hardgrave discerned his service at Crestwood had come to an end. (He served at this location for 9 years, first as a youth pastor, then senior pastor for Crestwood Baptist Church that became Transformation House beforewe planted Crestwood Vineyard.) AT served as an important transition figure that enabled us to carry and honor the call and heritage of Crestwood Baptist into its newest incarnation.
In the fall of 2016, Jeanine had an encounter with God where she settled in her heart her call to lead Crestwood Vineyard. Brian’s confirmation came shortly after. I began transferring senior leadership duties to Brian and Jeanine Blount. We did this a little at the time with the view of making an official statement, September 2017 when we celebrated our four-year anniversary. January 2018 the Blount’s were officially set in as senior pastors of Crestwood Vineyard.
Within our first few years we sent ministry teams to Germany, Switzerland, South Africa and the US to do equipping workshops. We hosted a school for refugee children. We have seen hundreds come to Christ in Oklahoma City. Multitudes have gone through our 9-month ministry school. We began a working relationship with Hawthorne Elementary School.
My role has transitioned into serving in a supportive and advisory role. There are those that helped us in the first few years to get launched. I will be forever grateful for their service and sacrifice. There are those joining us now – I am looking forward to serving with you. And there are those who have made the whole journey with us, the best still to come.