Interview with the new national director of church planting for Vineyard USA, Michael Gatlin.

Dave: Michael, tell me a little bit about your church and it’s history.

Michael: Duluth Vineyard Church was originally planted in 1990 as three different groups came together from different backgrounds. Brenda and I moved to Duluth and became senior pastors in 1997 after this community had experience some very difficult times. There was a pretty strong, but largely unhealthy core group left. They really wanted to experience God’s presence, but were untrusting of outsiders. Today, fourteen years later, we are a pretty large church and very healthy expression of biblical community. We have the awesome privilege of seeing many people come to faith in Christ, experience all kinds of healing and deliverance, and then express God’s compassionate heart through many forms of ministry in the larger community. I really didn’t know that ministry could be this much fun. We have a little byline that pretty much sums up what we’re trying to do, “Love God. Love people. Period.” And we’ll do whatever it takes to teach people how to do everything Jesus said to do. We figure this ought to take us at least the next few years! (That’s a joke).

Dave: Congratulations on your new position as National Director of Church Planting for the Vineyard USA. What exactly does that involve?

Michael: That’s a great question! I think I’m just beginning to get my head wrapped around all this involves. But for the most part our task force serves as a resource to our local churches. It’s the local church that is meant to reproduce and plant churches. We’re here to help all along the way. We want to envision and resource and offer training and a process so that together, as a community of churches we can plant healthy Vineyard churches all throughout the world. So practically, this involves envisioning the local church leadership, helping to identify potential planters, offering various assessment tools, helping to establish training and mentoring and coaching opportunities, resourcing churches… Well, you get the drift. There’s a whole lot we can be doing.

Dave: You’ve been the senior pastor of your church since 1997. Under your leadership the church has grown and spun off a number of church plants. If you were starting over, what would you do differently?

Michael: I can see two big things we need to improve on and both have to do with training the leaders we are sending out: we need to do a much better job at teaching these new leaders to be deeply connected to God in a life-giving kind of way. I know this seems pretty basic, but potential leaders are generally ‘get-er-done” kinds of people. We have a desire to participate in ministry with these folks for our entire lives, not just for a few glorious years. And when people are deeply connected to Christ and really under the leadership of the Holy Spirit, then all the nuts and bolts of doing ministry have a way of working out. Don’t get me wrong, pragmatics are important. But we’ve just got to make sure our training keeps the main thing front and center.

Dave: If you were sitting down with someone just starting out in the pastorate and you could only give them one piece of advice, what would it be?

Michael: Only do what you see the Father doing, period. (I’m not sure why it means more to me to spell that word out, but it does.) Again, in the context of our Vineyard community, this is as basic as it gets. But it highlights one of the biggest mistakes I see younger leaders make. We see someone else’s success, or we feel like we just aren’t doing enough. And we add events and programs and activities to our schedules in an effort to try to get more happening. But in my experience this never really helps. I’ve learned that God is working all around me all the time (I’m reading from John 5 here), and it’s my job and my joy to simple participate what what he’s already doing. That’s it. Just doing that, whatever that happens to be today, is plenty to keep my plate full. And by all means, find mentors and coaches that will help you to identify what God is doing in your community, and will resource you to participate with him.

Dave: Next year the Vineyard’s national director, Bert Waggoner, will be retiring and a new director will be chosen. There’s a lot of anticipation and some anxiety with Vineyard pastors surrounding who will be selected. Without mentioning any names, in your opinion, what type of person is needed at this stage in the Vineyard’s history?

Michael: I honestly think we are at a great time in our development as a community of churches. I truly believe that our heavenly Father is in complete control and will lead us very well through this process. He loves his church! And in my humble opinion I think we need a good leader, able to articulate a worthwhile vision, who is really strong at the kingdom of God ministry that is at the core of our dna. We are such a strong and vibrant family of churches and leaders with a growing diversity of ages and ethnicities and we need a leader who can speak to each of us, challenging us to be more than we think we can as well as nurturing us to stay connected to the Vine. I could go on and on here, but I think you get the point.

Dave: What are you reading right now that you are finding really helpful?

Michael: I am reading James Bryan Smith’s series on apprenticeship to Jesus entitled, The Good And Beautiful God/Life/Community. I think this could be incredibly helpful material at helping church leaders do a good job of teaching and leading people towards discipleship to Jesus. For an overview check out their website at http://www.apprenticeofjesus.org/

Dave: Thanks Michael