The little fingers on my grandfather’s hands curved like parentheses. Each time a new child came into the family, he checked for the characteristic curvature. He liked to think that the trait would carry on.
We talk a lot about DNA in the Vineyard-the tendencies that run through our line and our hopes hat they’ll carry on. Now there’s a growing number of leaders in our family who may have had a genetic head start. Their fathers are Vineyard pastors.
JENNA STEPP: THE FAMILY BUSINESS
Jenna Stepp leads a girls Bible study called “Divas for Jesus” and works together with her husband, Shawn, to lead the youth ministry at VCF Metro West in Framingham, Massachusetts, Her father, Phil Strout, is the pastor of the Vineyard Church of Lewiston-Auburn in Maine.
Jenna: The best thing my parents ever did was to help us think of OUR family as a church planting family. It was never, “I am the pastor, and over here is my family.” Rather, it was, “This is my family; we plant churches.” So even when we were in South America and we only had five kids in the church, we knew that our role as kids was to plant the Sunday School. It wasn’t just something our parents were doing.
We were also impacted by the way our parents always celebrated each other, honored each other. My dad loves the way my mom preaches, and my mom loves the way my dad preaches. It was never a competition thing. That set the tone. I always heard my father, if he had a problem with someone, deal with it in a respectful and honoring way. That is something that Shawn and I have taken into our ministry. I didn’t realize how rare that was until we were in other situations!
Something that Ruth Graham wrote has stuck with me. Her parents were pastors, as well, but she found that she had to develop the discipline of nurturing a secret life between herself and God. I realized when I read that, that my parents are amazing. I’ve got to develop my own relationship with Jesus, or I’ll be in real trouble. I stand alone when I’m standing in front of the youth. Daddy is nowhere around.
Phil: I think I always knew that my children would end up involved in ministry. But I tried not to push it. We never told them what they should or shouldn’t do. But as Jenna said, we did decide early on to be a family with a kingdom focus. We’re all in ministry. This is what the Strouts do.
I think it’s a great heritage to give our children. I encourage pastors to speak positively about ministry. Don’t tell your kids, “I was a pastor and it took the best years of my life. Don’t do this, because you won’t be able to follow the American Dream and make your six·figure income.” I ask people, “What if you pay for an Ivy league education for your kids and then they come home and say, ‘I’m going to Pakistan to give my life to sharing the Gospel there.’ Would you consider that as successful as them telling you they just signed their first $300,000 contract working for IBM?”
I always told our kid s, “I’m not going to apologize to you guys for us being different. I talked about what a privilege and honor it is that we get to be leaders in the cause of Christ. Of all the careers God could have had us walk into, he chose us to help lead Jesus’ church. I always made it seem like it would be a step down to be the President of the United States.
TRAVIS TWYMAN: SAME CLOTH, DIFFERENT CUT
Travis Twyman leads the Beach Vineyard in Huntington Beach, California. His father, Bill Twyman,ls pastor of the Inland Vineyard in Corona, California. Travis and his girlfriend,Angie- now his wife-helped start the church In Corona in 1995 and worked there on Bill’s staff before leaving to start Beach Vineyard.
Travis: My dad and I loved working together. One of the hardest things in my life was leaving the church and no longer working closely with him. It was something we would have liked to continue, but God had different plans.
We always had long, long conversations about ministry, both the difficulties and the sweetness of it. We have different temperaments in relation to ministry, but ones that are very complementary. But there was always the complicated aspect of wearing different hats with each other as father and son. All the years growing up, he was my best friend, the best man at my wedding, and my dad.
But then he became not only my senior pastor, but my boss! So we had to figure that out.
Dad and I have very similar emphases in terms of our Vineyard values. But in terms of how that works out, the kind of church we want is very different. My dad’s gift mix is primarily as a leader and vision-caster. That’s where he is strongest. He loves the conference feel, loves to provide leadership, to stand up and say, “here’s where we’re going, here’s what it looks like, now let’s do it.” He’s very inspiring.
I have learned a lot of that from him, but I am pastoral through and through. So if you ask me what makes me come alive, it is walking along side people, getting into their lives, and building a sense of community and family. If I could have what I want, I would have a small community church of no more than 150 people,that is growing slowly as it is developing a sense of family, and then at the point of 120-150 people we plant a new church out of our congregation. That way we’d stay small. but with a passion for church planting.
Bill: Travis and I made a really good team in that he got more of a pastoral gift and I have more of a vision/leadership gift. We really are different in that orientation. It is a funny thing- generally with someone with my gift· mix! But when he was considering leaving Inland Vineyard, and I said ” Travis, I think this is your inheritance; I think God has this for you,” he said, “Dad, I’m sorry – l just don’t like your church.” When I asked him why, he said, “I want a small church where I can know my people. You don’t know your people.” He wants to be involved in peoples’ lives to a deeper measure, even if it means he’s got to be bi·vocational. Me, I like crowds and celebrations.
I think Travis really excels in narrative preaching. He makes the story dear, and he brings the people into the story. It’s one of the most effective styles of preaching that I have ever seen. I am trying to copy him, but I just can’t get it. It’s his style as well as his command of Scripture. He has been concentrating on the “story” of the Bible: what’s the Big Story, what’s our story, how does our story fit into God’s Big Story? I’ve not heard a better narrative preacher.
Travis shares all the Vineyard values, but they are being expressed in a different kind of model. He knows his generation and he knows how to reach it. When I was a young person, we looked for teachers and leaders. Travis’ generation is looking for a family.
MATT SAMPSON: FOLLOWING A PIONEER
Matt Sampson is the pastor of South Bay Vineyard in San Jose. California. His dad is Mike Sampson, who pastors VCF Klamath Falls In Oregon.
Matt: I grew up in the Vineyard. I loved it, but I saw the kind of pain and troubles that my parents went through as Vineyard pastors, too.
My dad modeled to me what it means to love people. I think that’s been ingrained in me though him, just watching the church, being willing to work outside the church. I don’t know how he did it. My dad worked two jobs, sometimes three, just because he never felt comfortable taking money from the church when it couldn’t afford to pay him. Even now he has his own painting business on the side. He was in ministry for the love of God and the love of people,and there never seemed to be any other reason.That has really been an example to me. It reminds me what it’s all about – to simply be used by God to change people’s lives.
I don’t know if this is something all parents say, but my folks tell me. “Matt, we saw the call of God on your life since you were a little child, and it’s the greatest thing to see you submit to the that calling.” I know it makes them proud. What I try to tell them is that I’m proud of them, too. I’m getting to do things in the Vineyard – to flourish here-in ways that they were never able to. I honor all the men and women who have worked in the Vineyard through the hard times, and are now getting to see the next generation do it, too.
Mike: Being in this kind of “grandpa position” where my son talks to me about ministry feels wonderful. One of the great things is that he is not going to make the same mistakes that I made. He learned from watching his mom and me. We didn’t hide the fact that we were hurt at times, but we tried to focus on the fact that God is in control, and that people are not our enemy. Otherwise I don’t think he would ever have gone into the ministry.
His ministry is different than ours, in that ours was one of the first generation Vineyards. I told him once that it was kind of like the Oregon Trail. The pioneers that came out had tremendous hardship. The successive generations after that had it easier. All the hard work was, in a sense, for them.
I am tremendously proud and humbled to have a son in ministry, although I am protective in my heart for him, too. When I get a chance to tell people what my kids are doing, and I think “Wow, second generation!” To me, if nothing else happened in my life in ministry, I have great fulfillment in my heart to know that I helped birth a young pastor who will go way beyond where I have been able to go-of planting a seed and now seeing it grow.