When I first came to Vineyard Columbus in 1994, I was barely in my twenties, and the “old people” in the church were just entering their forties.
They seemed old to me at the time. Have you noticed that the passing of time has a way of changing your definition of old? It sure has for me! It’s a grace that Vineyard Columbus didn’t self-destruct through those early years. The presence of sages keeps us on the right track and helps us stay the course.
The word sage comes from the Latin word sapere, which means be wise. Webster’s definition takes it further: “wise through reflection and experience.” If I might apply this to our church, a sage is a member of Vineyard Columbus who has lived a deep life with Jesus and has reflected on how to pass that on to others. To take it a step further, a Vineyard sage is someone who has incorporated the particular charism(spiritual gift) of our church and who cares about seeing the gift multiplied in the lives of other people.
I can think of no one who fits these definitions more than Pastor Bill Christensen, who after nearly a quarter century of faithful ministry at VC will be retiring later this month. Before serving at Vineyard Columbus, Bill worked closely with John Wimber, the founder of the Vineyard movement. At Vineyard Columbus, he has served in various roles including Executive Pastor, Associate Pastor, Small Groups pastor, and our International Ministries pastor. Bill is a sage who has had an incredible impact on Julia and me personally. Along with countless others, I have often sought Bill out for advice about marriage, parenting, and ministry. Bill has wisely guided me through thorny situations on the mission field and walked me back from the edge of the cliff at key moments of discouragement and doubt.
The good news is that Bill and Dotty aren’t going anywhere. They, like Rich and Marlene, are committed to Vineyard Columbus. Though Bill is retiring from his job, he will never retire as a sage. Take a moment now to read Bill’s words as he’s reflecting on this life transition:
Thirty years ago, Dotty and I were led by the Lord to return from Morocco in order to put down roots deeply in the local church and learn what leadership/service is in the context of the local church. In the past 24 years serving in our church, I have experienced joy, stretching and growth more than I ever could have imagined. I have seen the Lord do wonderful things in and through our fellowship and I eagerly look ahead to what He has in store for our future. Isaiah 26:12 expresses exactly how I feel, “Lord, you establish peace for us; all that we have accomplished [and what is yet to come!] you have done for us.” These past years in International Ministries have been the richest and most rewarding of all the different roles I’ve had in the church. This is in large part due to the friendship, shared participation in Jesus and calling that I’ve experienced with you. Thank you.
Dotty and I see no upcoming change in geography nor spiritual family. We are not going anywhere. This summer will be a kind of sabbatical to renew, refresh and attend to what the Lord has for our next season. We also hope to visit some of our far-flung family, pandemic permitting. Beyond the summer, we hope to volunteer with our church in cross-cultural engagement locally and periodically overseas.
Bill also shares his hope for the future, and the plans for carrying on his ministry:
The opportunities for you to “declare His Glory” among the nations here in Central Ohio and overseas are unlike any other time I can remember! And I am delighted to announce that Andy Saperstein will be replacing me! After several months of prayer, open applications, interviews and more prayer, it is quite clear that the Lord wants Andy to do this. I could not be more pleased with this decision!
If you know Andy, I suspect you are saying to yourself, “Wonderful, Andy is perfect!” That is exactly my sentiment. Andy’s love for our Lord, character, rich experience in overseas work in Central Asia and extensive network of relationships with overseas practitioners will serve our community and our overseas workers well. Andy and Kathryn have been very effective training, coaching and encouraging overseas workers.
Andy will also continue in leader spiritual formation, which as Andy so eloquently puts it, is one of the wings that along with mission allows the bird to fly. We will continue to benefit from a deepening, maturing influence from Andy in his new role.
Many of you are sages, like Bill, and you have been a part of Vineyard Columbus for years, if not decades. Like Bill, many of you have served in different ministry roles over the years. Many of you are still engaged deeply in the church. Our prayer is that you would continue to invest in the life of the church in this season. Scripture shows over and over again that the next generation of the church depends on those who go before them. A sage is someone like the Apostle Paul, who says, “Follow my example as I follow the example of Christ!” (1 Cor. 11:1). Here are a few ways that our sages are an integral part of Vineyard Columbus:
A sage is a storyteller. We need storytellers who tell the good stories of the kingdom breaking in at Vineyard Columbus over and over again. Whenever I share a personal story about my experiencing John Wimber’s ministry, people lean in. When I hear Rich share stories of God’s miraculous provision for Vineyard Columbus, people lean in. When I hear Bill tell stories about what God has done on the mission field, people lean in. Why? Because when we hear about the works of God in the past, it stirs up a gift of faith for what God wants to do in the present! I can tell you that we will be telling stories in ten and twenty years about what God is doing right now even though what he is doing isn’t always entirely clear to us. We will be telling stories about how God used you to rebuild the church out of a global pandemic. We will be telling stories about how God renewed the church with his Holy Spirit and power. We will be telling stories about how God used you to replant the kingdom in your family, in your neighborhood, and in our city. If you’ve been around Vineyard for more than five years, don’t wait to tell the stories of what God will do. Tell the stories of what he has already done! Remind your family, your small group, and your ministry team of how God has been with us in the past and to help build faith for the future!
A sage is a steadying presence. You might know that old wooden sailing ships had huge boulders in the hull of the ship. This ballast provided the weight under the waterline of the ship so that it wouldn’t capsize in the middle of a storm. A sage provides weight and gravitas and wisdom to our community. Sages steady the ship in rough waters. I met with some long-time leaders of a small group recently and they were understandably feeling frustrated at their experience at Vineyard Columbus this past year. It was hard to not be able to gather in person for worship. The group didn’t agree on how to remain connected through the pandemic. And now that we are gathering again in person, not everyone was coming back to church. They were concerned that their group was blowing away in the wind of the pandemic. I was able to reassure them that their role as leaders is not to be the top of the tree that blows in the wind. They are to be the roots. They are to remain in place and be the steadying presence through the blowing winds of change. That’s what sages are. They are a steadying presence.
Finally, a sage is a mother and father. Our sages are able to offer nurturing, encouragement, correction, and guidance to the next generation. I see that happening over and over again. I see and hear stories of so many of our sages meeting with and mentoring younger leaders who are in need of encouragement, couples who are struggling in their marriage, and parents who need guidance in relating with their kids. Our sages aren’t those who have done anything perfectly. But they have learned through experience and reflection and are able to encourage us through what they have learned from their journeys.
You don’t have to be a certain age to be a sage. You can be a sage in your forties or fifties. But many of our sages will be in their sixties and entering a third stage in life. If you are in retirement age and are looking to get connected with other sages, we have a wonderful ministry called Phase III. Their focus is on creating an environment where people can meet other people, share experiences, learn from one another, build a closer relationship with God, serve and have fun. They meet on the first Tuesday of the month from 9:30 to 11:30 am. In addition, there is a Phase III Men’s “12 by 12” group that meets on the third Tuesday of the month from 9:30 to 11:30 am. For more information about Phase III, contact Ron Schmidt
For those of you who are Vineyard Columbus sages, we are so grateful to you and for you! For those of you who are younger or newer to Vineyard, let me encourage you to get around sages and strive to live the kind of life where one day you will also be a sage!