Guiding Image: A Greenhouse

Have you ever stepped into a greenhouse on a cold, winter day and sensed the warmth and humidity of air that brings life to the plants inside? We think of God's presence like that life-giving warmth and water. It nurtures, sustains, and grows life - even in unexpected seasons and places!

At Life on the Vine, our ultimate hope is to live connected to the presence of the Triune God, because God's presence is life itself. All that we do as a church family is centered on our longing to be with the God who Jesus Christ makes known to us. Because when we encounter God, our lives are reordered in His presence. We experience healing. And we learn to live in ways that are just, true, and beautiful.

More than this: we believe Jesus is growing gardens of new life all over the earth! The life that he is growing in our community is just a piece of the whole.

In the "greenhouse" of Life on the Vine:

  • We are received.  We all come with a story. And we are received by God into this community, just as we are.
  • We are rooted.  We let our roots go deep in the soil of liturgy, prayer, and community. We also "unroot" ourselves from less healthier soils, like the lies and false narratives that often keep us from connecting with God and one another.
  • We grow.  We change and grow as we respond to God’s work in our lives. We become a different kind of community as we practice a way of life together: reconciliation, being with the least of these, thanksgiving, prayer, and justice.
  • We offer who we are as gifts. We see how God is bringing life around us, in our neighborhoods, work places, families, and in this church, and we join in what He is doing. 

Distinctive Postures and practices in our community

There are a few things that make us the unique community we are:

  • we are reimagining what power and leadership look like in the kingdom of the God who is known as Love
  • we affirm both women and men in ministry
  • we take on a posture of "mutuality" which frames the way we see leadership and everyday relationships in our community
  • we practice Communal Discernment as a church
  • we empower a team of bi-vocational co-pastors rather than a senior pastor model of leadership
  • we believe God's love for us is non-coercive, and...
  • we connect our contemplative spiritual practices to a commitment toward Christ-shaped social justice

Read more about these below:

  • Reimagined Power Structures

    "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you." Matthew 20:25

    We are committed to reimagining power structures for our church. It may not be hard to understand why - we grieve that cases of abuse of power are far too frequent in the Church today. And God grieves with us. This is not what God desires for God's people. Too often, the hierarchical, domineering, self-interested patterns of power are not challenged as they ought to be by the Church, but embraced and perpetuated - at times, even with "theological" support.

    Yet Jesus' words in Matthew and his postures in his own earthly ministry indicate there is a powerful subverting of systems of hierarchy that the world most often turns to. As Lord, Jesus could have modeled a hierarchical, domineering power. Instead, he humbled himself while lifting up the lowly. The new kingdom requires a re-thinking of power structures...ones which will bring about flourishing and life, not stifle the voices and gifts of others.

    What does this look like in leadership?  

    1) The nature of leadership changes: Leaders are entrusted with building up the body of Christ by following the pattern of Christ: laying down their life so that others may flourish and be empowered. 

    2) Leadership structures must also change: Rather than top-down, hierarchical, one-fallible-leader-at-the-top structures, we seek to create structures at Life on the Vine where power is shared, and authority is entrusted according to character, gifts, and willingness to open oneself to wise accountability. (More on this below) 

    3) New practices must emerge for leaders in the communityTrusting that the Spirit is given to the whole body, the job of anyone entrusted with authority (such as a pastor, ministry leader, shepherd, etc) is to listen well before making discernments. Pastors know they are not infallible, nor do they have all the gifts that the church needs.  So they lead within their limitations and invite help, never using their authority as a means to override or silence dissenting voices. They offer and submit, and listen and wait. and seek the guidance of the Spirit, trusting that Christ truly is the head of the church.  (More on the practice of "Communal Discernment" below).

  • Women and Men Leading Together

    “God created humankind in his image, male and female he created them.” Gen. 1:27

    “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”  Gal. 3:28

    When God created a world in which the Creator's image could be seen, God created both male and female. From the beginning, men and women were created to be full partners in God's creation. Jesus disrupted the cultural norms of his day in permitting women to learn alongside men as they followed him, and on Easter morning, the good news of Christ's risenness is first given to women, who Jesus tells to "go and tell" their brothers the good news. And in Acts, the Holy Spirit is poured out on all of God's sons and daughters. 

    At Life on the Vine, we affirm and call women and men into full partnership with one another. You'll notice both genders pastoring, leading in prayer, preaching, teaching, discipling, and leading according to the gifts the Spirit gives them.

    When women and men lead together, we see the whole community flourishing!

  • A Multiplicity of leaders

    "Who is the pastor here?" is a question we often get from visitors, because on any given Sunday, you will see many different people leading and serving from up front. We don't understand "church" to be a show one can sit back and watch. When we come together, everyone plays an active role. We're more a pot-luck meal than dining at a fancy restaurant: every person brings something to contribute, and that's what makes the experience profoundly joyful. We prioritize training up and involving many because the Spirit empowers all of us - not just vocational ministers, not just pastors, not just the official "leaders", but all of us - to play powerful roles in the kingdom.

    Also, to say that we value "team ministry" is really an understatement. God's design seems to point toward the need for partnership. Jesus sent out his disciples to carry forth his mission in pairs! So whenever possible, our leadership structures from our house churches to children's Sunday school to our pastoral team involve team structures.

  • Bi-Vocational Co-Pastors

    No pastor at Life on the Vine is full-time.  Instead, each has other responsibilities or employment outside of Life on the VIne, and they dedicate anywhere from 10-25 hours of their week to the church community.

    Additionally, there is no "senior pastor." Instead, the pastors practice mutuality rather than hierarchical leadership and work as a team, trusting that together, we can hear the Spirit more fully as we each bring our different perspectives and work them out together.

    The ways we see this model helping the church flourish:

    1. It gets pastors out of the church bubble and into everyday rhythms of life that the rest of the congregation experiences.

    2. It makes space for more people other than the pastors to lead with different gifts.  

    3. It fosters an appreciation for the priesthood of all believers where the church does not look to the paid professionals to do the ministry.  It values everyone’s ministry.

    4. Rather than relying on one charismatic pastor, we lean into a multiplicity of voices who are providing guidance, care, and direction for our church community.

    As a congregation, we support our pastors in this model of leadership by keeping in mind:  

    1. We don't expect our pastors to carry the same load as a full time pastor. If we see a need in our community, we discern if there is something the Lord may be inviting us to offer from our own gifts.

    2. Neither are we afraid to reach out to a pastor if we are in need of care! We trust them to set good boundaries for themselves.

    3. Patience is helpful. Various processes can take a longer time as the pastors and other leaders take time to listen to one another, seek God in prayer, and discern the Spirit's guidance together.

  • Communal Discernment

    Because the Spirit resides in each one of us, and because no person - regardless of their positional authority - has the full picture of what God is doing, we practice Communal Discernment.

    "Discernment can refer to both a posture and a process. As a spiritual posture, discernment entails fostering a contemplative attitude that helps spot the presence of God in the concrete events and experiences of ordinary life. As a process, discernment is decision-making that invites God into the process and relies on God to be the telling influence in the choices we make. It is a deliberate attempt to become attuned to the guidance of God in important life choices."

    In our individual lives, we invite others we trust - those who have demonstrated love and understanding and wisdom - into discerning with us - what is Jesus doing in my life? How can I respond? (This happens in our small discipleship groups, which you may hear referred to as triads, grow groups, or grow labs. Talk to a pastor if you'd like to know more about these groups)

    But we also practice Communal Discernment when it comes to decisions that affect our whole church. When we seek the Lord's guidance and direction for our vision, when we determine church-wide practices, and even when we have theological differences, we listen to the Spirit together.

    What does this look like in cases of theological differences?  When there are disagreements about Scripture, doctrine, church governance, or community praxis (that fall outside of the affirmation of say, the Apostles’ Creed), we listen to one another and engage charitably with others’ positions.  We lean in with a posture of humility, expecting that the Spirit has something to teach us. We may not always agree on everything (and that can be a sign of health) – but we trust that the Spirit will give guidance. 

    Individuals (esp. pastors) must not usurp their authority over the congregation to assert her or his convictions on everyone else.  Instead, the pastors facilitate a listening to the Spirit by the community.

  • Non-Coercive Love and Community

    We believe God's love is a non-coercive love. He doesn't overpower us to get his way. Jesus most fully demonstrated this non-coercive love in his earthly ministry, never forcing the Kingdom on others, but inviting with open hands. The love and ministry we offer to one another in the greenhouse is like gardening. Gardeners can tend, but they cannot command plants to grow!  

    From Jesus, we learn to love in a way that doesn't coerce, but instead comes alongside people, practices presence with and for others, not shying away from bold invitations to a closer life with Christ, but also refusing to use tactics of domineering aggression, shame, fear, or manipulation. In other words, our community is shaped by the Christ who always offered fullness of truth and fullness of grace (John 1:14).

  • Contemplative and justice-oriented spirituality

    In our noisy, hectic, and divisive world, we cultivate practices that turn our attention to the ever-present God. Come experience the holy and mysterious presence of God through silence, Scripture, prayer, the Eucharist, and friendship among us. Learn the practices of centering prayer, examen, confession, and holy listening which connect us with God's voice of Love.

    To connect with God's presence is to have our own hearts converted - to see the belovedness in others, and especially the marginalized, and to join God's loving mission of creating a more just world. One scholar puts it this way: Justice is what LOVE looks like in public. A deeper connection to God, fostered by contemplative practices, will lead us into action in the world to identify and expose where there are unloving structures that oppress people, while working with God and one another to build more just communities and neighborhoods in Jesus' name.

    In fact, many of the distinctive postures we describe above spring from a desire to be, in ourselves, a justice-shaped community.

Our Beliefs

We gather around the historic confession of faith: 

The Apostle's Creed

I believe in God, the Father Almighty,

Creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, God's only Son, our Lord,

who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,

born of the Virgin Mary,

suffered under Pontius Pilate,

was crucified, died, and was buried;

he descended to the dead.

On the third day he rose again;

he ascended into heaven,

is seated at the right hand of the Father,

and will come again to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,

the holy catholic** church,

the communion of saints,

the forgiveness of sins,

the resurrection of the body,

and the life everlasting. Amen.

**the church universal

The Story of Life on the Vine: A Brief History

  • Planting:  2001-2002

    In 2001, David and Rae Ann Fitch were called to plant a church in Long Grove, IL (a northwest suburb of Chicago). Life on the Vine was originally part of the Christian and Missionary Alliance. A small band of people from all over joined together to form Life on the Vine—a name drawn from John 17 (“I am the true vine and you are the branches) and Phillip Kenneson’s book by the same name.

    Life on the Vine was planted with a vision of gathering a community that would abide in Christ and bear the fruit of the Spirit in a post-Christian culture.  In an isolated, consumer-driven, and individualistic setting, we longed to be a church gathered in God’s presence, living with one another for God’s mission in the world.

    Along with other early leaders like Stu and Laurel Heiss (from the Rez Band) and Tim White, the distinctive Life on the Vine Sunday morning worship service took shape. Attention was given to the ancient worship practices of the Church throughout history, but with a strong desire to bring artistic renewal and to contextualize those ancient practices for today.

  • first steps:  2003-2005

    Life on the Vine began growing, drawing families from the surrounding neighborhoods and college and seminary students from Trinity International University. Many were ready to engage with the liturgy drawn from church history, practiced in a family-like setting.

    Geoff Holsclaw was called as worship leader upon graduating from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in May of 2003, and later was affirmed as a co-pastor along with David Fitch. 

    During this time David Fitch also worked on The Great Giveaway: Reclaiming the Mission of the Church, published in 2005. In many ways the book explained why David planted Life on the Vine.

  • Formative years:  2006-2009

    In 2006, seeing the need for wider diversity of gifts on the pastoral team to continue building up the church, Life on the Vine added Matt Tebbe to the co-pastoring team to offer the gift of his pastoral and teaching gifts, complementing David and Geoff’s more apostolic and prophetic gifts.  (Read more about our co-pastoring model here).

    During this time, we also invited the congregation to embark on a year-long discernment about if and how women and men can serve equally as pastors.  Pastors and lay members gathered for regular study of scripture and times of corporate reflection and discernment. Through this process, we affirmed together the equality of women and men to minister alongside each other. This continues to be a key distinctive of our congregation.

    As our congregation that began as many single people began to transition into a congregation that included many young children, Cyd Holsclaw, along with Jeff and Kristin Andrews, began to experiment with ways of bringing up our kids in the same rhythms of worship and discipleship we had learned over the past years. We began to use the models of Young Children and Worship and Godly Play in our children’s ministry, training our congregation in how to be “present” to Christ’s presence as we spent time hearing God’s stories responding in play and wonder.

  • sending out New Churches:  2010-2011

    Two church-planting teams began to grow and develop from within our congregation. After spending time in community, dreaming together, and praying for guidance, two churches were planted from Life on the Vine in 2010, in partnership with the C&MA—one in Westmont, IL which has grown into Peace of Christ Church. and the other in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago, Church of the Shepherd.

    At this time, Matt Tebbe was also led to bring the missional DNA of Life on the Vine to another church in Indiana. Our congregation blessed and said farewell to many of our Vine family members in a short period of time!

    In 2011, after a period of seeking God’s will and paying attention to the gifts among us, we called Cyd Holsclaw and Ty Grigg to the co-pastoring team (joining David and Geoff). Both brought unique pastoral and equipping gifts to the pastoral team.

  • Reorientation:  2012-2015

    Within these leadership and congregational changes—we sent a quarter of our church out to church plants and sent out one of our pastors!—Life on the Vine entered a needed time of rest and rejuvenation. 

    More transitions came during this time as well. After 13 years of ministry with us, in 2013 David and RaeAnn Fitch moved to Westmont to minister at our church plant there. In 2014, Cyd also stepped off the pastoral team to devote herself more fully to homeschooling her kids.  After another period of seeking God’s will and paying attention to the gifts among us, Juliet Liu joined Ty and Geoff on the pastoral team.

  • a greenhouse vision:  2015-2019

    In 2015, the pastors, shepherds, and congregation engaged in various listening practices to reflect on what God had done in and through us as a church so far. We also voiced hopes for the future.  

    At the end of this time we felt clarity and consolation in the image of a greenhouse.  

    We believe Jesus is growing gardens of resurrection life, and that one day, that garden will fill the world. Here at Life on the Vine, we long to be a “greenhouse of God’s Presence”—a place where His presence is known and experienced, bringing life and healing. In this greenhouse, we learn to be “received, rooted, grown, and gifted” for the sake of God’s mission.

    As we reflected together on how Life on the Vine has often felt like a place of sanctuary for us, we began to lament the absence of that kind of space for peace and welcome in others' lives.  We began to explore the work of justice in the kingdom of God, and how that work is central to our calling as disciples. We found a longing deepening within us to extend the same shalom and welcome we have experienced at Life on the Vine into the lives of others.

    One direction we sensed the Spirit leading us into mission was in active support of immigrants and refugees in our area and in this nation. 

    In 2015, we helped co-sponsor two refugee families who fled their home in Syria during the civil war. We raised over $16,000 to help these families resettle in Chicago and begin new lives. A dedicated team from Life on the Vine acted as their mentors, meeting with them weekly to show them the city, practice English, and hear their stories.

    In 2019, we continued exploring what it means to love our immigrant neighbors and practice solidarity with them by partnering with Alliance for Immigrant Neighbors, which provides affordable legal help for the immigrant community in the NW suburbs of Chicago.

    Other significant happenings during this time:

    • In 2016, we began gathering small discipleship groups called Grow Labs where we learned together how to listen to and cooperate with the Spirit as He cultivates Christ’s love in our lives. These formative groups continue today.
    • In 2018, after 17 years of faithful ministry and presence among us, we bid farewell to Geoff and Cyd Holsclaw as they accepted a call to co-pastor at a Vineyard Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
    • In 2018, Susanne and Jeff Calhoun were called to serve as co-Directors of our Youth and Family Ministry. 
    • In 2019, Leah Strom joined the ministry team as Director of Children's Ministry.
    • We constructed a prayer labyrinth on our property that is open to the surrounding community, a sacred place to walk, pray, and commune with the Lord.

  • living and loving through the pandemic: 2020-Present

    While the coronavirus seemed to turn our world upside down, one thing did not change: God's love for us and our invitation to join Him in his great work of healing and redemption in this world. During covid times, our love for our neighbor - and especially our concern for populations that are more vulnerable to the COVID 19 virus - prompted us to suspend our normal, in-person Sunday worship gatherings. 

    While at first, this seemed like a setback to our life in Christ and shared mission, we were happy to see that rather than experiencing this season as a hindrance, we have experienced an unexpected recommitment 1) toward one another as family and 2) to our calling to share the love of Christ with our surrounding community. 

    We experimented with new rhythms that continued to help us grow in the life of the triune God through fellowship with one another and demonstrating love for others. While we loved our old rhythms, in the midst of the pandemic, we sought to honor Christ's self-giving love which lays down privilege and preference for the sake of another.

    During the pandemic, a new "house church" structure was born at Life on the Vine to accommodate fellowship, worship, and community in smaller groups around the NW suburbs of Chicago. We gathered as a full church on half of the Sundays (over Zoom for most of 2020, but in person starting the summer of 2021), the rest of the time, we met in house church communities with those in our area to worship, pray, and share the Eucharist together. 

    In February of 2022, we returned to weekly worship services. Yet our house church ministry continues to take shape and develop!