The End of an Era: Vineyard Christian Fellowship

        The other night we went to a Vineyard worship reunion where Carl Tuttle was performing his last worship ministry night. Many of the old Vineyard worship leaders joined in for the final night of worship—it was amazing. Each of the worship leaders played their original songs that they wrote. It took all of us old Vineyardites back to the days when the arenas and sanctuaries were packed to overflowing, God’s Spirit filled the place, and worship was intimate and intense. During several of the songs God’s manifest presence filled the room.

As we worshiped I pondered the profound history that was on that stage and in the room. Those men and women, together with a few others, changed the course of history in the church. With their simple songs and worship style the church around the world was forever transformed—bringing intimacy with God into the worship of the church with lyrics sung more to God than about God.

            My wife Cathy and I have been involved with the Vineyard Anaheim for 35 years, and have seen our lives impacted in amazing ways that could fill several books. When I was a young Christian I saw the Lord work supernaturally in my life with casting out demons, healing, and seeing God do many miracles. But I did not have a framework for any of these things because I did not see any of this in the churches that I had gone to.  One day I was at a friend’s house and they had a tape series called MC-510: a course from Fuller Seminary called “Signs and Wonders and Church Growth.” I asked if I could listen to them.

As I listened to them I was amazed—here was someone who was teaching about the things that I had been experiencing. I thought, “I have to go visit that church!” Fortunately, they were fairly close so I went with a good friend of mine to a Wednesday night healing class taught by Blain Cook. The teaching was good. Then Blain said now we are going to do “clinic.” He asked the Holy Spirit to come and BAM!—the chairs went flying behind me with a man on the ground shaking violently. Then across the room the same thing happened with someone else. In the meantime, Blain, like a professional sportscaster, gave a play-by-play of what the Holy Spirit was doing. By the end of the night, half of the people were on the ground having been ministered to by the Lord. I was hooked!

Over the years Cathy and I grew tremendously in our walks with the Lord and saw significant healing in our lives.  The Lord allowed us to be a part of many of the ministries over the years and to impact many lives. Seeing and listening to some of the original Vineyard worship leaders with Carl Tuttle brought back many of the wonderful memories over the years.

My wife and I felt like this was an “End of an Era.” All this reminiscing of the past brought up the discussion with an old friend of mine about the Vineyard and where it is now. He told us a story about a Pastors’ Roundtable hosted several years ago by Wagner Leadership Institute (now Wagner University) with the late C. Peter Wagner present.  While a diverse group of pastors from different churches were invite,  it turned out over half of the pastors were either current Vineyard or prior Vineyard pastors. Several of these leaders had been on John Wimber’s board at some time. The discussion of the roundtable quickly turned toward Peter Wagner’s perspective about what brought the changes that had occured in the Vineyard.

According to their discussion, the change started with the Toronto Blessing. There was a lot of flack coming from Hank Hanagraph and others about the unusual manifestations that were happening there. Typically, John was one to let things go and see what happens. One of his sayings was he would “let the bush grow and then prune it.” He was receiving a lot of pressure from the board and other Vineyards to intervene in the situation. John at that time was battling cancer and did not have the strength to go to Toronto in person to talk with them so he called them on the phone and it did not go as well as he would have liked, which ended up with Toronto leaving the Vineyard. This started a fracture within the movement.

            During this time John decided to retire and hand the church over to Carl Tuttle, which ended up being too much pressure, causing Carl to step down. Carl tells his story in his new book Reckless Mercy. John and his family were also going through a hard time with he and his son facing cancer. Prior to this the “Vineyard” was a loose network of like-minded churches. John agonized over his decision to make this loose network into a denomination because of the uncertainty of his health. He thought a denomination would be the best rout to ensure sustaining the Vineyard movement after he was gone.

Over the years I have occasionally been asked this question: “Is the Vineyard dead?” John Wimber had an apostolistic anointing. He would never call himself that but functionally he was. He would refer to himself as “a fat man going to heaven,” or “I hope I grow up before I grow old,” which characterized his humility. But his staff and board would lovingly refer to him as a “Benevolent Dictator.” John would always say “This is where I am going if you want to follow, great; if not, may the Lord bless you.” One of John’s policies was that he had an “open hand” when it came to people and churches. They were not his but God’s. As with most moves of God, when the apostolic leader passed the movement would either die or change, which is normal for any organization.

The Vineyard movement changed. As these leaders from the Pastors Roundtable explained, during the years after Toronto the movement broke up into 3 camps. One group moved toward the Calvary Chapel style which were many of the churches roots. This style is heavy on the “Word” and large mid-week Bible studies. A second group moved toward a more seeker-friendly and spiritual formation style, while the third group remained with the original Vineyard priorities of Power Evangelism and Church Planting.  I am not saying that any of these are right or wrong. The movement is full of Godly Men and Women that sought the Lord during this time of crisis and went where they felt the Lord leading them.

The new Vineyard denomination elected a leader that was pastoral, not apostolic. The movement became more of a “Big Tent” movement in order to keep it together. As a result, the Vineyard of John Wimber is no more. It passed away with John.

As it is with the nature of life, it is born, has its life, and then dies, leaving offspring to carry on. And any parent wants their children to grow up and excel far beyond where they went. The Vineyard has given birth to many churches and ministries. It went from a small worship meeting in the late 70’s to over 1800 churches worldwide today. I recently saw a documentary that followed 9 of the most influential ministries today where God is moving. Of the 9 groups, 7 had their roots in the Vineyard. That is probably just the tip of the iceberg. As I have traveled and interacted with churches and people around the world, when I mention that I am from the Vineyard, many have commented that they have some influence or connection with the Vineyard. Even several generations later I see the impact. Several years ago there was a period of 6-8 months where is seemed like every other song on Christian radio was a remix of the old Vineyard worship music.

I wrote this down for both myself and those who lived through this amazing move of God, reminiscing of the wonderful things that He did and the lives that were changed. Our souls yearn for the manifest presence of the almighty God, to experience the intimacy of His wonderful love and to see the broken lives restored to a place of wholeness. The Lord commands us to remember:

“Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. Make them known to your children and your children’s children” (Deut. 4:9).

It is for us to pass on to the next generation the things that we have learned and the mighty works that we have seen God do in our midst. It is now time for the next generation to make their own legacy with the Lord with us alongside to encourage, mentor and disciple them, sharing the stories of God’s faithfulness in our lives and the Church so that they may experience God’s move in their generation.

The Vineyard of John Wimber is no more, but his children remain to carry on different aspects of his ministry and legacy.

Authors Note: It turns out that this article is more timely than I thought when the Lord prompted me to write this several months ago I did not know that Lance Pittluck the senior pastor of Vineyard Anaheim was going to retire this month and Alan & Kathryn Scott become the new senior pastors. This is truly a new era being passed on to the next generation.

 

By Paul Frala

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