The Success of John Wimber and the Anaheim Vineyard

After interacting with different Vineyard pastors over the past few years, I find that many are trying to define the Vineyard church in this post-Wimber era. There are a few old-timers left that were part of the larger movement and some that have been to the vineyard conferences, but most are the next generation leaders who have not experienced the move of God through John Wimber and the Anaheim Vineyard. I hope to shed some light on this unique move of God and the environment that John put in place to facilitate and spread the move of God throughout the world.

            What set Vineyard Anaheim apart from the rest of the church that caused a worldwide impact? After being a part of the Vineyard Anaheim for almost 40 years and seeing the ups and downs, I have had much time to reflect on that move of God and what worked and what didn’t.  What set the Vineyard Anaheim apart was threefold, one the sovereign move of God, the structure that was put in place to facilitate and spread the move of God, and the character of the man that God used to do this. 

The Sovereign Move of God

            The sovereign move of God started in a group of Christians from a quaker background that wanted more. They gathered in a small group in someone’s house and just worshiped the Lord and studied God’s word.  During these worship times, God blessed them with His presence. Then as the group grew and became a church, a man named Lonnie Frisbee shared his testimony and then saying “For years now, the Holy Spirit has been grieved by the church, but He’s getting over it. Come Holy Spirit” Then the Spirit fell on the congregation in the room, and it looked like a bomb went off with people all over the floor shaking, laughing, crying, and speaking in tongues. This move of God continued with ebbs and flows for almost 20 years. God’s visitation took many forms over the years, but each had the characteristics of God’s mercy and intimacy, accompanied by signs and wonders.  There have been many moves of God in the past, but they did not last. I believe that this move of God continued for several decades due to John’s character and the structure that he set up that facilitated, sustained, and expanded God’s move around the world. 

The Character of the Man

            At the beginning of John’s walk with God, he wanted to do what was “written in the Book.” Heal the sick, raise the dead, casting out demons, ministering to the poor; he wanted to “do the stuff!” This was fertile ground for the Lord to use John as a vessel for what He wanted to do. John said to his wife Carol, “I wonder what God would do if we let Him do it without stopping him?” These are the words that God wants to hear. Carol put it that “John believed God! John obeyed God!” John was the right person in the right place for God to move.

            From all outward appearances and my interactions over the years, John was a man of humility. He gave up fame and fortune to follow the Lord. He would publicly refer to himself as a “fat man going to heaven.” In his interactions with others, he would give them preference and the place of honor. I know that when the ministry team traveled with him, they were as important as he was. In one of the early trips to England, one of the churches wanted just him for the conference, and he told the leaders that he would not be there without them. The ministry team sacrificed to come and minister, and if they are not a part of the conference, he would not be speaking. They changed their minds, and God was faithful and radically changed that church forever. 

            Another aspect of his character was his heart for others. He had a heart for the poor which was one of the key ministries of the church, and along with that, he was very generous. He wanted to give it away. Giving away the ministry was one of John’s passions. I saw many leaders come into the church and serve for a season and learn and receive an impartation from John and then go out and have a significant impact in the world. A documentary called “Sons of God – For Such A Time As This” looked at 13 ministries that impacted the world. Out of the 13 ministries, 9 of them mentioned being impacted by John Wimber and the Vineyard. I got to know several of them over the years, and they went out and started their own ministries that are still having an impact today. I would continually see different leaders come and visit John for an afternoon and walk out with hands full of materials and resources to take back to their own churches. This is another reason God chose John because he never wanted to keep any for himself. He wanted to give it away. I could go on about his character. John had his weaknesses like the rest of us, but he was a man that God could use to radically change the church around the world. 

The Structure of Revival

            In the previous discussions, I alluded to John’s structure that facilitated and expanded this revival worldwide. We may not yet be in the throes of a revival right now,  but we can learn and implement these things into our churches and ministries in preparation for what is coming. The structures that I observed that John set up were “everyone gets to play,” training, an environment of risk, and establishing a solid foundation

Everyone Gets to Play.

            “Everyone gets to play” was one of John’s core values that permeated all the different aspects of the church and ministries. In being part of the ministry over the years, I rarely saw John pray for people in a public setting that was a job for the ministry team. At Church services and conferences, John would always bring a ministry team. He would teach and follow up with “clinic,” usually on the area he was teaching, but often, God had other plans and took things in another direction. He was purposeful in having the ministry team do the ministry to show that anyone can do the stuff, not just the anointed guy upfront. For many churches, this was a revolutionary concept. I think functionality, not necessarily desired; most churches had the professionals and the laity. If someone were sick, they would call the pastor; he was the professional. John was able to change the church culture such that the people did the ministry, not the professionals.

            One of John’s sayings was that he would let the bush grow and then prune it back. This was an example of how he implemented “everyone gets to play” into the church’s life. When the church was new, someone came up to him and said they need a Sunday school for the kids, and John responded, “Great go ahead and set it up.” He was willing to let people who wanted to start a ministry do it, even if it failed. Everyone gets to play! Vineyard Anaheim had numerous specialized ministries that people started that ministered to the sexually broken, those who suffered terminal illnesses, healing ministries, and others. We experienced this personally. We had brought up the need for a finance ministry to help people get their finances under control, and John said, “go for it; let me know if you need any resources.” My wife and I led a finance ministry for almost seven years, helping people out of financial bondage. John let us play. 

A friend of mine, Danny, visited a head hunter tribe in Indonesia when he heard a familiar song coming from the village. It was a Vineyard song in their native tongue. The songs of the Vineyard had traveled to the far corners of the earth. Why did this happen? I believe it was because John applied his philosophy of “everyone gets to play” to worship. He had strict guidelines for those who wrote worship songs. They had to be easy to play with simple cords that a beginner could play and simple lyrics that were easy to sing with no ballads.    This and songs that sing to God, not just about God, caused this new style of worship to spread around the world like wildfire. Since it was easy to play, anyone could play them, so every church, small group, and person who could play an instrument was playing a Vineyard worship song and experiencing the presence of God in a new intimacy. 

            Everyone gets to play, allowed God’s move to spread much faster and farther because it wasn’t the guy up front who did the ministry; he only has a limited capacity, it was the average believer that was sitting in the seats that were doing the ministry. They would get excited about what God was doing and wanted to pass it on to the next person.

Giving it away!

            One of John’s giftings was the ability to train others. It was his passion to give it away. I saw this over and over again. I met many leaders that came into the church to learn, and John would pour into them and send them off equipped with armloads of material. These leaders that came in to learn went out and had a worldwide impact.      This gifting closely ties into everyone gets to play. As John learned about the move of God, he would pass on what he learned through training classes at church, conferences, and his “Equipping the Saints” quarterly magazine around the world. This was how I got started in the Vineyard. For years I had seen God work supernaturally in my life, but the churches I had been involved with did not teach or talk about the supernatural as a part of the Christian life. One day, I was visiting a friend, where I saw a tape series from a class at Fuller Seminary on “Sign and Wonders and Church Growth.” I asked her roommate if I could listen to them, she said yes, so I took them home and couldn’t stop listening to them. Here was someone who was teaching from the Bible about the things that I had been experiencing. I heard that the professor teaching the class had a church called Vineyard in Anaheim, so I hunted them down and called them, and they told me they had Wednesday night training classes. 

I grabbed a good friend of mine, and we went down and attended a class on healing being taught by Blain Cook. Blain did an excellent job at laying down a biblical foundation for healing that made sense. I thought to myself, “I could buy into that.” Then Blain did something that I had never seen; he said that “now we are going to do clinic.” I looked at my friend Rolo and said, “what’s clinic time?” Blain said, “now we are going to demonstrate what we just talked about.” He then asked the Holy Spirit to come and waited. He then pointed across the room and said, “the Holy Spirit is on that person. See how their eyes are fluttering, and there is a sheen on their face. That is the Holy Spirit. God is do something with that person.” Blaine was a master at giving a play-by-play description of what God was doing. Then a few rows behind me, a man went down, and chairs went flying. Then across the room, another lady went down, and the chairs went flying again. Blaine described this as a “power encounter” where the power of the Spirit comes in contact with darkness, causing the people to react. By the end of the night, half the room was on the floor laughing, crying, or shaking. My eyes were opened, and I was hooked. By the end of the class, we all had the opportunity to practice praying for the sick and see God do some amazing healings. One of the things that I learned from that class was to see what the Spirit was doing and take part in it. Jesus said in John 5:19-31 that he only did what He saw the Father doing. This was another area where John had a significant impact on the church. He was teaching them, by modeling, how you identified what the Spirit was doing and how to work along with the Holy Spirit. It is incredible how more effective you are in ministry when the Holy Spirit initiates the ministry. 

One of John’s goals was to get the people trained to do the ministry. Every Sunday school teacher, small group leader, and anyone involved in ministry. I had to go through this basic training. John’s conferences were much the same way. He would have different teachers teach on different areas and have breakout sessions where they would teach on specific areas of training to equip the conference-goers to take this back to their churches.

One other aspect of the training is that it was easily transferable. The training for the classes and conferences always had easy-to-follow notes that you could take with you and teach someone else. The material being transferable along with God touching the person contributed to the spread of the move of God.

Environment of Risk

One of my students in our theology class asked, “Why does God show up in your class and not my other classes.” I had to think a while about that question. I ended up answering, “your other professors are probably better teachers than we are, but the main difference is that we allow God to show up.” Fortunately, He usually did. Something that John said that stuck with me and I have tried to make of everything that I do is “We are going to do what God is doing, not what we want to do and asking God to bless it.”

One of John’s famous sayings was, “how do you spell faith? RISK!” I have shared some of the clinic examples where John would teach and then provide an opportunity for God to show up, as He usually did. This is where the risk came in. What if God didn’t show up? I lost count of how many times John or others were on stage and asked the Holy Spirit to come, and they would just wait sometimes 5-10 minutes. It would leave you with this anxious feeling inside waiting.  Whenever I spoke and moved into clinic time, I would get that anxious feeling inside that makes you pray, “God, PLEASE show up!” In 14 years of teaching Theology at Biola, God showed up. Sometimes in more gentle ways, and sometimes He would show up in power, but God is always faithful. 

Waiting on God for ministry time was a new concept to the church typically, you would do your sermon and end it with a gospel presentation allowing someone to respond, and then close in a short prayer. The concept of asking the Holy Spirit to show up and waiting to see what He would do was a challenge for many. But through those years of modeling this at conferences and church services, John has changed the church worldwide does how it does church. I can travel to churches worldwide and different denominations and see churches praying for the sick and asking God to show up and minister to the people. This is risky because you never know for sure if God will show up!

Comfortable with the Mess

            The mess is where many revivals get quenched. When things get messy, the leaders would want to take control, so it was not so messy and, in the process, quench the Spirit, and the revival would stop. Part of letting everyone play is that things can get messy. John approached ministry with an open hand. As he did with my wife and me, he allowed us to start a ministry and gave us the freedom to fail or succeed. This was his way of seeing if this was what God was doing. He had a saying that he would “let the bush grow and then prune it.” He was willing to let people succeed or fail. This probably was not the messy part when God showed up, and things would sometimes get messy. When people had encounters with God, they would sometimes do some strange things like crying, laughing, shaking, falling down, and making strange noises. He would explain that these were not necessarily manifestations of the Spirit but people’s reactions to the Spirit. There was a lot of criticism from the outside, and he was willing to live with that. John was unwilling to quench the Spirit for the sake of pleasing men. 

An Acceptable Theological Foundation

As John learned about signs and wonders and the move of God, he provided a theological framework to support what God was doing. This was important. For this move of God to gain acceptance and spread within the denominational and evangelical churches, it had to have an acceptable theological foundation. John was gifted in communicating from the scriptures a Biblical foundation for all the signs and wonders that were happening. Also, John’s unpretentious and humble attitude made it easy for other churches to embrace what God was doing. I remember going to England with John and watching him teach and then saying, “it is time for the clinic.” It was fun to see the puzzled looks on the people’s faces wondering what he was talking about. John would then ask the Holy Spirit to come and then wait to see what He would do. He might then say that the Spirit is moving across the right side of the room, and people would come under the power of the Holy Spirit, or he might give a word of knowledge about someone having pain in the right shoulder. John would then have the people come upfront and have the Ministry team pray for them.  He was very good at talking people through what was happening in the room and describing what the Holy Spirit was doing. This would put people at ease with what was going on, and removing the mystery of what God was doing allowed it to become more acceptable.

One of his significant impacts on the church was making healing acceptable to the denominational and evangelical churches. He took what was mysterious and showy and showed through the scripture how Jesus healed and made it palatable to all. When John was teaching Acts, he saw that it was full of healing. He looked around at those in the church who were doing healing ministry, and most were on the stage up front performing the healings. He commented that he did not see that model in the Bible. He looked at all the examples in the Bible of healing and came up with the 5 step healing model, which was how Jesus and the disciples healed. This model is used in healing ministries around the world. It is simple, transferable, and biblically sound. I have taught over a thousand people over the years, and they were able to leave and effectively pray for the sick. If you want to explore this more on your own, you can get a copy on my website https://www.hearinggodblog.com/resources . 

The foundation.

I could write a book on this subject exploring the different facets of John Wimber and Vineyard Anaheim’s ministry, but I want to close with one last thought. I found that the successful churches had simple priorities or values that you would hear every Sunday. Vineyard Anaheim had 5 priorities on the back of every bulletin, and you would hear them referenced from upfront every Sunday. The 5 priorities were 1. Worship, 2. Fellowship, 3. Ministry, 4. The Word (Training), and 5. Sending. All of these could be expounded on but are a foundation for any church.

Summery

            

What is the walkaway after almost 40 years at the Vineyard Anaheim? How did a small Bible study grow to impact the church worldwide? First, it was the sovereign move of God who moved through a humble man who wanted to do what was in the Bible and did not want to hinder what God wanted to do and who wanted to give it away to others. Second John created an environment where everyone got to play. He also had faith spelled RISK. He made a place for God to show up in every service, meeting, and conference. And he was able to take the supernatural and explain it from a biblical viewpoint that was palatable to the church at large. God is about to do it again. We need to prepare ourselves and our churches for the next move of God. Using a biblical example, we need to plow the field and sow the seed to prepare for a bountiful harvest.

NOTE:  Carol John’s wife read the article and summed the whole thing well. “John believed GOD! John obeyed GOD!” and “Simple Theology!” 

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