John Wimber, the founder of the Vineyard movement who went home to the Lord in 1997, is one of my heroes in faith. As a man dedicated to combine signs and wonders with evangelism and social justice, he is of great inspiration to me. The text below is taken from an article by Jon Panner which can be found here.
“Remember your leaders who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:7-8).
A president of an evangelical seminary once introduced John Wimber with these words: “John Wimber is the greatest theologian of the 20th century.” I nearly burst with laughter. John looked at me, winked, stood up, shuffled slowly to the microphone and opened with, “Really, I’m just a fat saxophone player trying to get to heaven.”
At moments like these, he seemed like our collective grampa. His Santa Claus demeanor reassured us, “Kids, I’ve read the end of the book. Guess what? We win!”
What was John Wimber’s ultimate contribution? It’s too early to tell, but he left us a renewed hymnody, 700 new churches to care for, a growing recovery of the New Testament narratives for life and ministry, thousands saved and healed.
How did he do it? Converted out of a successful music career at 29 and dead at 63, John Wimber was in a hurry to make a path for Christ’s Kingdom into contemporary Baby Boomer culture. George Eldon Ladd forged the stainless steel theological axe. John Wimber picked it up and took a whack at the root of the anti-supernatural deism that encrusted much of the church. It is now no longer enough to sing about God or Xerox orthodox propositions. The evangelical church is singing to Him. And He is singing back.
John’s life was an exposition of the “already and not yet of the Kingdom”. Through him, God healed others, yet John suffered heart disease, cancer, stroke. Revered by many, rebuked by a few, John seemed to get himself stuck on occasion (like Pooh in Rabbit’s door) halfway between wild woods and comforting tradition. He was capable of great faith that might stray into presumption and yet was known for his quick repentance. Several times I saw John Wimber burst into tears when he saw his sin.
John’s goal was to let God have His way with the church and for the church to “only do what the Father is doing” (John 5:19). Unlike some visionary leaders, John never relied on hype to temporarily pump the troops. Instead, he modeled a gift-based ministry for the whole church: “Everybody gets to play; so play nice and share your toys.” He focused on equipping everyday saints to ‘do the stuff’ and continue the Kingdom ministry of Jesus. His aim was a church that knew experientially how to worship in Spirit and Truth, preach the gospel, teach the whole counsel of God (not just the safe parts), heal the sick, cast out unclean spirits, care for the poor, train leaders, and plant churches that would do the same.
Not content with fishing, John was into catching. He led many hundreds to Christ one-on-one in Orange County, California. At its peak 50-60 tons of food flowed monthly out of the church he pastored there. Thousands trapped in sin were set free. To achieve this he attempted to use Pentecostal power to hit the evangelical target of making and nurturing followers of Jesus. How consistently he hit the target is for future historians to determine.