JOHN WIMBER [1934 – 1997] was a spiritual giant, unafraid to look “a fool for God”, willing to do his will whatever the cost. He has been variously described as evangelist, bible teacher, prophet, church planter, businessman, leader, worshipper, musician and intellectual, and had many other gifts and skills besides.
I first heard John Wimber and members of his Vineyard Christian Fellowship on their 1980s ministry trips to the UK, and later I had the pleasure of worshipping at the AnaheimVineyard Church inLos Angeles. The ministry of the Spirit through John and his team in those days was the most overt, powerful and gentle that I had ever seen or experienced. God touched us very deeply and re-equipped us to continue our ministries. This greatly raised my level of expectancy about what the Spirit would do. What I received has been part of my life ever since. I consider it a privilege to have met and heard John Wimber – a spiritual giant.
John was an excellent communicator. His relaxed, humorous, self-depreciating style combined with good content and his gifts as a story-teller. Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones remarked that Christians were the greatest thinkers in the world, because they must re-process in the light of God what they are told by our fallen, upside-down culture; and because the regeneration of their hearts motivates them to do so. This certainly applies to John Wimber.
He was very much a prophet in the areas of evangelism, pastoral care and church renewal, but possessed an instinctive understanding of the relationship between gospel and culture. The previous decade had focussed strongly on Western culture as the context for mission, but Wimber thought beyond this and developed careful church planting strategies alongside a clear philosophy of ministry. These were not only sound theologically but, significantly, enabled ‘church culture’ to act as a bridge for outsiders or new converts rather than a barrier.
John never had to be a ‘cross-cultural missionary’. He was not engaged in breaking out of a stiff, antiquated church culture to connect with ordinary people. A prayerful and reflective man, he knew both his Lord and the Scriptures and his cultural context; he also had the gift of bringing the two together. Experience of the Spirit in the church’s life was central to his thinking, but as his convictions about this developed he quickly identified those ‘Pentecostal habits and mannerisms’ that were unnatural or hyped up, along with the church cultures that were fed by them. The models and values he taught inspired many people to carefully examine the cultures of their own churches and empowered them to prune away features that were not only unnecessary but a positive barrier to communication.
We must query the church’s culture if we are to develop an effective evangelistic strategy. Can we identify hurdles created by our culture that make it difficult to get in? There is the ‘stumbling-block’ of the cross, of course, but do we add pointless stumbling-blocks of our own? Moreover, what effect does church culture have on those who get in? They absorb this week by week, but does it enable them to live as Christ’s witnesses in the real world, or disable them for this by unwittingly socialising them into an alien society, a religious ghetto?
God gave John Wimber to the church as part of his plan to alert us to our role during a major transition in Western culture and to equip us for ministry during that time. Culture is not going to stand still. Respect for the inheritance John left us will not mean slavishly reproducing particular patterns of church life or ministry. Once again, we will be drawn towards the mistake of fusing the Gospel’s meaning with a particular expression of it in some way that fitted with a recent cultural form. The two are certainly not the same. The principle John taught and followed was that of a church life that is accessible by people in the surrounding culture as well as being nourished by a Biblical worldview. He emphatically did not model the practice of simply aping particular forms of culture and then calling it ‘church’.
John Wimber has been inspirational in my intellectual engagement with church and culture, as well as my spiritual journey. John communicated best by the method of ‘show and tell’. He has shown me the way to integrate charismatic ministry and cultural analysis into a holistic, unified way of service and I thank God for him.