Wimber - Models for Ministry

In 1976 a small group of people began meeting in my sister's home in Yorba Linda, CA. This group grew rapidly and in May of 1977 launched its first Sunday morning service with 130 adults in a Masonic Lodge on Main Street in Yorba Linda. That church, which at the time was Calvary Chapel Yorba Linda, and is now the Anaheim Vineyard, meets on La Palma Ave in Anaheim; it is not much more than 2 miles from my sister's old house.

Prior to launching the church, John, his wife Carol and I, would visit Charismatic and Pentecostal meetings to see how they did things. We were Quakers and our only experience up to date with these two streams was to find a way to get anyone who came from those streams out of our church. Eventually we were moved on by the Holy Spirit and our hearts changed regarding these things. We had a growing interest in the work and ministry of the Holy Spirit, but we didn't have a ministry model.

We visited Church on the Way during their Wednesday evening service, which was led by Jack Hayford, and I mean led. Jack, it appeared, orchestrated everything that took place. He did it seamlessly and wonderfully, but it just wasn't a fit for John or us. We visited various local 'healing services' and although I think we were all moved by people being touched by God, the showmanship--- things like the pastor coming down the center aisle followed by an entourage, with crescendoing music, just didn't seem to fit either.

John wanted to pray for the sick in our services, minister to people in our services, be sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit in our services, but just couldn't buy the models that were prevalent at the time, so he began to experiment and try different approaches to ministry, that alone was revolutionary. You just didn't hear of people 'experimenting' with ministry; leaders always seemed to want to portray that they knew everything about how God worked, but John was willing to openly say he didn't and wanted to learn.

As we moved forward, some of the guiding principles included a desire to maintain the dignity of the person being ministered to and not to exploit or make a spectacle of them. There was also a desire to not work things up, but rather to calm things down. John felt that we didn't need to change our persona when we ministered to someone; in other words, we didn't need to yell, start using King James English, or get everyone worked up. Yes, people do that and there is no law against it, but it isn't something we felt comfortable with and there was no law that said you had to minister that way. As I look back on it, I find it all to have been really remarkable; it ushered in a new era in how thousands of churches approached ministry over the next few years.

At first, and I think it was because of the type of venues available, ministry would begin in the service and end up 'behind the curtain' or in the 'back room', which was actually the side room at the Canyon High School gymnasium. Ministry would begin after worship and teaching. John would simply have people put their Bibles away and he would begin giving 'words of knowledge'. The transition was virtually seamless and with no prepping or set up, many times John would explain what was happening as we went along, but nothing was done to change the atmosphere or mood in the room. By 'words of knowledge', I mean he would have an impression about a condition a person might have and he would ask if anyone had that condition. He would also have people from the congregation 'give words'. This was incredible; there would be over 1,000 people in attendance and John was fine with getting everyone involved! Wow, you don't see that every day! At times there would be tension when no one responded. John seemingly could care less; he was patient and often funny. He had no problem making light during these times. He purposefully toned everything down, rather than work things up.

There was never a time where we had people come forward and form a line, so John could walk down the line praying for each person. The fact is John prayed for a few people at best. The 'healers' and 'ministers' were everyday people from the congregation who had been giving some training in praying for others.

People were neither allowed to fall down, nor were they pushed down. If someone felt like they were going to 'go down' or faint, we got them a chair. You might wonder how we knew when a person was ready to 'go down'. Well, John had us pray for with our eyes open! There were at least two reasons not using the 'slain in the Spirit' model. One was to protect the dignity of the individual, not use them to 'get things going' or exploit them. The second was John felt that when that happened, in many cases, ministry ceased before the real ministry that needed to be done had fully taken place.

As I mentioned earlier, people may have come forward, but they were then led into a side room and paired up with others who would minister to them. John discouraged us from working things up or getting 'too religious' about the whole thing. This is where the 'naturally supernatural' was birthed. Sometimes if it appeared that there may be demonic issues or emotional imbalance, ministry could be stopped and an appointment made to work with the person at a later time. I personally think that was revolutionary and really was startling to the person who was being ministered to, and frankly, being afraid the spiritual moment would pass, the people ministering would sometimes have a hard time with this as well. But I think John was trying to teach something very important about what he believed about in regards to the work and ministry of the Holy Spirit; that being it could take place any where at any time. In some of the aforementioned models, there was a philosophy that there was a special time in a meeting when 'the anointing is released', something akin to the Shekinah glory falling; John believed this changed at Pentecost, with the Holy Spirit residing in all believers. The Holy Spirit can and will minister through us anywhere, any place and at anytime, when He chooses to do so. We just have to be willing to take the risk to follow His lead and act in His name. Not bad stuff. I kind of think that would work just as well today, even though what John was introducing is over 30 years old! We are always looking for the next thing, the new thing, something cutting edge, sometimes I think to the point of missing the obvious and affective.

These ministry models were revolutionary and frankly made a way for hundreds of thousands of evangelicals to be brought into this kind of ministry. Many, many Bible believing followers of Christ at that time believed God could work through them, but they couldn't see themselves doing all the showy stuff that had always been connected with this kind of ministry. So this gave them an opportunity to practice that which they believed.

Those who came in contact with the Vineyard in the later years, let's say 1988 on, began to see different models introduced, via the 'prophetic' movement and the renewal period. It's not that the former models were abandoned all together, but these other ministries were given such a high level of visibility and influence it eventually moved the ministry from the people to the platform. Ministry was moved back into the hands of the 'professionals' or 'anointed' up on the stage. What we would call platform ministry, rather than down on the floor level with every day people. What John had achieved through introducing the 'naturally supernatural' model was severely curtailed and impacted during this time, in my opinion; it wasn't for the better, but that's another blog.

That period from 1977-1987 was a remarkable and powerful time; one that influenced untold numbers of people and allowed them to get in the game, or as John would say, 'do the stuff'. It was no longer exclusively the 'big boys' up on the stage, but everyone could participate in the work of the Kingdom.

There are several photos that I just posted. A couple three of them are from 1984 at Westminster Central Hall in London, England. I get emails to this day from people who were impacted by the introduction of these models for ministry and their being equipped to minister in just in such a fashion as I have described. I'll write a blog just on that conference at a later date; it was a wonderful, wonderful time.