Discover more from The Sacramental Charismatic
10 Things John Wimber Looked for in a Church
John Wimber's movement, the Vineyard, has seemingly struggled with it's identity for decades. At one point, in the early 1990's, Wimber gave a list of ten things he looked for in a Vineyard church...
First of all, John Wimber’s Hawaiian shirt there is fleek. It’s drippy, right? He was so hip and cool… a true champion of style. And yes, I’m the worst graphic designer ever.
Anyway… I've been rereading Bill Jackson's The Quest for the Radical Middle, again, and there are some very interesting things to consider in light of what the Vineyard was and is becoming. Jackson’s book is an excellent history of the Vineyard up until the early 2000’s, so it covers the “meat and potatoes” on how it all started and he traces our story through the craziness, the ups & downs, and much more. I’ve read it dozens of times and I think it’d be wise for Vineyard leaders to read it once a year (seriously).
Several times throughout the book we read that the early Vineyard leaders, under the leadership of John, were hesitant to organize in the traditional (creedal / confessional) ways of most denominations. Instead, there was a strong emphasis on following the Spirit's lead, demonstrating the kingdom of God, and keeping things relational.
In 1990-1991, John leaned more into the "center-set" movement concept and acknowledged "that historically groups couldn't remain centered sets forever because the rules that determine the insiders and outsiders will eventually have to be defined." Yet Wimber's desire "was to keep the Vineyard a centered set movement for as long as he could."
In my opinion, this clearly indicates that DEVELOPMENT and RESTRUCTURING and REORGANIZATION were always considered natural steps in any process that would eventually have to take place. We can’t remain a “movement” of people just hanging out forever, right? So for those people who suggest that the Vineyard isn't a denomination, they need to understand that John Wimber himself said the Vineyard was a denomination *numerous* times. And denominations need structure and organization. As Jackson notes:
"Coming out of these decisions [the 1991 VUSA Council Meeting], it became clear that the current organizational structure was no longer adequate for what God was calling the movement to, and changes were in order in that realm as well."
The question is WHAT KIND of denomination will the Vineyard be and become and HOW will she organize herself for the sake of her mission?
Back to 1991. At that time, John circulated to Vineyard pastors / churches that every Vineyard should have a "genetic code," a list of ten things that Wimber was looking for in a Vineyard church:
The Bible taught as the Word of God
Ministry to the poor, orphans, widows, etc.
Evangelism tied to social concerns if possible
Healing the sick and casting out demons
Commitment to small groups
Equipping the saints in things such as serving, giving, doctrine, family, finances, etc.
Interaction with other pastors and churches
Worship that reflects the values God had given us such as intimacy, being natural, etc.
The exercise of spiritual gifts
Commitment to missions
John Wimber "also reiterated the values of being low key, doing only what the Father is doing, and our commitments to planning with God in prayer." Contrast that with the absolutely insane and hyped up stuff you see from, for example, people like Alan Scott and Jeremy Riddle... but that's a post for another time.
Here's what I find interesting and... kind of funny in an ironic way. Throughout Jackson's book, it's very clear that the Vineyard has always had a struggle with her identity. In fact, Jackson notes that at one time,
John Wimber was "surprised to discover how little uniformity there was [in the Vineyard]. It was not a matter of saying, "I go to a Vineyard." One had to ask, "What kind?" This led [Wimber] to ask two key questions: "What is a Vineyard?" and "Who decides?"
Fast forward 30 plus years later and we're still wrestling with these two questions: What is a Vineyard and what is a Vineyard pastor?
On one hand, it's really somewhat depressing that we haven't figured that out yet but on the other hand one has to acknowledge that the ginormous culture shift over the past thirty years would require us to contextualize things and wrestle with ideas and challenges in a way that we might answer these questions differently.
Or maybe we shouldn't.
The Sacramental Charismatic is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
When I see Wimber's list, I have a hard time seeing much I'd disagree with... or even add. The only thing I would think important would be related to LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT that would include being intentional toward women and others often overlooked. Otherwise, it sure seems like the list of "doing the stuff" that is described in the Bible. And of course I'd want to put a little note next to "worship" that would lean into Baptism and the Eucharist, but y'all already know that about me (aka, I'm a Sacramental Charismatic).
Anyway, I've long held the view that organizational structures should not be formed in order to serve the organizational structure or keep the structures in place. Structures should be formed (and reformed) in order to serve the mission. If we need to restructure or reorganize, the question(s) need to be, "How will this serve our mission?" If the structure doesn't serve the mission, ditch it... or rethink it... or do something different.
But I wonder if while we're still trying to define what a Vineyard church is and what a Vineyard pastor does, I wonder if we need to understand what our Vineyard mission is. I know I can go to a Vineyard website and read what the denomination's mission is, but I honestly don't know if most Vineyard pastors could define what the Vineyard's mission is. And I’d sure hope our mission is the same as God’s mission (shout out to Christopher J. H. Wright).
Some people think the Vineyard movement is a worship movement. Others suggest it's a church planting movement. Some pastors believe it's about blessing the wider Body of Christ and others see it as a resource for local churches. Some suggest the Vineyard is about the Holy Spirit and renewal and others would say it's "all of the above!"
Here's where I'm at: we'll see how current and future structures can help serve the mission and hopefully we'll have more clarity as a movement about what the mission is. I'm sure things like that will slowly take place in the near future (I hope!). Those are things that denominational people address and work toward.
But what about us who pastor Vineyard churches or who are in churches that are fruit of John Wimber’s ministry?
I'm REALLY excited about re-reading these ten values that Wimber laid out. If I can do these things and stir these things and encourage these things and work toward these things, we'll be doing just fine.
Especially if we are equipping leaders, empowering women, and receiving Communion every week.
What do you think?
About the Author
Luke Geraty is a pastor-theologian in northern California. With a few theology degrees and nearly twenty years of pastoral leadership, Luke loves the Bible, theology, fly fishing, coffee, and books. All opinions are his own and not the views of any other organizations he’s affiliated with. You can follow him on Twitter, Instagram, and subscribe to his YouTube.