The Church That Jesus Builds | John Wimber
By John Wimber
The Vineyard’s founder, John Wimber, had enormous practical wisdom when it came to leadership and vision. Occasionally, we like to include those thoughts in the pages of Cutting Edge. What follows is an edited version of an article Wimber wrote in 199x on the subject of vision and leadership.
Someone said once, “There is nothing more practical than a good idea.” Ideas have consequences and I want to share a few that God has led us to pursue in the Vineyard. They are like seeds we have sown, and are sowing, all over the world. And insofar as the seed is true to God’s Word and imbued with the Spirit, I believe the Vineyard will continue to produce the fruit of the kingdom in the future.
I do not presume these ideas apply universally. They are not even original. When Vineyard started, we did not jump on the bandwagon of “God’s new thing.” Instead, we set out to do an ancient thing in a contemporary way: train people to continue the kingdom ministry of Jesus. Tired of my ministry, I was desperate to see his.
At his baptism before doing any ministry Jesus heard the Father say, “You are my son whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” God unzipped heaven and the Spirit descended onto and into Jesus to empower him. (Lk. 3:22). “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the desert.” (Lk. 4:1-2). After the temptation, “Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread.” (14) Jesus was full of the Spirit without measure and empowered for a purpose: to proclaim and demonstrate the kingdom.
What exactly is kingdom ministry? Luke gives a glimpse into Jesus’ own perception of it at his coronation address he announced his agenda: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
In the gospels we find Jesus’ action plan for Spirit-empowered ministry: Jesus Taught -
preached good news to the poor and
poor in spirit
proclaimed freedom to prisoners bound
in sin and darkness
cast out demons
healed the sick and he
mentored disciples to do the same
Jesus proclaimed and demonstrated God’s right to rule creation as he destroyed the works of Satan (1 Jn. 3:8). He equipped followers and promised that they too would do what he did because, “everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher” (Lk. 6: 40; Mt, 28:16-20; Jn. 14:12-14).
I view this process of kingdom ministry as a continuum.
Today the buzz word in leadership training is vision. Sometimes I wonder if we have it right. What I do in the Vineyard is ask Jesus to build his vision and strategy among us. I am trying to keep up with him, to believe and do what he says. Our primary aim in life is to love and glorify God and expand his kingdom in relevant ways in the time allotted us. As communities of the King, Vineyard churches should model what the kingdom looks like when God has his way with a group of people.
Power for a Purpose
In the Vineyard, we always placed a priority on being empowered by the Spirit to continue Jesus’ ministry. But the Spirit empowers for a purpose not just an experience. At times we almost lose the purpose; at times we seem to lose the power. From the beginning we have attempted, however inadequately, to keep these two together. For example, after a remarkable outpouring of the Spirit on our young church on Mother’s Day, 1979, approximately 1,700 people converted to Christ. Our passion still is to imitate the ministry of Jesus in the power of the Spirit. This requires that we follow him out of baptismal waters, through our personal deserts, and into the harvest.
What’s the Father Doing?
To continue Jesus’ ministry requires that we adopt his methods. Unfortunately, Christians in the West would rather implement programs. We are blind to our mechanistic assumptions when we reduce ministry to reproducible components and try to apply them indiscriminately. There is nothing wrong, for instance, with tools for witnessing which help believers communicate Biblical truth but should we use them all the time? No. We must ask what is appropriate in each situation and learn the art of listening, even as Jesus modeled (Jn. 5:19;30).
An early slogan we liked was, “What is the Father doing?” We tried to enter each ministry situation with that question foremost in our minds. Our experiences in spiritual gifts were an attempt to discern what the Father was up to. Whether the situation was evangelism, healing, budgeting for the poor, or sending a couple across country to plant a church, the important thing was to ask the Father what he was doing.
To continue to listen is essential because Jesus is still Owner-Operator of the church. It is, after all, his ministry, his authority, not ours. Our job is to cooperate. It is the Lord who adds to the church not us and he graciously stoops to use our clumsy efforts (Acts 2:47). Church growth theory and practices, though helpful, only tell us where to prune, and what fertilizer to use. In no way do they cause or even explain the miracle of growth.
Jesus said, “I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” (Mt. 16:18). Peter preached, “God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people” (Acts 2:17). Evidence confirms that the prophecies of Jesus and Peter are being fulfilled. Despite darkness (2 Tim. 3:1-9), Jesus is currently building his church, the Spirit is being poured out all over the world today.
My hope is that the Vineyard remains a Christ-centered group focused on the main teachings of Scripture as we follow Augustine’s advice: “In essentials unity, in non-essentials diversity, in all things charity.” We are thankful for the ideas God calls us to implement, and if they are solid, it is because they are his and rooted in Scripture, and in tune (at least in part) with some of what the Holy Spirit is doing today. The Vineyard is a mere thread in the global tapestry of the church. But I believe it is a thread of God’s weaving. May God always empower us to continue Jesus’ ministry.
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