In my past couple of blogs I’ve been spotlighting Vineyard worship. I’ve told the story of how it came about and shared my own experience in order to remind us that the unique brand of intimate, experiential Vineyard worship is a gift from God that needs to be stewarded and celebrate in order to continue blessing the rest of the Body of Christ.
Our legacy goes back to John Wimber himself – our original lead worshipper. Our theology and practice of worship are credited largely to him. John loved worship. He was a professional musician, an original band member of the Righteous Brothers, an arranger as well as a producer. Although he led worship from behind a piano, his first love was jazz sax and before becoming a believer he dreamed of being a hot shot arranger in Hollywood – but God had other plans for his life.
Although John certainly appreciated traditional worship, the music he liked, that he wrote, that expressed his heart was the same contemporary musical style that most baby boomers like me related to. It spoke my language. But he not only changed the sound of worship for me but he changed the way I worshipped.
I remember getting a personal peek at John’s heart for worship up-close-and-personal. One afternoon during a visit to Anaheim I dropped by the church to say hello and make a pest of myself. Afterwards I wandered over to Vineyard Music, just across the parking lot from the church to see who I could bother there.
Inside I walked past one of the recording studios. I heard someone singing. The door was open so I poked my head in and there was Wimber sitting at a piano. I didn’t want to disturb him so I just waved and started to walk away but to my surprise John smiled and gestured to come in. There we were, just John, a sound engineer hidden somewhere in the back, and me having a ‘Forrest Gump’ moment in the right place at the right time. Suddenly I was privy to a private worship recital given by one of the primer pioneers of contemporary worship music of my generation! My guess is that he was recording some unreleased worship songs he had written for posterity (I don’t know, I never asked…).
John had this soft, gravelly jazz voice. The kind you get when you’ve smoked too much in your younger days. A voice that always seemed to me more appropriate for a smoke-filled cabernet than for church. I liked it.
John sat there singing these simple, personal tunes that I don’t think were ever intended for the public ear, only God’s. That moment, sitting on a stool listening at the opposite end of the piano, crystallized for me what a diehard worshiper he was. It was clear that everything he taught us about worship flowed from the wellspring of his own experience.
What was it that John taught that changed me and led me into a deeper, more meaningful understanding and experience of worship? The three lessons that most influenced me were …
…I had to get over myself because worship isn’t for me. John said, “Worship is not about personality, temperament, personal limitations, church background or comfort… worship is for God…” I learned that worship is about God and for him alone. It’s not about me getting something from God, it’s about me giving worship to God who is worth worshipping.
… worship wasn’t something I use as an escape, a pick-me-up, a feel-good pill, to set a certain mood, or as a warm-up for my preaching. John stated, “We don’t use worship for anything else but to worship – not even emotion. People are emotional and that’s fine, but we don’t use anything to cause the work of the Holy Spirit. Let God be God and do what he wills.”
… and, worship should be personal and honest. Intimacy didn’t come easy for me. It was easier to sing about God than to him. It was easier to cheer God like a fan (maybe because it was safer?) than to express tender affection towards him as a son. But John modeled worship that didn’t seem phony or showy and with new, simple love songs like, “Change My Heart Oh God”, I had a vernacular to genuinely express the longings of heart in a way that was me. It wasn’t awkward at all. So I was able to step out and gave it a shot and found it powerful and life changing.
I often wonder what ever happened to those recordings? They’ve never turned up. Some have doubted their existence but I know they do because I was there – me, that faceless sound guy and John Wimber – worshipping.