To say that John Wimber had a huge influence on my life is an understatement and to try to sum up his full impact can’t be done. But I recently was asked to share my favorite Wimber stories with a church who was unacquainted with John because they were adopted into Vineyard after his death. The pastor hoped that since I knew Wimber personally I could somehow bring him to life for his congregation and give them a better appreciation for who he was and of the contribution he made to our movement and to the Church at large. So I gave it a stab. I chose two Wimber episodes that God used to sort of frame and give shape to my life and ministry. Then I concluded by sharing what I felt was one of the most important lessons John taught me. Since I’ve done all this work I figured I’d share them with you.
I met John in the pre-Vineyard days back in 1978 while he was still a church growth consultant. The organization I was working for at the time, Brooklyn Teen Challenge, wanted to plant a church for its graduates and their families. We were in the rehab business and didn’t know anything about church planting so we hired John to help us. As it turned out it was right at the time that there were some big things going on in his life concerning the Holy Spirit and with worship and with returning to pastoral ministry to lead a group that would eventually become the mothership of the Vineyard movement – the Anaheim Vineyard. What started out as a business relationship somehow turned into a friendship. I don’t know quite how it happened but John and his wife Carol took a liking to my wife and I and they ended up treating us like family.
That’s funny because when the Vineyard first started John almost didn’t let me in! Even though I was pastoring a little church in Brooklyn called King’s Chapel that was under the Teen Challenge umbrella, I was spending a lot of time hanging out with Wimber and other Calvary Chapel leaders that would become Vineyard pioneers like Ken Gulliksen, Ed Piorek and John McClure. I was having a blast being led into renewed experience with the living God. It was like getting saved all over again.
So when the Vineyard movement officially was launched in ’82, I wanted in bad! I was young, zealous, impulsive and still part of another ministry family. This was putting John in an awkward position. He didn’t want to be accused of sheep stealing or worse, shepherd stealing.
I chased after John. “I want to be part of the Vineyard. Lay hands on me. Ordain me!” He’d keep putting me off. But I couldn’t be deterred. I kept pestering him. Finally he stopped me in my tracks, “I can’t Mike, you’re gonna get me in trouble! God hasn’t spoken to me about you…” I was disheartened because I was convinced the Vineyard was my family.
Not long after this John and his team stopped off in New York City on their way back home following their first ministry trip in England. He gathered together a group of us local ministers on Staten Island. He taught for a while and then he handed the meeting over to Lonnie Frisbee, a rather enigmatic character who in my opinion God used to release the power of the Spirit in our fledgling movement. Little did I know what was going to happen next.
We formed a large circle with Lonnie standing in the middle. He then prayed the now famous Vineyard prayer, “Come Holy Spirit”. We waited. Then it happened… Lonnie locked eyes with mine. Pointing at me he shouted, “Mike, the Spirit is on you!” Suddenly I was overcome by the weight of God’s presence and a sense of what I can only describe as holy fear. Next thing I know is I’m on the floor. In that instant I knew I was not being asked, I was being drafted to do something that was going to cost my life and I was scared! I cried out “No, no” as I tried to scramble to get out of the room on my hands and knees because I didn’t want any part of it. There was nothing noble about this moment at all.
Suddenly in my minds eye I saw a panoramic, birds-eye-view of New York City, like I was flying over the Empire State Building. Superimposed over that were hands forcing me to drink from a cup and as I did I felt God’s gut-wrenching compassion, his broken heart for the city. I knew somehow I was being asked to give my life to this city for the sake of Christ and his kingdom.
As this is going on I hear a pastor standing behind me prophesying out loud everything I’m seeing and feeling! A spirit of intercession came over everyone in the room who without exception also fell to the ground, including John Wimber as they prayed for the city.
I don’t know how long this lasted but when everything subsided everyone was on the floor. John gathered himself. He picked me up and held me in his arms. Crying, he said to me, “Now I know you’re supposed to be part of us.” John was convinced and finally let me join the Vineyard. As they say the rest is history. For thirty-two years now, through thick and thin, that vision of the cup has kept me tethered to my call to serve here in New York City and to the Vineyard.