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John Wimber’s Pedagogy

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History

John Wimber was a unique Christian leader who was able to teach people how to minister. He was born in 1934, was raised in a non-religious household, and was a successful Jazz musician who came to Christ in 1963. He graduated from Azusa Pacific University and was recorded by the California Yearly Meeting of Friends in 1970. For five years, he was the co-pastor of Yorba Linda Friends Church.[1] In 1982 he join the Association Vineyard Churches.[2] He was a man of many hats. He was a pastor, professor, conference speaker, worshiper, author, church growth consultant, husband and father. His unique personality, humble demeanor, and spiritual giftedness made him successful in each role. He attributed his success to the grace of God. Wimber said, “God can just blow on a man or woman they can have an international ministry.”[3] He was speaking of the possibility of every Christian in God, something that was realized in his life. Burgess notes that “unique to Wimber among those with healing ministries was the degree to which he devoted attention to teaching”.[4] This paper will examine his pedagogy and the methodology he used to train and teach Christians from numerous denominations to walk in the power of God and operate in the gifts of the Spirit.

The development of his theology and praxis

John Wimber was a product of his spiritual upbringing. John explains that, “discernment was acceptable in the Quaker movement.”[5] Throughout his life and ministry He focused on doing what he saw the Father doing. He desperately wanted to obey anything he felt God was asking him to do. “However, John could not be content with simply growing in that ability himself; he was also passionately committed to the Great Commission — apprenticing others to the same growing experience of exercising Jesus’ words and works. Practically, this meant that anyone who spent any considerable time with John would inevitably be drawn into a process of “show and tell” (modeling, explanation and practical risk-taking) that he saw as being Jesus’ primary method of disciple-making.[6] Wimber defines ministry as “caring and loving others.”[7] John became convinced that the Great Commission was applicable to all believers, and he was called to help them fulfill it.

He believed that each Christian was mandated by God to share the Gospel with demonstration. He became convinced while listening to a guest professor lecture at his church one Wednesday evening. As he listened, he began a dialogue with God that revealed to him that each believer was commissioned to be a healer and follower of Jesus’ model “to proclaim the gospel and demonstrate the reality of the kingdom.”[8] His Sunday sermons took the Book of Luke as their guide, and he did what he saw in the book. His church of 120 members became involved, and for 4 years they entered a period of spiritual trial and error. They used the gospels their manual, as filtered through Wimber’s Quaker paradigm, to pray for healing. In the first 9 months of their experiment no progress was made, and no healings occurred. In fact, Wimber relates that, “even people praying would get sick from those who they prayed for. In the face of their sickness, their faith waned.”[9] Many left the church. Still, he did not give up and encouraged others to continue with him.

Jack Hayford remarks that John Wimber had a “passionate pursuit for cultivating believers as Kingdom agents — as disciples filled with the Holy Spirit and renewed in Christ to receive and spread His saving, healing, delivering power, thus functioning as ordinary people in the Name of their extraordinary Lord.”[10] He continually desired that all believers would understand how to minister to others. Wimber’s love drove his ministry. He felt that “ ‘power evangelism’ and ‘power encounters’ that prove God’s existence and validate the gospel message.”[11] In training ministers he says, “an important principle when praying is to know that God is interested and wants to heal the whole person, not just specific conditions.”[12] Wimber was adamant that the gifts of the Spirit of God be renewed within Christ’s entire body and not just ecclesiastical elite. He exclaims that, “We are called to demystify the gifts of the Spirit and we are called to put the ministry of the Holy Spirit back into the hand of the church! The ministry of the Holy Spirit is for every man, woman and child in the body of Christ. All the gifts of the Spirit are for all of us! When everyone and anyone can heal the sick or cast out a demon or prophesy, then the danger of anyone becoming overly impressed with the ‘minister’ is diminished.”[13] He not only believed in equipping the saints; he did it.

Many Christian leaders believe that all Christians should be involved in the work of the ministry, but few are able to educate and motivate their congregations to sustainable action. Carol Wimber, his wife, recounts a success in that, “John was struggling with how he could help others experience the power and presence of God that he was experiencing…One Sunday morning… John called forward people who wanted greater power for ministry…anointed them with oil, and laid hands on them to release the spiritual gift of healing”[14] He then invited the sick in the congregation to come forward and receive prayer from those whom he recently anointed. “The results were staggering—many were healed.”[15] How did Wimber demystify the gifts? How did he equip and encourage the church to be successful in supernatural ministry?

Courses, Conferences, and Seminars

His greatest achievement outside of his pastoral work was his conferences that were developed out of a college course he developed. Peter Wagner, the chair of church growth at Fuller Theological Seminary, asked John to teach a class on miraculous works and the rapid growth of churches on the mission field. This was the inception of “MC510, Signs, Wonders, and Church Growth.”[16] This course was later renamed, “The Miraculous and Church Growth.” Wager had the faculty approve an annual year long contract for this experimental and controversial course.[17] The class was designed to instruct students in the biblical and historical foundation of the miraculous and provide them which an “optional” 30 minute laboratory at the end of the lecture that would give participants an opportunity to experience what they were taught. Students were not required to stay for the lab, but they were encouraged to apply what they learned in a safe and nurturing environment. This course was the most popular course at Fuller, but it was discontinued as a result of the unwanted attention the university received. John would continue teaching and training through his cross-denominational and international conferences.

He was comfortable ministering across denominational lines. He had spent time as church growth consultant where he “introduced several thousand pastors to church growth principles, traveling across America and visiting dozens of denominations.”[18] Two of his most popular conferences were his “Signs and Wonders Conference” and his “Teach us to Pray Conference.” Often, they would follow each other sequentially. He held conferences in the United States, Canada, Ireland, the United Kingdom, Germany, Sweden, New Zealand, and Australia.[19] He continued his “tell and show” model of instruction. He would explain the spiritual gifts and give conference participants a chance to observe and try what they had learned. “Both seminars were attended by people from a broad spectrum of denominational backgrounds” and they worshiped freely together in their different styles.”[20] The conferences and seminars varied from a few hundred to several thousand in attendance. He even held three workshops at the North American Congress on the Holy Spirit and World Evangelization in New Orleans on Oct. 8—11, 1986 “where more than 7,000 leaders from a total of 40 denominations and other church groups attended.”[21] The reactions of most participants were positive. One pastor noted that, “My own walk with God has been deepened and enriched. My ministry as a pastor has also become more effective.”[22] John Wimber’s conferences were successful because Wimber was a gifted teacher. He employed a variety of methodologies and techniques to ensure that those who attended his trainings would understand the biblical content and operate in a spiritual ministry.

Wimber’s Pedagogy

During his lectures, he provided notes with multiple examples designed to create connections in the hearer between their current contexts and the spiritual concept he was describing. He would quote stories from both the Old and New Testaments when describing the function and operation of a gift. He would draw a link between the stories highlighting the existence and purpose of each gift. He upheld the Word of God. He says that, “our practice is rooted in what we saw in Scripture.”[23] Then, he would link the scriptural interpretation of the gift to ecclesiastical history. He would quote from Patristic sources or other periods in church history to prove their continuity. Continuing the connection between scripture and church history, John would recount current examples of the gift he experienced. When speaking of discerning of spirits John says, “The gifts may operate in any setting, any time, any place. I will illustrate this with two stories, one from my own experience, and another from a young man in our church.”[24] These stories provided a solid biblical basis for a gift, proved the historical continuance of the gift, and connected the hearer to the gift through a modern example. Listeners were convinced they could expect miraculous occurrences in their lives because Wimber taught from biblical, historical, and contemporary sources.

In speaking about healing in his MC510 class, he drew connections between biblical texts of Phillip, Jarius, Zachariah, and people in his own ministry to explain the praxis of a healing ministry.[25] He added to his biblical, historical, and modern examples several education elements to make his concepts understandable. His examples were almost always stories. “Studies show that 85 percent of what we know we’ve learned through listening,”[26] and stories keep our attention more than facts. He was a great storyteller. Stories can “break down walls of cynicism and mental distraction and lead listeners toward engagement.”[27] His stories captivated his audiences’ attention and allowed them to digest the truth he was telling them. But, he knew that stories were not enough.

John Wimber was careful to provide detailed explanations of new vocabulary and concepts. He gave many metaphors and analogies. For instance, he said, “If I was to teach you about water skiing by explaining all of the different types of skis and ski boats but never actually but you on a pair, than you would not be a water skier. It’s the same with a miraculous ministry.[28] He also explained new vocabulary. During a story about a divine appointment he stopped mid-story to explain that. “A divine appointment is an appointed time in which God reveals Himself to an individual or group through spiritual gifts or other supernatural phenomena.”[29] Vocabulary instruction is often overlooked in Christian training, but it is essential to learning. Studies have shown that without vocabulary knowledge students will be able to make little sense of new information.[30] Wimber explained things carefully and exactly. He did not suppose an audience knew what he was speaking about. By taking the time to explain nuanced vocabulary and concepts that he used during his stories, he helped the trainees understand what he was saying.

He also used short and memorable phrases that stuck with his audience. A technique employed by Christian teachers like Cyril of Alexandria to explain difficult subjects for millennia.[31] As he instructed on the ministry of every Christian, he would say things like, “God is building an army not an audience, and the meat is the street.” [32] He also coined such memorable phrases as, “Everyone gets to play, God’s Appointment Book, and Stick to the main and the plain.”[33] These phases were always short, usually catchy, and sometimes rhythmical. His memorable stories, vocabulary instruction, and memorable phrases helped his students to understand and retain the concepts, but they were not his only educational tools.

He also used several diagrams, charts and statistics within his training sessions. He used James Engle’s Human Information Processing Diagram in his Signs and Wonders training as a visual representation of the progression of the processing of spiritual information.[34] He also used another diagram he called the Receptivity Axis in his Signs and Wonders Video Curriculum.[35] He provided many written materials to conference participants. These visual representations of concepts increase learning. 65% percent of learners can be considered visual learners.[36] These diagrams and visual representations enhanced the effectiveness of his presentation. He also used statistics. When explaining the value of Christian sacrifice, he mentioned that 300,000 Christians were being martyred each year as a result persecution.[37] He listed the number of times Jesus healed in certain evangelistic situations while defining link between healing and evangelism. He also cited the number of sermons he preached on healing when he church was learning his healing theology verses the number of times he currently preaches about the subject.

He even provided healing statistics gathered at some of his conferences. Social anthropologist David Lewis examined a conference in Harrogate England and “analyzed 1,890 returned questionnaires and then interviewed 100 randomly selected respondents.” [38] They reported a success rate 32% for physical healing, 50.5% for emotional problems, and 68% for deliverance from evil spirits. “Of the 42% who stated they had received little or no healing, none showed any bitterness toward God or Wimber or gave any evidence of spiritual stress or disenchantment.”[39] He used these means to thoroughly explain everything he was teaching. A full understanding of healing helped people avoid unnecessary guilt or offense as not being healed.

Hands on Spiritual Activity

Wimber taught more than theory. He taught the practice of the miraculous. He gave opportunity to use what they learned. This was a key factor in his effectiveness. He told his MC510 class on the first day that although the laboratories weren’t mandatory, but “If we can’t perform them in front of you are not going to catch the disease.”[40] People appreciate a chance for hands on activity. A study involving biology students mastering protein structure at Texas State University showed that 89 percent of learners want at least “some” hands on activity.[41] He created environments where people tried what he taught them. He did this by entering God’s presence, creating a calm and clinical environment, providing detailed explanations of the process, and by giving people the right to take a risk. These four elements made his workshops catalysts for the manifestation for the gifts of the Spirit.

After a miraculous series of events, Carol Wimber relates that, “John and I understood that night, that for us, the Vineyard, that song and singing would always be attached to the presence and manifestation of the Holy Spirit.”[42] John was a musician, and he loved to worship God. He wrote songs to God instead of about God. He “even named ‘contemporary worship in the freedom of the Holy Spirit’ as one of the ten ingredients of the Vineyard Genetic Code.” [43] John felt worship was a way to build people’s faith, and it “reminds us that He is God and we are not and …can often give us clarity into what the Father is wanting to do.”[44] He was careful not to make worship about “all sorts of self-promoting musicians. He was very sensitive to the issue of showmanship versus worship. Worship music was to be Christ-centered, not man-centered.”[45] To help people enter the presence of God created a five-phase pattern for worship set that helped people focus on God’s Spirit.[46] He didn’t want emotionalism running the atmosphere.

It was not all about music. Carol Wimber remembers, “How John would have everyone take a coffee break just as the emotional atmosphere was sky high. And then, cold turkey, with no music, no anything, he would ask the Holy Spirit to come to heal and deliver. Emotion has nothing to do with power.”[47] John himself says that, “During the time of prayer for healing I encourage people to “dial down,” that is, to relax and resist becoming worked up emotionally. Stirred up emotions rarely aid in the healing process and usually impede learning about how to pray for the sick. So I try and create an atmosphere that is clinical and rational while at the same time powerful and spiritually sensitive … Artificially creating an emotionally charged atmosphere militates against divine healing and undermines training others to pray for the sick.”[48] He was not after emotional responses. His goal was that people would be healed and trained to heal others.

He would take his time to explain how to minister. He would systematically break down spiritual exercises. He would divide them into easy to understand and reproducible parts. For instance, while explaining how to pray for healing he says, “Whenever I’m praying for the sick I keep my eyes open to look for a healing environment… I consciously look for faith in three places: First, I look for faith in myself and others who are praying for the sick; Second, I look for faith in the person being prayed for; and Third, I look for faith happening in those who are witnessing it taking place.”[49] He told people simple things such as effective prayer for terminally ill people “begins with being a good listener.”[50] He let people know exactly what they were supposed to be doing.

He gave these potential healers the room to make mistakes. John declares that, It is in the context of our loving one another that gifts will flourish among us.”[51] He would often remind the groups of the 9 months of struggle at the beginning of his healing ministry. He declared to one group that, “…if you aren’t doing anything for the Lord because you are afraid of messing up, making mistakes and looking like a fool, watch out! You will eventually have to give an account to God, and that’s really something to be afraid of. Even if you only have on talent, the master expects you to use it. Use it or lose it. The choice is yours.”[52] They were given the room to make mistakes because of Wimber’s understanding of the Love of God. Wimber says it is, “the outpouring of His love will lead to significant signs and wonders.”[53] David, an Anglican pastor who hosted a Wimber team explains that, “It’s within the context of the Love of God that people gifts and ministries can take risks and not worry about what people are going to say about them.”[54] David remarked that the team who visited his ministry was between 18 and 20 years of age, had only been Christians for a year or two, “but they were full of love and power.”[55] This love and power is what let David allow gum-chewing teenagers in jeans to climb over his 500-year-old communion rails as they ministered physical and relational healing.

Conclusion

John Wimber was a successful minister who was able to train others to minister. That is Jesus’ goal. An overlooked part of his ministry is his teaching style, and pedagogical methods. He was not perfect, but he was able to communicate biblical truth and inspire faith in thousands. Wimber’s workshops and seminars were instrumental in teaching thousands of people how to pray for the sick, and encourage them to do it. Teachers should be measured by what people learn from them not what they present. People were able to minister in the miraculous after John trained them. People learned from his trainings. He linked biblical stories, historical events, and personal experience in a multi-model presentation that engaged his audience and helped people learn. His pedagogy was what helped people learn about God and the ministry of the Spirit. He did several things that helped people understand God’s word, and practice implementing it in their lives and ministries. All ministers could benefit from an examination of his teaching ministry, and apply his concepts to their ministries.

Bibliography

Bouffard, s P Little, & H. Weiss, Building and evaluating out-of-school time connections. The Evaluation Exchange, (Boston.; Harvard 12(1 & 2), 2–6. Retrieved January 1, 2007, from http://www.gse.harvard.edu/hfrp/eval/issue33/theory.html

Burgess, Stanley M.; van der Maas, Eduard M. The New International Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements: Revised and Expanded Edition Zondervan, 2010 (Zondervan. Kindle Edition

Coggins, James C and Paul Heibert ed. Wonders and the Word: An Examination of Issues Raised by John Wimber and the Vineyard Movement. Winnipeg, CA: Kindred Press, 1989.

Dawson, Connie. Interview by author, 22 July 2011. Interview 1A. Poplar Bluff, MO.

Eckman, James P. Exploring Church History. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2002.

Ferreira, Mathew T. A Study of the impact of kinesthetic learning on biology students’ mastery of protein structure and folding concepts using Legos. San Marcos, TX: Texas State University, University Honors Program, 2009.

Huckins, Jon Teaching Through the Art of Storytelling: Creating Fictional Stories that Illuminate the Message of Jesus (Kindle Locations 639-640). Zondervan/Youth Specialties. 2010 Kindle Edition.

Labanow, Cory E.. Evangelicalism and the Emerging Church : A Congregational Study of a Vineyard Church.Abingdon, Oxon, , GBR: Ashgate Publishing Group, 2009. p 93. http://site.ebrary.com/lib/regent/Doc?id=10325907&ppg=102 Copyright © 2009. Ashgate Publishing Group. All rights reserved

Sanchez-Walsh, Arlene M.. Latino Pentecostal Identity : Evangelical Faith, Self, and Society. New York, NY, USA: Columbia University Press, 2003. p 154.http://site.ebrary.com/lib/regent/Doc?id=10183395&ppg=176

Shelley, Marshall. Changing Lives Through Preaching and Worship : 30 Strategies for Powerful Communication. 1st ed. Library of Christian leadership. Nashville, Tenn.: Moorings, 1995.

Vakos, Patricia. “Pearson Prentice Hall: eTeach: Strategies for Visual Learners.” Prentice Hall Bridge page. http://www.phschool.com/eteach/social_studies/2003_05/essay.html (accessed July 20, 2011)

Wagner, Peter “MC510 Class One.” Lecture, MC510 from Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, CA. 1982.

Wessel, Susan. Cyril of Alexandria and the Nestorian controversy: the making of a saint and of a heretic. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Wimber, John , and Christy Wimber. Everyone Gets to Play. Kindle Location 253: Ampelon Publishing LLC, 2009.

Wimber, John “MC510 Class One.” Lecture, MC510 from Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, CA. 1982.

Wimber, John “MC510 Class Three.” Lecture, MC510 from Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, CA. 1982.

Wimber, John “MC510 Class Two.” Lecture, MC510 from Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, CA. 1982.

Wimber, John and Kevin Springer. Power Encounters. New York, NY.: HapperCollinsPublishers, 1988.

Wimber, John and Kevin Springer. Power Healing. New York, NY.: HapperCollinsPublishers, 1987.

Wimber, John and Kevin Springer. Power Points. New York, NY.: HapperCollinsPublishers, 1991.

Wimber, John. “Vineyard Signs and Wonders Conference” Lecture, Anaheim Vineyard, Anaheim, CA 1985.


[1] Stanley Burgess and, Eduard M. van der Maas. The New International Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements: Revised and Expanded Edition (Grand Rapids, MI.: Zondervan, 2010). Kindle e-book, Locations 49963-49964.

[2] Arlene Sanchez-Walsh. Latino Pentecostal Identity: Evangelical Faith, Self, and Society. (New York, NY, USA: Columbia University Press, 2003). 154.

[3] John Wimber, “MC510 Class Three.” Lecture, MC510 from Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, CA. 1982

[4] Burgess, Locations 29004-29007.

[5] “MC510 Class Three.”

[6] Christy Wimber and Jack Hayford. The Way In Is the Way On (Boise, ID: Ampelon Publishing, 2006) Kindle e-book, Locations 2163-2167.

[7] Ibid, location 212.

[8] John Wimber, “MC510 Class One.” Lecture, MC510 from Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, CA. 1982

[9] “MC510 Class Three.”

[10] The Way In Is the Way On, Kindle e-book, location 57-61.

[11] James P. Eckman, Exploring Church History (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2002), 98.

[12] The Way In Is the Way On, location 1899-1900.

[13] The Way In Is the Way On, locations 2383-2386.

[14] John Wimber,and Kevin Springer, Power Encounters, (New York, NY.: Happer Collins Publishers, 1989), 11.

[15] Power Encounters 11

[16] James C Coggins and Paul Hiebert, ed., Wonders and the Word: An Examination of Issues Raised by John Wimber and the Vineyard Movement ( Winnipeg: Kindred Press, 1989), 20.

[17] Peter Wagner, “MC510 Class One.” Lecture, MC510 from Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, CA. 1982

[18] John Wimber, and Kevin Springer, Power Points, (New York, NY.: HapperCollinsPublishers, 1991), 165.

[19] James C Coggins and Paul Hiebert, ed., Wonders and the Word: An Examination of Issues Raised by John Wimber and the Vineyard Movement ( Winnipeg: Kindred Press, 1989), 21.

[20] Wonders and the Word: An Examination of Issues Raised by John Wimber and the Vineyard Movement, 23.

[21] The New International Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements: Revised and Expanded Edition, Locations 38873-38876.

[22] Wonders and the Word: An Examination of Issues Raised by John Wimber and the Vineyard Movement, 24.

[23] The Way In Is the Way On, location 2272.

[24] The Way In Is the Way On, locations 2425-2426.

[25] “MC510 Class Three.”

[26] Joh Huckins. Teaching Through the Art of Storytelling: Creating Fictional Stories that Illuminate the Message of Jesus (Grand Rapids, MI.: Zondervan, 2010), Kindle e-book, Location 632.

[27] Teaching Through the Art of Storytelling: Creating Fictional Stories that Illuminate the Message of Jesus, locations 639-640.

[28] “MC510 Class Two.”

[29] The Way In Is the Way On locations 2402-2403.

[30] S. Bouffard, P Little, & H. Weiss, Building and evaluating out-of-school time connections. The Evaluation Exchange, (Boston.; Harvard 12(1 & 2), 21.

[31] Susan Wessel. Cyril of Alexandria and the Nestorian controversy: the making of a saint and of a heretic (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.) 301.

[32] Connie Dawson, interview by author, 22 July 2011, Interview 1A, transcript. Poplar Bluff, MO.

[33] The Way In Is the Way On locations, 2442-2443.

[34] “MC510 Class Two.”

[35] John Wimber “Vineyard Signs and Wonders Conference” Lecture, Anaheim Vineyard, Anaheim, CA 1985.

[36] Patricia Vakos, “Pearson Prentice Hall: eTeach: Strategies for Visual Learners.” Prentice Hall Bridge page. http://www.phschool.com/eteach/social_studies/2003_05/essay.html (accessed July 20, 2011)

[37] John Wimber and Christy Wimber. Everyone Gets to Play (Boise, ID: Ampelon Publishing, 2009), Kindle e-book, Location 121.

[38] The New International Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements: Revised and Expanded Edition, Locations 28995-28998.

[39] The New International Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements: Revised and Expanded Edition, Locations 28995-28998.

[40] “MC510 Class One.”

[41] Mathew T Ferreira. A Study of the impact of kinesthetic learning on biology students’ mastery of protein structure and folding concepts using Legos. (San Marcos, TX: Texas State University, University Honors Program, 2009.), 23.

[42] The Way In Is the Way On, locations 982-985.

[43] Cory E Labanow,.. Evangelicalism and the Emerging Church : A Congregational Study of a Vineyard Church.Abingdon, (Oxon, GBR: Ashgate Publishing Group, 2009.), 93.

[44] The Way In Is the Way On, locations 1943-9145.

[45] The Way In Is the Way On, locations 952-954.

[46] Marshall Shelley, Changing Lives Through Preaching and Worship : 30 Strategies for Powerful Communication, 1st ed., Library of Christian leadership (Nashville, Tenn.: Moorings, 1995), 245.

[47] The Way In Is the Way On, locations 2183-2186.

[48] The Way In Is the Way On, locations 1938-1943.

[49] The Way In Is the Way On, locations 1928-19321.

[50] John Wimber,and Kevin Springer, Power Healing, (New York, NY.: HapperCollinsPublishers, 1991), 165.

[51] Power Points 155

[52] The Way In Is the Way On (Boise, ID: Ampelon Publishing, 2006) Kindle e-book, 2302-2304.

[53] “MC510 Class One.”

[54] “MC510 Class Two.”

[55] “MC510 Class Two.”

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