Guided By The Spirit | John Wimber

By John Wimber

A change of mind, and of heart, (can open leaders to the guidance the lord wants to give. What is your model of leadership? Where does it come from? Is it biblical?

Many Christian leaders work off a model that views the leader as chief executive officer. He sets goals, makes plans based on the best available data, strategizes, and in general takes a nononsense approach.

Church leaders also tend to view themselves as professionals. The leader is seen as someone who has accumulated a lot of knowledge about Christianity.

Both these models frequently lead to some success. I have come to believe, however, that neither is suitable as the fundamental approach to leadership in the church. There’s nothing wrong with managerial planning and professional competence per se. Unfortunately, we often allow these tools to exclude dependence on the Lord Jesus Christ and the guidance of his Spirit.

The New Testament model of leadership is different in many respects from these models. It is essentially concerned with personally following a master-ultimately, the Master. In the New Testament a leader is distinguished not so much by administrative skills as by ability to pass on the way of life he has been taught; not so much by what he knows as by whom he knows. His skills and knowledge spring from his relationship with God and a human teacher, and result in a changed character, marked by humility, wisdom, and discernment.

The church today has tried to marry this New Testament model of leadership with the corporate/professional models. The marriage hasn’t worked too well. We pay homage to humility while discarding constant dependence on the Master. Primary reliance on professional management tools replaces reliance on the Lord’s personal presence, initiative, and guidance through his Spirit. We no longer expect his action and direction.


I’m no stranger to corporate planning. For years I’ve been involved in the church growth movement, which has contributed much to the technical understanding of how to run a church. I have designed five and tenyear master plans for Christian organizations. I am familiar with the process of sorting ideas, establishing goals, putting plans down on paper, and helping people to advance. I am not against planning. I am in favor of planning- after God speaks.

God wants to speak. The challenge lies not in getting God to guide us but in waiting on him faithfully so as to hear him.

At the Vineyard we have experienced discernment regarding where geographically to focus our efforts, what goals to set for growth, how to arrange pastoral structures, when to hold major events, and similar matters. I do not believe there is anything abnormal about this, anything that other churches and groups should not also expect to experience.

To give an example, we believe the Lord is holding back numerical growth in favor of growth in character, and holiness in the Vineyard in Anaheim right now. In 1989 we had a net increase of about 1,200 people-a good growth year for a congregation of 7,500. But the Holy Spirit showed me that in 1990 we would see little numerical growth. Instead we would see significant things going on in people’s lives-the kinds of challenges and activities that usually result in a higher level of perseverance and a more solid commitment. I told the staff to prepare for it. Starting in January of 1990 we did see a decline in the number of new people coming into the church and a shift in what was going on in the lives of many of the leaders and other members.

We also receive discernment for outreach activities. The Lord will give us a sensitivity to some place or group, indicating that we are to go here or there, we are to work with this age group or that age group, we are to use this kind of deployment rather than that kind. As a staff we sense that this is the next move and unite in taking it together.

These decisions involve the use of discernmenttype gifts. We call them loosely “the eyes of God” or “the eyes of the Spirit.” These are gifts such as the word of wisdom, the word of knowledge, the distinguishing of spirits, prophetic gifts, and, less often, tongues and interpretation.

Having had this experience of guidance, we never plan before God speaks. We often find ourselves like a ship at sea without wind, all our sails sagging. We could develop a plan, but there is no impetus for it. The Spirit of God is not speaking.

I should note that we are not very successful at “getting God” to speak. We find there are long periods when we cannot “get anything out of him” that is immediately relevant to planning. And so we spend a significant amount of time, sometimes months on end, simply seeking the Lord and asking him to give direction.

We don’t sit on our hands during those periods when we do not sense new guidance. We have many things that are in place from God speaking to us in the past. We do not abandon them. We mustn’t confuse waiting on the Lord with doing nothing.


In addition to discernment for the church’s corporate life, we have also come to expect discernment about the people we are pastoring. For example, those of us on the pastoral staff often receive a sense from the Lord to ask questions from a member. Even though we have an average attendance of more than 5,000 people, while I am preaching I often know who is not there. I will come off the pulpit and, while my associates are with me, list off some people: “Check on this family, check on that family.” Seeing people in passing, I will sometimes receive discernment about something going on in their lives.

Spiritual insight may concern demonic activity in people’s lives. I will sometimes have a sense of which demons are affecting people and what they are doing in their lives.

God gives other spiritual gifts that are significant tools for pastoral care. There are gifts that I would call “the hands of God,” which have to do with faith healing and miracles; and “the voice of God”-gifts having to do with teaching and preaching, tongues, interpretation, prophecy, and so on. These operate in conjunction with gifts of discernment.


How do we learn to lead according to the New Testament model of personal dependence on the Master? Unlike the managerial and professional models of leadership, the key is not mastering certain skills or accumulating knowledge. The key is humility-humble character and humble dependence on the Lord.

We must understand that humble servant leadership entails weakness. In our Western world we see no positive association between weakness and leadership. Neither, at first, did Paul. But after asking the Lord three times to remove the difficulty of the thorn in the flesh, Paul heard God say, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” And so, Paul wrote, “I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me” (2 Cor. 12:9).

Frequently God invites us to accept weakness voluntarily. For instance, we are encouraged to intercession. For people who like to take charge and make things happen, sustained intercession seems like a very weak activity. Yet we are all called to this activity. In 1 Thessalonians Paul tells us: “Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith” (3 10).

Fasting likewise is an activity of weakness. We fast in secret, in our closet. We can increase our fasting and prayer without getting immediate results. They may be stored up for some time later in our lifetime or in the lifetimes of others. We cannot manipulate God through prayer and fasting; we cannot get him on our timetable. In all these ways, fasting seems like a weak endeavor.


Growing in servant leadership according to the New Testament model, then, involves growing in discernment. How can we do this?

In the New Testament the most commonly disciplined problem in the church was not immorality but divisiveness, including gossip and the carrying of tales. And so the Scripture is replete with instructions and exhortations about talking charitably. We must discipline ourselves if we are to do this. If we do, we will, as a byproduct, find that the dullness of our spiritual discernment is removed.

Opening ourselves to the Spirit’s gifts of discernment also involves housecleaning. Some months ago, for example, the Lord spoke to me out of Psalm 101 about “no unclean thing will pass my eye.”

“Lord, what’s passing my eye?” I prayed.

I realized it was television. I was not watching a lot of television. But the Spirit of God spoke to me very clearly and said to turn the thing off. We did. Within a matter of days I could sense discernment in my life increasing.

A clean house doesn’t necessarily represent a filled home. We must put aside sin in order to pursue God, so that the Spirit will fill us and manifest his love through us. We must develop a life style in which we go before the Lord and receive from him, and operate out of that.

Much of our trouble in the church today relates directly to our lack of heavenly mindedness. As the apostles often completely missed the significance of Jesus’ words right up to the end of his earthly life, we often miss God’s purposes. We are oblivious to the ways he wants to guide us and work through us.

But the apostles advanced from dullness and lack of discernment to a condition of considerable discernment. Consider Acts 5, in which Peter was able to look into the heart of Ananias and Sapphira and see that they had lied to the Holy Spirit. The point here is not the severity of their punishment, but the clarity of Peter’s discernment.

Much training of Christian leaders today reflects an exclusion of spiritual acumen or ability. As a result, many of us are operating in a spiritual kingdom without much spiritual discernment. For personal reliance on Christ and the Spirit we substitute secular arts of leadership. But more is available to the body of Christ, because the Lord Jesus wants to lead us.

Not all of us will have the same giftedness, but corporately the church can have that same kind of spiritual discernment that we see in Scripture. Our doing so is dependent on our moving away from a worldly focus into the spiritual dimension that is available to every Christian leader to operate in.

Source: Equipping The Saints, Vol. 5, No. 2/Spring 1991