Vineyard’s Call to Missions | John Wimber

By John Wimber

The word of God leaves us no choice regarding the Great Commission. But until recently the Vineyard movement had more willingness than resources for jumping into foreign missions. That’s about to change.

Over the years I have probably been asked more questions about the Vineyard’s approach to missions than any other topic. They are usually quite pointed. ..

• “Why isn’t the Vineyard movement more committed to missions, especially in Third World countries?”

• “Why don’t you support more

• “Why aren’t you planting more churches in less developed countries?”

I haven’t felt uncomfortable with the questions, because their motivation is biblical. When God promised to make Abraham’s descendants a great nation from whom “all peoples on earth will be blessed,” he proclaimed that all human beings were candidates for the kingdom of God (Gen. 12:23). Jesus reaffirmed this situation in the Great Commission, where he commanded his disciples to “make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28: 18).

There are approximately 12,000 unreached “people (or ethnic) groups” remaining in the world, with 3,700 “tongues” (languages) needing Bible translation. Clearly the Great Commission task is unfinished, and our job will not be complete until the gospel is preached to every “nation, tribe, people, and tongue” across the earth (Rev. 7:9). The question isn’t if we should be committed to world mission. The word of God leaves us no choice but to be committed.


As I look at the Vineyard movement I see a growing burden for missions. It’s mostly at this time confined to shortterm ministry trips or supporting missionaries from a variety of parachurch organizations.

For example, after attending two VMI international ministry trips, Dennis Bourns, pastor of VCF Phoenix, developed a hunger for crosscultural evangelism. After praying, Dennis sensed the Lord saying, “Go to Mazatlan, Mexico, and take Randy Maranville (his youth pastor) with you.” That was it! Just go. No other instructions. So Dennis obeyed.

In April of 1989 Dennis and Randy drove to Mazatlan. The first day there they led three young men to the Lord. Over the next few days they made significant contacts with local pastors, who invited them to return later to minister in their churches. In November an eighteenmember team from Dennis’s church ministered to over 700 people. Since then they have been back several times-once with a team of fifty-and ministered to thousands of people. They have also seen hundreds of conversions and trained many pastors and key leaders to pray for the sick and for power evangelism.

Dennis Bourns is not alone. I regularly hear reports of exciting missionary activity in Vineyards across North America. The vision and desire for missions are in the Vineyard. But are we even close to fulfilling what God is calling us to in missions? Absolutely not.


Until recently the. Vineyard movement had more willingness than resources for jumping headlong into missions. But that’s starting to change. We now have 310 congregations worldwide, not counting the recent addition of 190 churches in the Amazon River Basin of Brazil (see story on page 8). Our resources are catching up with our missionary zeal.

Still, the Vineyard movement is only fourteen years old, barely a teenager. With youth comes both enthusiasm, the burning desire for missions, and immaturity, a lack of financial and spiritual resources to fulfill our desires.

Many of our churches are moving from apartments-rented buildings-into condos or homes-owned facilities. Economic realities (it’s usually less costly to own a building) eventually motivate congregations to buy facilities. That’s true for the church I pastor here in Anaheim. But buying land and a building initially sets congregations back economically.

Most Vineyards also have a large percentage of young people, newly marrieds and singles. They lack financial resources that older, more established congregations have. However, over the next few years, as churches mature and enter young adulthood, we are going to see a greater release of workers and financial resources to missions.

The Vineyard movement is also young spiritually. Only now are we beginning to understand the most basic elements of ministry, especially the ability to identify, train, and deploy leaders, and the art of planting new churches. These skills are integral to successful missionary work. We have made a lot of mistakes, but we are learning from them and tending not to repeat them as frequently.

Emphasizing missions in the early days of the Vineyard would have been like teaching reading to a threeyearold girl. She might learn to read, but it is a difficult and frustrating task, both for teacher and student. She’s too young. Teaching an eightyearold to read, however, is easy and rewarding. She has the physical and intellectual maturity to quickly master the skills and become selfdirecting. The principle is clear: when we have the proper resources and maturity, missions bear great fruit.

Hearing God’s voice

Our youthfulness isn’t the only reason I deemphasized missions throughout the 1980s. We also needed to recognize God’s mission agenda for us as a movement. As I wrote in the last issue of Equipping the Saints, our most critical leadership issue is reliance on the Lord’s personal presence, initiative, and guidance through his Spirit for all ministry ventures.

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. Only recently have we begun to hear his voice more clearly about missions.

I think of missions like fishing. It’s one thing to be fishers of men; it’s another to be told by God where to fish. In the last year prophetic voices have said that the Vineyard has a special calling in Latin countries. At the same time doors have opened to the Vineyard in Brazil, Honduras, Costa Rica, and Mexico. We’re beginning to get the message: God is calling us to Latin America in a big way.

Furthermore there is an influx of AsianAmericans into the Vineyard, and with them has come a new awareness of the Far East and the opportunities there for missionary activity.

But how are we to go? How are we to work together? I’m not sure about the specifics yet, but I am convinced that the closer we stick to the word of God and his guidelines, the more successful we will be.

Paul’s methods

Years ago I read a remarkable book that profoundly influenced my thinking concerning missions and church planting. Roland Allen, in Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours? contrasts modern, western missionary methods with Paul’s.

Much of Allen’s criticism of modern missions is outdated-the book was originally published in 1912. But this matters little, because Allen’s contributions to a 1990s reader is his timeless analysis of Paul’s approach to missions. Allen says, “It would be difficult to find any better model than the Apostle [Paul] in the work of establishing new churches. At any rate this much is certain, that the Apostle’s methods succeeded exactly where ours have failed.” (You can learn about the superiority and effectiveness of Paul’s methods by reading the book.)

According to Allen, two principles underlie all of Paul’s practice. They bear repeating here. The first is grace: “St. Paul was a preacher of a Gospel, not of a law.” By this Allen means that Paul not only preached the gospel, he lead his converts by the principle of grace and not a system of law and control: “He [Paul] never sought to enforce their obedience by decree; he always strove to win their heartfelt approval and their intelligent cooperation. He never proceeded by command, but always by persuasion. He never did things for them, he always left them to do things for themselves.”

Paul’s second principle was retirement: “He gave as a right to the Spiritbearing body the powers which duly belong to a Spiritbearing body. He gave freely, and then he retired from them that they might learn to exercise the powers which they possessed in Christ.” This was accomplished through equipping and releasing the people, and resisting the temptation to maintain control over them.

Paul could build and release vibrant, indigenous churches because of his “profound belief and trust in the Holy Spirit indwelling his converts and the churches of which they were members, which enabled him to establish them at once with full authority.” In other words, having brought them to the Lord through the Spirit, Paul established them and released them in and by the Spirit.

I’m confident the Holy Spirit is on the verge of releasing a missionary zeal and practice in our midst. However, zeal apart from wisdom and understanding can be dangerous. My prayers as we enter this new stage of expansion is that we will build firmly on the gospel of grace and the practice of retirement, equipping and releasing indigenous leaders who will in turn reproduce Christ in others. If we do, the Lord will be pleased with all of our efforts.

Source: Equipping The Saints, Vol. 5, No. 3/Summer 1991