Saturday, August 18, 2007


Recently, I have been pining. As someone with a lot of Vineyard history, I have been pining for the old days of the five-step prayer model that John Wimber taught all of us in that movement.

A few weeks ago, the pastor of the local church we attend called all the artistic people up to the front to receive prayer; for the Clan McAlpine, this meant our entire family went forward. Two things really stood out for me during this "ministry time":
  1. It's been a LONG time since I've stood at the front of a church to receive prayer from anybody.

  2. One of the elderly elders came up to me and spoke a phrase that I haven't heard in years: "Hi, Robby. What can I pray for you about?"
Both of these elements gave me pause. WHY had it been so long since I'd received prayer in church?

And why was it so surprising -- and yet, refreshing -- to hear "what can I pray for you about?"

I think the answer to both traces it's way back to the Toronto Blessing. It's well-known that the Vineyard parted ways with the Toronto Airport Vineyard over what became known as the Toronto Blessing over a decade ago, a decision that was -- in hindsight -- both inevitable and probably for the better (imo, of course).

Among all the other things that characterized the critiques of the Blessing -- from the outcry against providing some kind of prophetic theology to animal noises, to the Latter Rain and/or Prosperity teachings creeping in, and the ongoing progression (and justification) of increasingly bizarre 'manifestations' -- the Vineyard made a statement at that time that the leaders of TACF were "redefining renewal" in a way that the Vineyard could not embrace.

I'd like to suggest that something else got redefined, much to our detriment, that is much more basic and grassroots, yet ultimately just as derailing.
Simply put, the Toronto Blessing-style approach redefined how churches in the Vineyard and beyond practiced ministry (prayer) times.
Prayer times previously had followed Wimber's Five-Step Prayer Model, which always began with the simple question: "What can I pray for you about?" There was always an engagement of the person receiving prayer, as well as listening to what the Spirit might be saying either to them (which the question would uncover) or to the person praying (which was always voiced as "I think God is showing me this -- what do you think?").

Once the Toronto Blessing hit, the questions stopped. Prayer was reduced to "More, Lord". Special attention became focused on the people exhibiting wilder manifestations. Those who didn't show "signs of the Spirit's presence" didn't get prayed for, or were labeled "hard to receive (HTR's)" -- which meant they didn't get as much prayer as those "in the river". Altar calls had but one theme: "More".
And "ministry time" went from an active three-way engagement between pray-er, pray-ee, and the Holy Spirit, and devolved into Clone Army prayer teams wandering up and down rows of expectant people, muttering Repetitive Renewal Phrases while making the arm motions that our youth group referred to as the "Wave" or the "Scoop".
And long after the Blessing became less center-stage, ministry times have often continued to resemble a sort of Holy Spirit Filling Station in their approach, which has resulted in less and less people seeking prayer at church, or the same people going through the same motions -- usually the "wail and flail" -- week after week after week.

So, I'm pining.

Longing, even.

You might even say I'm interceding.

I'm longing for a return to authenticity in "ministry time", when the oldskewl Vineyard phrase "dial down" (no hype) was the norm. When there was honest engagement of people sharing their story, and others using their gifts, and the Spirit gently doing His deep inner work in and through the Body of Christ.
Where there is an element of pastoral care embedded in our approach to praying for each other, and there is an equal expectation that those praying for us will be pastorally engaged with us.

Where prayer is not reduced to robotic catch-phrases and supposedly-significant 'prophetic' gestures, and we see people actually receiving ministry, not just being rewarded (or not) for their "performance" on some charismatic scale of Approved & Desired Reactions To The Spirit.

I just want us to be normal people, who are full of the Spirit.


  1. Yep, this resonates... been there for all the "More Lords" and the "fill'em ups". Stood still while people prayed for me, waiting for some kind of release from God, while I stood there wishing they would just move on; and yes, some times I did the drunk in the holy spirit thing, so I'm not slamming manifestations.

    I think this is a great line, "I just want us to be normal people, who are full of the Spirit."

    What bothers me about the pendulum swing in the other direction is that people I know are abandoning the "full of the Spirit" part. So instead of being a freaky wierd spiritual prophetic christian, they are being non-freaky wierd (yeah!) non-spiritual or prophetic, not very Christ-like christians.

  2. I remember those days...

    Can't say I've never experienced the physical jolts and such, but I've seen the over-embracing of such obvious phenomenon and the loss of pastoral care in ministry drive many folks away.

    Nail on the head.


  3. But that kind of prayer requires that we learn how to listen.. in "hype" environments listening is the first skill that goes out the window..

  4. once again i see that i missed a lot while swimming along in the mainstream. i'm not entirely sorry, though... :-/

  5. That is the most unfair comment I've read about this topic so far. It seems that you don't know anything about the way the ministry teams at TACF are trained. Yes, some pray in a "More Lord!"-Style. But most ministry team members that have ministered to were always very kind, sensible and they've all asked me, about what they could pray for me. And they were not only praying a 10 seconds prayer, but they ministered to me and others around me for 5 to 20 minutes. Which I see as a real sacrifice, if you think how many people can attend a conference some times.

  6. and, in his later years, wimber said he was probably wrong in calling the association with TACF off.

  7. Robby,
    You probably should have put one of your can-of-worms pictures on this post. :)

    I could relate to the feeling of not having received prayer ministry for a long time. I always attributed it to the fact that as a leader, you are typically expected to be the pray-er and so there were less opportunities to be on the receiving end of prayer.

    I recognize though that our church experienced a similar shift in ministry style during the renewal years. Not to say that the ministry was invalid or ineffective, it was just different than the prayer model of ministry.

    For us, that shift continued as we entered the prophetic years. Then, rather than listening to the person's prayer needs, we simply prayed according to what we believed the Spirit had shown us.

    I wasn't familiar with the 5-step model, but I like that it is a blend of listening to the person and allowing room for the Spirit to minister beyond the needs that are shared.

    "I just want us to be normal people, who are full of the Spirit."

    Normal is probably out of the question, but full of the Spirit would be good.

  8. Grace,

    Yes, perhaps a can-o-worms picture would have been a good choice, but Bill Kinnon is a friend and he's begged me to never show worms on my blog again. :)


    Been awhile since I've written something that has made people really angry. That was not my intent. This post actually was inspired by recent conversations with former Partners In Harvest pastors who were lamenting the same things.

  9. I am reluctant to enter any 'can of worms' discussion, but...I'll take the plunge.
    I miss VERY MUCH the 5 step prayer model.
    Not that God didn't do amazing things in the midst of renewal...cause He did. I saw so many miracles and signs and wonders....yet found myself less and less in relationship with the people at church. It seemed that we got so busy 'renewing' that we didn't get so involved in each other's day-to-day. And the idea that God would just 'BANG' and fix-it, with your problems...somehow that seeped in.
    I have come to value highly the process of walking out crisis with people in community. But the HomeChurch I'm in (is wonderful) but they don't use the 5 step model, and I've missed it.

  10. Robby,

    Like what you are saying - we have lost something here. But I do also like the freedom of 'more Lord' when I have listened and still don't know what the Lord wants to do! Perhaps this is one of those 'both .... and' things where we need to keep the best of both approaches to ministry.

  11. thanks Robby, it is good thang to ponder on - i've kinda wondered for awhile what killed off ministry time in the vineyard and I think you have a valid point about people manifesting attracting more prayer and that the easiest form of prayer in those cases was 'more Lord.' Afterall it can feel presumptious to intervene when it appears that God is doing something already :).

    I could well be wrong, not being quite such an old timer, but i seem to remember 'more lord' being attributed to wimber before as well, but then again sometimes its hard to know what is urban legend ;)

    For what it's worth my observation is that there seemed to be a change in emphasis in ministry times to being about something, either connected with the word or from a word of knowledge - that sort of meant that 5 steps were not really needed, people respond to a specific word, 'yeah i'm the toe guy' and then wammo the prayer for toe healing is carried out...

    In my experience 5 steps are often still taught in vineyards but that sort of situ where you ask people why they want prayer has become more redundant and certainly engaging with other steps, like 'i think god is saying maybe you should kick the cat and not the wall' or 'do you have a spirit of clumisiness' are not so often practiced...

    My final thought is that ministry teams themselves seem to becoming a thing of the past, now everyone is qualified to pray if they are in a small grp or whatever and sometimes in the spirit of public safety the simplest thang is to announce from the front is to 'just bless what God is doing.' thus allowing people who understand that strange sentance to take part as qualified i've hung around church long enuff to get the lingo ;)

  12. signs are signs...they point to something. they are not the "end" of the road.

    signs, gifts, manifestations are just that...they point to the Creator and Giver.

    As I have gotten more in this thing...this river...this move...I realize that it is all a mystery and there is much more to God than I can ever imagine. but He loves me and He is good.

    we must ALWAYS look for HIM and must always remember that each person that we have the privelege to pray with is a beloved child of God...not just another body in a line.
    yes, i still say "more, Lord" because we need it...but I still want to stand there and LISTEN to where the Spirit is takin the person...although it may APPEAR to me that this person needs prayer for something that i see or know, God may be going deeper.

    I have been there for the over excitement over the current manifestation or sign phenomenon happening at the moment and frankly at some points i wanted to shout......"sit down already!!lets get back to HIM!!"

    it is just a sign pointing to Him
    some is made to make us wonder..."wow...possible?"

  13. Yeah, I was at a "Let the River Flow" conference where Wimber did the "more Lord" mantras. Did it in an irregular cadence; paused between suddenly blurting out the more Lords to a very eager audience. Some people I was with "claimed" they felt an electrical charge of the Holy Spirit surge through the hall when Wimber spoke out. I thought it very, well, odd to tell you the truth. And of course there were the "wail & flail" types in response to Wimber's prayer? Statement? Request? Command? Demand? What was it supposed to be.

    Ah yes, this was the very same conference where a traveling prophetess (she wandered up & down the isles of the Anaheim facility) 'ministering' to the attendees. Was dressed sorta like a gypsy. And had an entourage in tow. Now I was only a newbie when it came to the prophetic then; not yet the jaded type Robbie mentions. But she stated that I was to be an intercessor for the Chinese people/country. No kidding. And she had me 'pray' in a Chinese sounding manner as proof? Or a sign? Or training? Say what?

    Randy Clark was there at that conference also (if I remember correctly). Didn't sense or witness any miraculous healings even though we lingered after the regular meeting times to, you know, hang out & see what the Holy Spirit was going to do during the afterglow. Got to talk to Randy & had him pray for my mother suffering from Alzheimer's.

    Well I didn't get a 'jolt' from God. Didn't sense supernatural goose bumps, but I did observe some strange manifestations from some of those in attendance. Was enough to cause me to wonder what God really was trying to accomplish. And nothing was really confirmed to me regarding the prophetic during that time either.

    And the claims of angel feathers & gold dust/teeth? Could be there were valid 'signs' meant for a few. But the hype was bad fruit. And then charlatans were later exposed. Wild claims exaggerated & repeated within church circles. No validation. No concern for the truth. No desire to expose the fraudulent. Is it any wonder such 'signs' became a 'Nehushtan' associated with TACF & the prophetic movement?

  14. Rob,
    Release the worms, bro!
    onea Torontonian who attended my first Vineyard conference in 1985 (in Ann Arbour, Michigan) and as a Torontonian who visited TACF more times than I care to admit, and who traveled Africa with one of the very high profile American friends of TACF - I can certainly attest to the accuracy of what Robby has expressed. In agreement with Rob, I'm glad you had a good experience of five-step prayer ministry at TACF - would that that experience was normative. It was not.

  15. Akkk, I hate blogger.

    The 2nd para should have been addressed to Tom, and said,
    "As one who attended..."

  16. Yup, I know the longing, the can o'worms feeling, the prophetic Hot Shots in the group... We moved away to a place without a Vineyard in 1989 and so missed the fallout from Toronto- though I heard about it sort of indirectly on the service tapes I continued to receive for another dozen years.

    As always, a reasonable expression and good analysis of your experiences. I appreciate your insight.

    I'm wondering how the Vineyard value of Training got left by the wayside, and if it's being picked up again at all. I have no problem with everyone able to pray- and at the same time, training has definite advantages.


  17. Hey Rob,

    First of all, normal is only a setting on your dryer.

    Second, I remember what happened in Vic because of Toronto, and it was the same - "More Lord" and if something physical happened to you while being prayed for, there was something wrong with you.

    Heather and I were very lucky though. We ended up in a small home church with an elderly couple who were the pastors. They believed very much in waiting on the Lord and prayer - pure, scripture based prayer.

    In some ways the whole Toronto experience was good - God taught a lot of key people in Christian churches what it looks like when "charismatic" took a flying leap off a blind cliff.

  18. There is something very incarnational in listening Rob. The senes the listener can just stand in the gap. There is no need to manipulate, to force...the spirit hovers in the misdt of the conversation. We can even be sensitive enough to say we are lost for words, and just let the Spirit touch and speak.

    I've seen it the other way, and recieved it the other...walking away feeling almost spiritually abused.

    We had a church in my neighbourhood, that had the gold dust experience, gold fillings. I'm not saying that God can't do those things. But, what happens if it's " man ", and you have to try and manipulate it to the next level? The church isn't around anynore?

    There is a real danger when blessing is only seen as increase.

  19. The Vineyard my wife and I attend still use and teach Wimber's 5 Step prayer approach. We're always asked,"What can I pray for you about?". We are encouraged to be "Dialed Down"; scaring people is not the goal.
    I'm sorry you haven't found what you are looking for. It is out there and we are blessed to have found it in Central Maine.

  20. Che,

    That's the kicker, isn't it? To have seen so many miraculous things, and the power of the Spirit genuinely present, and yet have it all handled in such a way that people came to mock and in some cases despise it.


    The great thing about the 5-step model was that there was definitely an expectation that the Holy Spirit was involved and could surprise us if and when He wanted to. Perhaps that's why I liked the model so much: it was more of a "both/and" approach.


    Another one of the things that I really like about Wimber's teaching was "everybody gets to play" -- there WERE ministry teams for larger meetings (for accountability), but there was also the expectation that anyone could pray for other people, and the 5-step was part of that releasing.

    Wimber was also well-known for admitting and publicly repenting for mistakes that he'd made.


    Thanks for the further comment! I love your emphasis on keeping Jesus at the centre. Then if (or when) miraculous signs & wonders occur, we don't start pursuing signs and wonders, we just keep pursuing Jesus and being thankful for whatever He chooses to send our way.

  21. Joseph,

    Don't hold back, bro, what do you really think? :)

    I freely admit I had to look up the word "Nehushtan" -- didn't realize that the Israelites had named the bronze serpent that God instructed Moses to create.

    Am I correct in drawing the inference that some of the (wilder) manifestations ended up functioning as did the bronze serpent? Something that God was doing, but became worshipped instead of God?

    If so, I think most of us here would be in agreement with you.

    Bill & Dana,

    It was normative, but faded. I'm all for aggressively recapturing it.


    "... a flying leap of a blind cliff..."

    You mean, like becoming Post-Charismatic? :)

    Glad you & Heather found a safe place!


    I absolutely love those times where the Spirit is so "present" that you're at a loss for words, and yet He ministers through our feeble prayers anyway.

    Paul Kuritz,

    I've always loved Maine; now you've given me another reason to visit there again.

  22. Are Pete & Fran Sifuentes still in Kalispell? Pete was our worship leader in the Calvary Chapel plant (that mushroomed and then split) we attended in Redding, CA 1978-82.


  23. I also find it surprising and yet refreshing.....very good stuff! Thank you!

  24. Great discussion. Wanted to try out a few ideas.
    1. Could the Five Step Model function best as a sort of basic starting point for learning something of the values involved in healing prayer? I rather hope so. It’s certainly something I would want people to use at the beginning of their ministry journey with the chance to be more flexible later on.
    2. What about the possibility that the TACF cultural shaping of the Spirit’s authentic work arose in large part out of the Vineyard approach which was becoming by that time somewhat tired and routinized. Certainly there seems a good case for suggesting that for some people the wilder manifestations/responses at Wimber’s Signs and Wonders conferences were important in permissioning what came later.
    3. I was surprised that you characterised TACF as having the ‘skittles’ approach. That seems to be more like Rodney Howard-Browne or even Francis McNutt both of whom prayed for me for only milliseconds before I collapsed, though neither pushed and in both cases I was helped. My understanding that the ‘model’ used by Toronto in their training is that of ‘soaking’ prayer where prayer ministry continues for a substantial time. I haven’t ever been to Toronto but when I was prayed for by John Arnott in Bath, England, I spent a long time on the carpet and gained valuable personal insight--real primal therapy stuff--while a couple of guys continued to lay hands on me and pray. (They probably did the, “More, Lord”, thing but I wasn’t paying attention.)
    4..Incidentally, I’m sure I learned, “More, Lord!” from Wimber. It’s a great mantra when there is accurate discernment of God at work and almost certainly abusive where that discernment is lacking.
    5. Could the whole prayer ministry thing be best placed in the context of spiritual formation and different approaches reflected on from there? It’s great to have some kind of prayer ministry but painful personal change comes about as people do the hard work of shaping their lives. Both of the approaches under discussion, at their least considered, seem to be in danger of offering prayer as palliative care.

  25. Dave Halls,

    Thanks for some very insightful comments and questions. I need to get to the YWAM "office" real soon, but I'll definitely get back to you on these.

    Probably end up being a new series of posts. :)