Friday, August 28, 2015

Review: The Wisdom of Wimber

It has been my privilege to read Mary Boller's The Wisdom of Wimber over the past few weeks. Marty (can I call you Marty?) has done an excellent job of collecting a variety of the late John Wimber's pithy insights and pastoral wisdom, and sharing them in a readable, encouraging, and challenging manner.

Almost a quarter century ago, John Wimber catalogued ten items that he considered to be "Vineyard essentials" in ministry. Using these ten markers as a starting point, Marty takes us through a devotional reflection on Wimber's writings.

One of the greatest strengths of Marty's approach is that this is NOT a re-hash of Wimber's earlier books, Power Evangelism and Power Healing, as much as these books are definitely worth (re)reading.

What makes Marty's book such a treasure trove is that the various Wimber quotes that begin each chapter are gleaned from less-accessible sources such as old Vineyard newsletters, pastoral updates, and conferences. These less-available sources round out a great deal of Wimber's very practical approach to ministry.

The Wisdom of Wimber is written as a series of short devotional readings, rather than something that you would try and conquer in an evening or two of reading. This approach is another of the book's great strengths. Marty's desire is to encourage people to slow down and thoughtfully reflect on the practical and personal implications of the book's content.

In fact, I would strongly recommend that anyone who gets this book read it in the same way: devotionally, ideally with a good cup o' coffee and enough time to ponder and pray about what each chapter presents. Marty's book functions as a challenging mental & spiritual check-up in many ways -- not something you should pound your way through. Serious reflection, aided by the questions and prayers with which Marty ends each chapter, is the most fruitful approach to take.

Marty's method of unpacking Wimber's list of ten "DNA markers of a Vineyard" means -- aside from providing a well-rounded snapshot of what a Vineyard church should aspire to -- that there is something for everybody here. Worship, small groups, evangelism, preaching/teaching, missional… this collection of Wimber's insights, coupled with Marty's "As I See It" perspective, has some thoughtful input for everyone.

As a seasoned worship band member (mostly playing bass for other worship leaders, although I do lead worship every now and then myself), it's not surprising that I am drawn to quotes like:
"And if we'd ever stop long enough to think about it, coming in the presence of God is a holy thing. And since it's a holy thing, pastors and worship leaders might want to consider how we, as God's people, might want to choose more carefully the way we are entering into His presence." (55)
And this one, which I recognized as a very familiar dynamic in the churches in my area (including but certainly not limited to the Vineyard):
"Most church services across North America today tend to treat our worship times as one-way communication tools, where we dump our worship at the feet of God, but often leave the room before giving him an equal opportunity to respond." (66)
I've watched this dynamic at work, and it actually plays out like this: people come (fashionably late) for the worship, and leave before (or during) the sermon.

As I mentioned earlier, one of the strengths of Marty's book is the inclusion of classic Wimberisms that are not found in his published works. These gems are valuable in and of themselves. For example, Wimber speaks quite prophetically into early 21st century church culture when he says:
"Paul warns Timothy about one of the most distressing realities of being a Christian leader. No matter how faithful and true one is to preaching and ministering the gospel, there are times when some people will turn their ears and hearts away from the truth and will follow teachers and prophets not sent by God. In order to suit their own desires, they would rather hear fables than facts. They are unwilling to listen to a message of repentance from sin. Therefore, they seek a clever new message." (38)
Another gem that reminds us poignantly of the "dialed down" (non-hype) approach to ministry that Wimber sought to install into the Vineyard as a movement:
"When we started (early days of the Vineyard), we did not jump on the bandwagon of "God's new thing". Instead, we set out to do an ancient thing in a contemporary way: train people to continue the kingdom ministry of Jesus. Tired of my ministry, I was desperate to see His." (173)
Marty Boller's The Wisdom of Wimber: As I See It has been an encouraging read for me: insightful, reflective, challenging, pastoral, and inspiring. There is so much we can continue to learn from the life and ministry of John Wimber, and Marty has done the Body of Christ a great service in creating this devotional and highly practical resource.

Highly recommended!

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