John Wimber: God’s risk-taking Santa Claus
John Wimber came to Christ in 1963 at age 29 as a self-proclaimed chain-smoking, beer-guzzling, drug abuser. Because his father abandoned him the day he was born, Wimber didn’t know how to be a good father. His marriage was nearly over. He described himself as a fourth-generation pagan/unbeliever who had never heard the gospel. As a gifted entrepreneur, he owned and operated sixty-one businesses during his sixty-three years on earth. As manager and pianist for the Righteous Brothers, who toured with the Beatles, he was at the top of his musical career, playing twenty different instruments. He heard the Lord tell him to give up his musical career. So, he went from $100,000 per year to $7,000 per year as a carpenter’s helper, cleaning out oil tanks. Wimber humourously called this time his purgatory: “I was humbled. I used to be pretty mouthy and sure of myself…I was used to pretty much calling my own shots…God was teaching me obedience.” As rebellion was very deep in Wimber’s baby-boomer heart, God never stopped working on that lesson in his life: “Again and again and again, He taught us obedience, obedience, obedience, obedience, that he valued obedience above all things, and he wanted relationship with us, and he wanted our dependence upon Him.”
With his gift of the gab, Wimber became a salesman for a collection agency in Los Angeles, California. Everywhere he went, he shared the gospel. People affectionately described him as a cross between Kenny Rogers and Santa Claus. Others saw him as a warm teddy bear. He was relaxed and playful with a winning smile. Wimber, who personally led thousands to Jesus, said that during the Jesus movement, you could sneeze and lead someone to Christ.
While trying to fix a leaking water faucet, Wimber had a life-changing vision: “I looked up at the sky and it was like fire falling, so real to me that I rolled thinking that I don’t want it to hit my face. Then suddenly I was in some sort of state where I could see it exploding in the air all across Southern California, and then a fireball going across the ocean, hitting London and exploding over Europe, and then gathering again and going into Asia and Africa…I went to London four times in the 1970s and didn’t see any revival.”
Becoming an evangelical Quaker pastor at Yorba Linda Friends Church, he soon had the largest Quaker congregation in North America. By 1974, he was approaching burnout, and resigned from pastoral ministry. After enrolling in the Doctoral program at Fuller Theological Seminary, Dr. Peter Wagner recruited him to be the Founding Director of the Fuller Department of Church Growth. While visiting 2,000 different churches of various denominations, he heard returning missionaries’ amazing stories of church growth, miracles and casting out demons. He taught classes for many years at Fuller Seminary, most notably a course in the early 80s called Signs, Wonders, and Church Growth which had over 800 registrants, the largest in Fuller’s history.