As the summer of 1995 approached it was obvious to those of us that were going to plant with Tony and Sandy that it was going to have to be soon. There was becoming more and more of a distancing between Tony and Johnny. I don’t think either one was necessarily at fault, it is just they were beginning to go in different directions. We were still having weekend renewal meetings, but more and more they were at Mark Lawson’s church and not at the Atlanta Vineyard. The pressure on the Vineyard to renounce Toronto was getting stronger by the day, and there were rumblings that it was about to happen. John Wimber was fighting throat cancer and other ailments along with some family problems. He was distracted and more and more was turning over day to day leadership to others.
At home, Jennifer was getting married in June and Lisa was about to graduate from High School. Julia was making wedding dresses and I was taking Lisa to visit colleges. It was a very busy time in our lives. Then to throw the new church plant in on top of that was almost too much. I don’t remember the exact time frame, but I remember talking with Tony and we knew that we had to plant sooner rather than later.
So, that summer about 45 men women and children were prayed for and released to start the N E Metro Vineyard in Norcross. Here we were planting another church across town. I wondered if God was ever going to let us go to a church close by. Our first meeting was on a Sunday morning in a little hotel right off Jimmy Carter Blvd. We had a banquet hall for the meeting and 2 rooms for the kids. I remember walking into the rooms early only to find about two dozen empty beer bottles and a mess. We cleaned up the rooms, got the sound system running and were ready for our first service. The church began to grow and it wasn’t more than a month that we were looking for some type of building. Our services were so sweet. The Holy Spirit seemed to like what we were doing because from day one, He kept showing up in power. Our worship and our facilities might not have been the best, but the presence of God was always strong in our meetings. People who wanted more began to come.
I believe it was late fall when Tony and Sandy invited Julia and I to go with them to a Vineyard pastors and leaders meeting in Anaheim. We were excited. I had secretly always wanted to be a Vineyard Pastor and to be able to go and hang out was a great honor. But the night before we left Julia had one of the most significant dreams of her life. She had never been to LA and had no idea what the city and surrounding area looked like. In her dream, she saw a “river whose bed and sides were all concrete. In the river were vines, big thick vines, like grape vines. They were over running the river. The four of us were in the river, but the vines had us tangled up where we couldn’t get out. We were drowning in the river because of our entanglements. If you have ever been to LA, you know that the LA river runs through the heart of the city and it looks like a concrete river. So we knew that the setting was in the LA area. The vines had to be the vineyard, but why we were entangled and drowning, we didn’t know.
We found out at the conference. This conference was the beginning of trying to make the Vineyard a denomination. The main speakers were focusing on “servant evangelism” and other programs to grow the church. From a movement that had focused on Power Evangelism and Power Healing this was devastating. Most of the time John Wimber didn’t speak. When he did, it was a broken old man talking. He was saying what his advisors wanted him to say. Not much was mentioned about Toronto or anything that was going on in the spirit. On one of the last nights of the conference, Wimber did speak. He started off saying what he had been saying all week, but then the anointing kicked in and all of a sudden he was the old John Wimber and he started saying things completely different that had been said all week. He was talking about the Holy Spirit and power evangelism and going after the fire of God. But just as quickly as it had came, it left and all of a sudden he was back undoing everything he had just said. We left the conference devastated. We were still a vineyard church. That was our heritage. The question was how long would we stay one. We had been warned in Julia’s dream not to get to tangled up in the vineyard, lest we drown in all that is going on with them.
So in the final analysis, John Wimber let the fear of what others think cause the Vineyard movement to turn away from the raw power of the Holy Spirit. But as I look back, it probably wasn’t his fault. He was tired, sick and worn out. It was his advisors that ruined the Vineyard. At least ruined the Vineyard I knew and loved.
Back in Atlanta, we were still rocking along with the power of His presence and still having renewal meetings. It was still a good time, and the best was yet to come.