History of Vineyard Worship – 1976 – 1997
History of Vineyard Worship – 1976 – 1997
Every once in a while I will read something or hear of something written about early Vineyard worship, and I have yet to contribute anything to date, so I thought I’d provide a brief history. While John Wimber was a talented musician, he was never the worship leader. I will openly admit he was “the brains” behind it all. Even his assignment to me at one point of developing a theology for “Vineyard Worship” was deliberate and intentional; he wanted me to learn and grow in my understanding of worship. What better way for me to do that than to have to dive into the Scriptures and sort things out.
Vineyard worship informally began in my sister’s living room in the fall of 1976; a handful of us met one night after Sunday night service to talk and pray about the state of our lives, in particular our lives in Christ. We were tired, burned-out and somewhat disillusioned at this time. At the end of this meeting, I was asked if I would bring my guitar the following week, and from these early meetings, our worship began to evolve. I knew a handful of the choruses that came out of the Jesus Movement and in particular Maranatha Music, so we sang those. I didn’t have a list; we didn’t have lyrics. I just sang what came to mind and they all joined in. At first it was a few minutes, but over a few months, and as the group exploded, it would go on for at least 45 minutes. Again we had no lyrics, no list, and frankly no plan but to try to be sensitive to God and not get in the way. It was clear He was doing something very special with this group of people.
In May of 1977 we gathered for our first church service as Calvary Chapel Yorba Linda. That morning was the first morning we had a “worship team.” I led the worship on my acoustic guitar, John Wimber played the Rhoades keyboard, and Dick Heying played drums. We did about six songs. Again we had no list, no practice, no overheads or songbooks. I just hit the first chord and went from there. That night Jerry Davis joined us on bass and this comprised our team for a couple of years. While we did eventually add female vocalists to our worship team, some have asked why there was no female on our worship team in the beginning. When there was a lady’s part that needed a female vocalist, we would have Cindy Rethmeier come up and lead that part and then sit back down. Because I can’t recall ever having a conversation with John about this, the only explanation I can think of is there was no room for anyone else on the 8×16 portable stage we had built. It was very cramped with a keyboard, set of drums, bass and electric amp and the players. Anyone familiar with Cindy knows she has a beautiful voice and is a wonderful songwriter and worship leader; over the years she became an integral part of Vineyard music in all of those areas.
John, Dick, Jerry, and I were the worship team every Sunday morning and night service from May of 1977 to May of 1983. On Sunday mornings we did about 30 minutes of worship and Sunday nights about 45 minutes. I have a recording of one set we did in 1982 on a Sunday night where we did 17 songs! Our approach didn’t vary during this time; we would get together and tune our instruments, pray and then I would simply start a song and the guys would follow. In all that time we never rehearsed, never had a set list, never had any monitors and never provided lyrics for the congregation. The songs were all so simple back then and our repertoire was only about 30 songs, so if you stuck around you learned them pretty quickly.
During all of that time I only can think of one or two times in which John interjected himself and gave any direction. When I look back on it, I find that to be remarkable and almost unbelievable. But I think there was a method to his madness. John knew something very special was happening and both he and his wife Carol had insight to the fact that what we were doing wasn’t just for us; they knew that it would spread throughout the world, so following his own advice to “Let the bush grow before you try and shape it” he kept a hands-off approach as things developed. John was a professional musician. I am not; it had to drive him nuts at times to just let me go and not try to direct me. We did have times together where I would drop over to his house with a new song and he would help arrange it and add something to it, which always improved my songs no doubt.
I’m not clear on this, but I think it was at Esperanza High School when Eddie Espinosa joined the team playing lead guitar—-what an incredible addition! Eddie also sang and wrote songs and in my opinion throughout the years exemplified the heart of a worship leader; he was so engaged in worship himself that he modeled beautifully the intimacy we were experiencing in those days. It was very early in the process when we discovered we could write our own songs. John, Eddie and I began to contribute several songs to the ones we picked up elsewhere. Almost every song we wrote was in the first person direct to God, very personal and very intimate. They were for the most part prayers set to music; songs like Change My Heart Oh God, written by Eddie, became standard songs. It was very special to part of a time when our songs ended up being sung around the world. I would have never imagined that being the case. I was happier than a pig in slop just to be a part of what was happening locally.
As time went on, it was clear that John did have some ideas about all of this. He knew if our worship music was going to be transferable that it needed to accessible to the majority of churches, which are represented by small congregations. He knew keeping it simple would help accomplish this and he supported this. I think it’s one of the reasons he was so supportive of me; with me leading, it was going to be simple. I am not trying to sound humble here. I’m just looking at myself accurately. I was always the least skilled member on our worship team, but the effect certainly was to make it accessible to a broader spectrum of people. The running joke, which I hear to this day, is if you could play three chords G, C and D you could play these songs. That wasn’t quite true, but it was close and there was no doubt it was directed towards me. We had many talented and gifted musicians coming to our church at this time, but John had no interest in having them become a part of the worship team, or replacing me, at least not during the time of the development of our worship style.
In reality we were developing a prototype of something that would be copied and reproduced around the world. Honestly, I didn’t have a clue that this could possibly happen, but Carol especially was certain of it and would simply state it as a fact. Because of this, the initial ‘model’ was not tampered with, but was allowed to mature and stabilize before it was developed further. It would be six years before there were any changes made and then pretty minor in nature. For about twelve years our worship model didn’t change a whole lot. I think for that period of time it was a good thing.
During the early years of what was then Calvary Chapel Yorba Linda, a meeting was rarely held that didn’t commence with worship. All of our small groups had worship leaders, so lots of people had to be trained. As a result, I began what I called “Worship Leader Fellowships.” Those who participated in these fellowships would bring their guitars and we would all play the songs together. Getting everyone in tune with each other was a trip.
In 1980 Cindy Rethmeier and I developed what we called “Worship Leader Training Tapes.” Cindy and I recorded these tapes in bathroom at the Wagner’s house, where our church office was located. Jim Thomas, our sound guy, was in the other room with a reel-to-reel recorder. The recordings started with me plunking away at each guitar string so people could tune their guitars to the tapes and play along. They were not exactly the type of thing you would find on a Paul Baloche web site! To this day I will hear that someone has one, or both of these tapes we did, and honestly I’d hate to hear them, but for the time they were a useful tool and people devoured them. This was very consistent with everything we did in ministry; it was in our DNA to document everything so others could be equipped with our resources.
In 1982 two very significant events took place in our ministry: we left the Calvary Chapel Movement to become a Vineyard Christian Fellowship and Vineyard Music was launched. I am going to just discuss the latter and will save the departure from Calvary Chapel for another time. Vineyard Music emerged with the recording of our first two albums. I was blessed to have the title cuts on both projects—- He’s Worthy To Be Praised and All The Earth Shall Worship. Ron Tutt, who was the drummer for Elvis, and has been the drummer for Neil Diamond from 1981 to present, produced these recording. He attended our church and would fill in on drums when Dick Heying couldn’t make it. Both albums were produced over a two-week period of time using studio musicians and singers from our church. Eddie, John, or I wrote most of the songs; it was honestly pretty cool to be a part of something like that. I would have never imagined having my songs recorded and distributed around the world.
In May of 1983 I left for the Central Coast of California to join the staff of the San Luis Obispo Vineyard as worship leader and assistant pastor. The whole worship team thing was still in its infancy. I was considered one of the more experienced worship leaders, and played a role in its development. It was really ironic that I would go to San Luis Obispo rather than some other place because I followed of all people, Danny Daniels! Danny played a major role in the early Jesus Movement and its music. He was and still is a wonderful worship leader. He is a great guitar player and a real musician; following him as worship leader was like Pat Boone following Church Berry!
When I left what was then the Yorba Linda Vineyard, there were a lot of people who expressed concern about what would happen with the worship. I can tell you with absolute certainty that there was one that wasn’t concerned, John! He was that way. If God was moving someone along, he let him or her go without any problem, so much so you could almost get the feeling that he was glad to see you go. But it wasn’t that; it was his simple trust that this was God’s thing and he would provide. Well, provide he did. When I left, Eddie Espinosa stepped in and led for the next seven years. Eddie is a much, much more talented and gifted musician that I am. There is no humility in this statement; it’s just the truth. He was the perfect person at the perfect time to move this thing forward.
When I moved up to the Central Coast I met a guy named Randy Rigby. Randy’s extraordinary musicianship was well known throughout contemporary Christian music circles as he was a member of Bethlehem, a Christian band led by Danny Daniels. He also performed and toured with other Christians musicians such as Bob Ayala and Oden Fong. I introduced Randy to John in London while we were at Westminster Central Hall. I remember riding in a taxi with John and Randy when John asked Randy if he would move to Southern California and begin producing Vineyard Music. Randy couldn’t pack his toothbrush fast enough.
The next two projects were produced by Randy and were titled Just Like You Promised and
You Are Here. They were far superior in production values to our earlier recordings (which were crammed into a two week window) and were our first truly commercial worthy projects. Without a doubt things were progressing and developing and moving forward as Vineyard Music matured. Randy played such a key role in this development and I never feel as if he gets the credit he deserves.It was exciting to have a part in these early projects. Looking back I can see what an impact that these early recordings had on the development of contemporary Christian worship music.
In 1986 I met with Randy Rigby and we developed an idea that we presented to John called The Worship Resource Center. The idea was to collect songs from Vineyards around the country and world, do simple recording of these, and get them out to the churches along with a quarterly newsletter as a means of resourcing our churches in worship ministry. This was not meant to be a commercial endeavor, but it was established as a ministry to the churches.
The first recording was called Glory and it was recorded in Smitty Price’s garage studio. The idea was to do quick and clean productions, under-produced as possible. Well, this little music cassette changed Vineyard Music forever and impacted Vineyard worship for years to come. Here are the reasons: first, it was the first project that integrated songs from other Vineyard churches in earnest. Second, it contained great songs, which is pretty much what makes a great worship album, at least for the consumer. Third, John loved it and saw its potential. It wasn’t long before The Worship Resource Center was history and the “Father’s Heart” series was launched. It was at this time that I came across some recordings from the Langley Vineyard, with people like Andy Park, Brian Doerksen, Craig Meassue, Brian Thessin and Daphne Rademaker. We began incorporating their songs and eventually their styles and things continued to move forward. Vineyard worship music started to spread like fire around the world. It was so important to integrate songs from elsewhere, rather than relying so heavily on stuff that was just coming out of what was now the Anaheim Vineyard. The truth is we were criticized for just focusing on our own music. I think the criticism was valid and we needed to move beyond our local church. The talent and gifts that others brought greatly enhanced and improved what we were doing.
The initial development of the Father’s Heart series took place primarily under Randy’s guidance and with input and support from Carla White. I was still on the Central Coast and my main contribution was in getting the articles for the Newsletter and helping to select songs for the projects. I used to listen to dozens and dozens of songs and I can tell you this, there are a lot of bad songs out there; to be honest sometimes it was painful. But there we always some gems and we were able to record them and get them out to the churches. It was clearly a great blessing to the worship community.
Eventually Randy Rigby left and Tom Davis took over the production of the Father’s Heart series. This was probably some time in 1989. I think I recall Tom’s first recording was with Kevin Prosch and it was “semi-live” in that it wasn’t at a service, but people were gathered to a large room outside the studio and Kevin led them from there. Initial tracks were laid down in the studio and it was massaged afterwards; it was an incredible project. It’s interesting, but this was about the time that people were moving away from cassette tapes to CD’s so they still recorded an A and B side. Kevin was on the A side and Davis Hill was on the B side or side 1 and side 2. Kevin’s side was done using the new “live” sound and Davis was more of a studio recording, so it was an odd mixture. I personally think it’s unfortunate that we didn’t move more into the “live” direction and begin recording at our conferences; it is definitely what people craved and loved. Integrity Music was doing this and was exploding. I have always felt we missed it here. It wasn’t until years later when live recordings were done and those were great projects.
In terms of missing it, one other thing that we missed and I only found out about years later through talking with him, is that Darrel Evans was around during the earlier days and had submitted songs and was desiring to get involved in Vineyard Music and simply was passed over. Ouch! I want to say this: the introduction of Kevin Prosch into the Vineyard worship scene was probably the biggest change that took place since the beginning in 1977. His style and approach were completely different than anything we had experienced previously It changed the way Vineyard “did worship.” For the most part I think it was a good influence and change. But there were aspects of it that were not easily transferable and attempts to emulate Kevin were in my opinion really lacking. The thing they lacked most was KEVIN! He is very unique in his approach and he simply isn’t easily duplicated, nor is some of his songs. The one change it unleashed was “prophetic singing.” Which I understand many people loved. And for the most part when he did it, it was pretty good. But if you don’t have those same gifts and try to copy them, they can come off pretty bad.
Up until this time, the worship style was seamless and completely engaging in terms of congregational participation. This new style included long breaks from the people singing and they would in many cases disengage and watch what was taking place on the stage. This is neither good nor bad; it is just what I observed taking place and it impacted not just our movement, but also the church at large. I am absolutely certain that Kevin impacted Matt Redman and Martin Smith of Delirious. I think in Kevin they saw worship expanding and I think this gave them the inspiration they needed to take risks and keep moving forward.
Overall I think it was an important and good progression for us and was necessary to keep things fresh.
In 1990 I returned to Anaheim and rejoined the staff at the Anaheim Vineyard. At this time John was ready for us to expand what we were doing to include others in leading and developing other worship teams for the Sunday services. This was primarily in my opinion a good thing, but it certainly opened up the, “I’m of Paul” and “I’m of Apollos “ door. People developed an affinity for certain worship leaders and because I was coordinating it, I would hear about it.
Over the next few years we had several worship leaders: Kevin Prosch, Cindy Rethmeier, Scott Brenner, Larry Hampton, Daphne Rademaker, Andy Park, Eddie Espinosa, Jeff Searles and myself from time to time. By the way, it was interesting to watch Kevin try and work within a 30-minute time frame in a normal worship service. Anyone who has ever been in a conference setting with Kevin knows that he is fully capable of doing one song for 20 minutes! Everyone was a pleasure to work with and it certainly continued to expand on and improve what we were doing. But like I said, people had their favorites and it was a bit of a pain to have to listen to some of the whining.
One Sunday morning a woman came up to me and very matter-of-factly asked me why I allowed a certain person to lead worship. I asked her why she was asking me this and she, without blinking, said, “Because he doesn’t have the Holy Spirit.” To this day I don’t have words to express just how goofy that kind of thing is in my mind. What did she have a Holy Spirit meter that she carried around? People can be nuts!
I became the senior pastor of the Anaheim Vineyard in December of 1994 and was also the President of the Board of Vineyard Music. By this time, John’s oldest son, Chris, was the general manager and really led the company. I didn’t do much more at the time other than over see the Board meetings. I had enough on my plate succeeding John. Yikes!
During the early to mid 90’s Vineyard Music continued to flourish and expand around the world. It was during this time that Brian Doerksen had moved to England to spend a couple years helping mentor and develop worship in the U.K. It was during this time as well that Come, Now Is The Time To Worship was produced and it simply rocked. It was the best thing to come out of the Vineyard in a long time. Of course today we know some of the names of people who Brian brought along and involved in the worship movement, Kathryn Scott, Brenton Brown and Tim Hughes to name s few.
By 1997 I left the Vineyard and although I have reviewed a couple of projects for Worshipteam.com, I haven’t had much contact with it and don’t know what the history from that time forward is. What I do believe, though, is that that something very special happened in those early days that I think can be linked to a lot of what we are seeing today. It’s not that it was the only influence or even the epicenter, but I don’t think there is a doubt that what we did had impact. The truth is John and Carol had insight into that which was way beyond what I could see. One time Carol came up to me and told me how important what I was doing was, and that it was going to play a part in impacting worship around the world. I thought she was nuts. Many years later I had two experiences that brought back those words to me, both of these occasions occurred as a result of insomnia. I was flipping through the channels early in the morning and I came across an interview that was taking place with women on a couch in a very nice setting. I could tell it was some sort of infomercial but it was done so well I felt compelled to stop. There was some music playing quietly in the background and as the woman finished her story, the music swelled and I recognized the songs as one a friend of mine Maria Barnett had written called Breathe. Carol’s words came back to me and I sobbed. I was so overwhelmed by what has taken place over all these years.
One other thing that galvanized the truth of Carol’s “prophecy” again took place while I was channel surfing early in the morning. I came across a segment in which Michael W. Smith was sitting at a piano playing and singing a worship song. As the camera panned back, there were other recognizable artist singing with him and as it panned back further you began to see the audience, in the front row were George and Barbara Bush, along with others like Condoleezza Rice; the room was filled with recognizable national figures, and there was Michael leading them in the Martin Smith song, I Could Sing Of Your Love Forever.
Even though I have been away from Vineyard worship for a long time, and haven’t contributed anything in this arena in years, I will always treasure the privilege I had to have been able to participate in even a small way in a ministry that has blessed so many people throughout the world over all these years.
I will leave you with one last anecdote. Years ago at Anaheim Vineyard there was a young boy, probably 11 or so, who used to always come down to the front of the church and just get lost in worship. He was always fully engaged in worship. He wrote me recently and told me that when he was 19, I had prayed over him and prophesied some things that he said he has been “Watching unfold before his eyes” over the past several years. His name is Jeremy Riddle. He wrote Sweetly Broken, a song that appears to be one of the best and most powerful songs to come out of the Vineyard in many years. Pretty cool!
I love where worship is today. I love the young worship leader/ worship artists! Heck, I don’t know what they are called! How about young Psalmists!