C. Peter Wagner, a missions strategist for over five decades and author of over 70 books, recently spoke to The Christian Post about his autobiography, Wresting with Alligators, Prophets and Theologians: Lessons from a Lifetime in the Church - A Memoir and why it is important for Christians to renew their minds as they grow even if it means going against what they once thought to be right.
CP: What is your fondest memory?
Wagner: It is accepting Jesus Christ as my personal savior back in 1950. That was the biggest change in my life since I was born.
CP: How has your ministry work changed, how has it been adapting to the changing culture. You have been in the mission field since the 1950s.
Wagner: Well, my ministry has gone through, what I call three careers and now I'm in the fourth career. My first career was being a missionary to Bolivia and that was from 1956-1971 and my second career was a professor in a theological seminary school of World Mission and that was from 1971-2001. My third career was president of Global Harvest Ministry and a Chancellor of Wagner Leadership Institute and that brings us to 2010. And now 80 years old, I'm in my fourth career. It's with Global Spheres, it's a new organization that was started by Chuck Pierce in Denton, Texas, and we're moving all through the body of Christ helping to equip the saints and to bring apostolic and prophetic alignments to the people so that their spiritual gifts can develop.
CP: What are your thoughts on the changing Christian landscape; there have been reports painting a negative outlook on American Christianity.
Wagner: Well, we're in a difficult place in the United States. In the 20th century, the United States was the center of gravity of world Christianity but now that we're in the 21st century that center of gravity has moved from the United States to Asia. So Asia is leading the way along with Latin America and Africa; all that area is called the Global South and that is where Christianity is spreading in a dynamic way. It's the fastest growing religion in the world. The kingdom of God is just expanding. We, here in America, we took the leadership, we sent the missionaries, we did a wonderful job. Now, unfortunately, church attendance is declining and the voice of Christianity is not as strong as it used to be even though we are praying, doing spiritual work there and trying to bring the power of God back to North America like it used it to.
CP: What changes need to be done so we can go back to America being a leader in Christianity?
Wagner: There are two things. First we need to regard America as a mission field. Now that we have huge numbers of people that don't know Jesus but we also have many people groups within America. Many of them need to be reached for Jesus Christ by the resources that we already have here in North America. As far as mission to the rest of the world is concerned our basic world now is to come along side of the leaders that God has raised up in Africa, Asia and Latin America and help them and also find smaller areas in the world of unreached people where no one has ever reached them with the Gospel, and send missionaries to the unreached peoples of the world.
CP: You are recognized as a leading authority in spiritual warfare. What is the biggest danger right now or what's the biggest thing Christians should be looking out for or be wary of? Some Christian leaders point to abortion and homosexuality, others point to corruption. What is your outlook?
Wagner: Well, in general, God has given us a mandate ever since he created Adam and Even in the garden. He's given human beings a mandate to bring the values and the blessings of the Kingdom of God here on earth; that's why Jesus said all this in prayer "your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven." And so ever since the garden of Eden, Satan has taken the authority that God gave to Adam and set up his dominion over our whole world. And since Jesus died on the cross he brought the Kingdom of God. And so the Kingdom of God is within us so that all of us are agents in the hands of Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit to move in whatever area in society that God has put us in. We like to think of the seven different mountains like religion, arts and entertainment, and media, and government, and family, and business, and education, and whatever God has placed us we are to move forward, push back the dominion of Satan and bring the values of the Kingdom of God to each area of society.
CP: You mentioned that you always had a knack for leadership. What can you say to our generation who feel a call of leadership but hesitate to do something about it?
Wagner: I believe that God himself chooses those He wants in positions of leadership. It's not just something that we decide on our own but God chooses leaders and we Christians, we should regard that as a spiritual gift and once we get a spiritual gift such as the gift of leadership then we move in that area. We test it out. We find people when we lead other people. We help them to become whatever they want to be. In other words, leaders are not made in order to please themselves or in order to get publicity or power; leaders are made in order to enable other people, the ones who follow them to be everything they want to be, everything that God wants them to be and to fulfill their destiny. Of course not everyone is a leader, even though each person has their own lead, like a father has to lead his family so in that way everybody is a leader. I'm talking about a higher call of leadership so those leaders especially in the body of Christ such as apostles and prophets need to be recognized by other people by their fruit and then those leaders in the body of Christ will be able to help everyone else and the whole church to fulfill Gods destiny for each individual.
CP: You've had a lot of disappointments like your goal for Japan. No Christian leader or Christian in general will live in Christ without the disappointments. What can you say to those who have been through this?
Yeah, that was too bad; we're still praying for Japan but I thought that there would be 10 million believers by the year 2000. I told everybody that, prophesied that and it didn't happen. It was a big disappointment. Japan hasn't even turned the corner yet. And yes, life will bring disappointments no matter who you are and the disappointments will be at different levels so when a disappointment comes we should not allow it to damage our spirit, we should not allow it to get roots that we have to deal with later on. I think we have to deal with disappoints as they come, we have to grieve our losses but we should not stay there, we need to forgive people who have offended us. A lot of disappointments come because somebody else has caused them and we should not hold those grudges I think it's very wise thing for people to learn to choose their battles, not fight every battle that comes along. And choose battles very carefully, turn some battles way. Some people want to raise issues, just politely tell them that you are not going in that direction and that's not in your agenda. I feel that's one of the things that have helped me to get through disappointments, to get to this stage of life of just choosing the battles. Then people ask "which battles should I choose?" Then I always tell them choose the battles you're going to win. I learned that when I first got married because when I married Doris, I knew I married a strong woman but in our first year of marriage we had five fights and I lost them all. They weren't battles I could win. So I quit fighting with my wife. Now we just celebrated our 60th anniversary and that's the kind of thing we need to build into our thinking.
CP: In your book, you recount a lot of changes you made in your own life. For example you were not really into social change and then you changed your mind. You also apologized to your older students for your past beliefs. What do you have to say to people who notice this shift in Christian leaders? They often say that Christian leaders can't be trusted for this reason.
Wagner: The thing that I would like to say, is that we as believers and just as human beings we always need to be learners. No matter what we know, no matter how old we are, there's always something new to learn and so we should keep an open mind to hearing what other people say and learning new things. And many times we'll find new information that comes to us is better than the old information that we have. So in the book Wrestling with Alligators, Prophets and Theologians I mentioned several of these things sort of in passing and I've decided to write a whole book now about changing my mind, renewing my mind because Romans 12:2 says that we're supposed to be transformed by the renewing of our mind. And renewing our mind means not to hold on to old things but always to be open to learn new things. So when I outline this new book now I have 18 chapters of really important things that have affected my life because I have been open and I have changed my mind and we shouldn't be embarrassed because we always find that what we used to believe was wrong and we shouldn't be embarrassed by that and have our ego damaged and we should just say that we're growing and we are continuing to learn and we want to renew our mind whenever God brings in new information.
CP: When should we expect this book?
I think we should expect it 18 months from now.