Smith and the Calvary Chapel Revival
[These short excerpts have been taken from HARVEST
to best describe the Calvary Chapel Revival. HARVEST is written by
Chuck Smith and Tal Brooke. For a complete description of this awesome
revival of the church of God in our modern times be sure to order
HARVEST for yourself. You can order online at: http://www.thewordfortoday.org/product_nav.html ,
then click on "Pastor Chuck Smith's Materials", then "Books", then "General
books and pamphlets" and scroll down until you come to the title
Chapel Enters History
As I describe to you the explosion of church growth that happened
in the Calvary Chapel movement, I speak as a spectator. If there is any
credit to be given, it belongs to God alone. If you understand this perspective,
then when I describe to you my difficult years, my desert years, you
will know why I stand in awe at what God has done. And you will celebrate
with me the awesome symmetry of God's design. It leaves us all stunned
Those pictures in Look, Life, Time, and Newsweek magazines
of our massive Calvary Chapel baptisms in the Pacific Ocean resemble
a human harvest field. Literally thousands of people can be seen crowding
the shores waiting to be baptized. Images like these illustrate that
this is a colossal phenomenon as far as churches go. Professors such
as Peter Wagner at Fuller Seminary and Ron Enroth at Westmount College
state in their books that there may be nothing like it in American history.
It has been estimated that in a two-year period in the mid-70's, Calvary
Chapel of Costa Mesa had performed well over eight thousand baptisms.
During that same period, we were instrumental in 20,000 conversions to
the Christian faith. Our decadal growth rate had been calculated by church
growth experts to be near the ten thousand percent level.
Perhaps more staggering still is that when we first came to Calvary Chapel
church in Costa Mesa in 1965, we had twenty five people our first Sunday
Now put this in perspective. Not only has that church of twenty-five
members established more than five hundred affiliate Calvary Chapels
across the world, but that one fellowship in Costa Mesa has growth until
the number of people who consider it their home church is more than thirty-five
thousand!...I have heard critics try to dismiss the impact of Calvary
Chapel by calling it "production line religion."...Other critics, who
belong to churches that have not grown in years (which was exactly my
situation for well over a decade) often adopt a stance of spiritual elitism.
To them, smallness proves spirituality, faithfulness, or an unwillingness
to compromise. Perhaps they feel that "quantity" diminishes the "quality" of
Christ talked about the man who buried his talents and wound up with
nothing, because even what he had was taken away. But He also spoke positively
about the servant who magnified his talents a thousandfold. So to say
that Christ purposefully limits the size and impact of a ministry is
unfounded. The explosive force of a ministry can equally be taken as
a sign that God is genuinely at work. Who can forget the day of Pentecost
when three thousand turned to Christ on the streets of Jerusalem? "And
the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved" (Acts
Just as the Jews soon discovered that they were not to keep the Good
News among themselves, but were to include the "despised" Gentiles, so
there was an interesting shifting of gears at Calvary Chapel. Our fellowship
began with twenty-five members who represented mainline, traditional
America. Yet God called us to share with the youth from the counterculture.
This outreach took a miracle of love and acceptance. But as each group
accepted the other, both sides grew in number. There was a vital sense
of God stepping into the picture and as lives changed before our eyes.
The sense of being in the middle of a miracle kept feeding itself like
a bonfire. When some hopeless heroin addict throws away the needle and
goes to the beach to convert three people to Christ in an afternoon,
it's a pretty strong boost to the faith of everyone involved!
Another remarkable pattern kept repeating itself. As soon as we moved
into a new building, our fellowship would already be too big for the
facilities. We seemed to grow like a Chinese checker jumping across the
board. In two years we moved from our original building (one of the first
church buildings in Costa Mesa) to a rented Lutheran church overlooking
the Pacific. Soon thereafter we decided to do something unprecedented
at the time and move the church to a school that we had bought. The building
did not match up to code so we tore it down and built another, hippies
and straights working and smiling side by side. It was such a sight that
cars on the highway would slow down and gawk at us.
I had always felt that the ideal church size was about 275 and so we
built accordingly. But by the time the sanctuary of 330 seats was completed
in 1969, we were already forced to go to two services, and eventually
had to use the outside courtyard for 500 more seats. This was all fine
in good weather.
But by 1971 the large crowds and the winter rains forced us to move again.
We bought a ten-acre tract of land on the Costa Mesa/Santa Ana border.
Orange County was quickly changing and the once-famous orange orchards
were making way for the exploding population of Los Angeles. Soon after
buying the land, we again did the unprecedented and erected a giant circus
tent that could seat 1,600 at a stretch. This was soon enlarged to hold
2,000 seats. Meanwhile we began building an enormous sanctuary adjacent
to this site.
This was all amazing to me and a bit frightening. I would sit at the
signal across the street looking at the bare lot that we had obligated
ourselves to purchase, and start to panic. It would take a tremendous
amount of money to develop the property. Was I being foolish to obligate
these people to that kind of project? Why not be satisfied where you
are? The bills are all paid. You're got money in the bank. This is going
to take such a great outlay. But then, as I sat there, the Lord spoke
to my heart: Whose church is it? I replied out loud, "It's Your
church, Lord." Then why are you worried about bankruptcy?
When an incredible relief. A sense of frantic worry just rolled off my
shoulders. The finances were not my responsibility. They were His. This
was an extremely important lesson for me to learn. It is not my church.
It's His church. And God was the one who had created the problem! He
was the one who brought so many people in that we couldn't house them.
God continued to bring people in. By the time Calvary Chapel fellowship
had celebrated opening day in 1973 moving into the vast new sanctuary
of 2,200 seats, the building was already too small to contain the numbers
turning out. We held three Sunday morning services and had more than
4,000 people at each one. Many had to sit on the carpeted floor. A large
portion of floor space was left without pews so as to provide that option...
Calvary Chapel also ministers over the airwaves, and this must account
for many of those who travel long distances to fellowship here. A Nielsen
survey indicated that our Sunday morning Calvary Chapel service is the
most listened-to program in the area during the entire week. As of 1987,
Calvary's outreach has included numerous radio programs, television broadcasts,
and the production and distribution of tapes and records. The missions
outreach is considerable. Calvary Chapel not only supports Wycliffe Bible
Translators, Campus Crusade [For Christ International], Missionary Aviation
Fellowship, and other groups, but we donate to Third World needs. At
what I felt was a leading from the Lord, we built a radio station in
San Salvador and gave it to the local pastors there. We also gave money
to Open Doors to purchase the ship that, in tandem with a barge, delivered
one million Bibles to mainland China. Our financial commitment to missions
exceeds the local expense budget by over 50%.
Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa often averages two hundred conversions a
week...As part of the course new believers can attend numerous evening
Bible studies and classes taught during the week. Along with the Sunday
morning and evening services, I also teach an in-depth midweek Bible
study. On other nights of the week, thousands attend the wide variety
of Bible studies and fellowship groups.
Calvary Chapel never asks for money. We avoid pressuring our members
for "faith pledges" and no appeal for funds is ever made over our radio
or television outreaches. Our feeling is that begging for money would
bring discredit to God. Financial integrity is central to this ministry.
So much so that all of the staff salaries are considered low by usual
standards. I limit myself and my family to a simple lifestyle while my
ministry has enabled me to oversee millions of dollars. I want to be
responsible to God for this money, for it is His money, not mine. I am
merely a steward. This is important to me because I know that nonbelievers
will be watching, and we are responsible for the way we witness to them...
I believe God has blessed us at Calvary Chapel with an exceptionally
loving and open fellowship. Christ told us that the world will know we
are His by our love for one another. This is our predominant emphasis.
And how I pray that we can consistently show the world this standard.
Certainly our Lord told us that our identification marks as Christians
should not only involve love, but also purity and integrity of character
of the highest order...
Let me say that in the Calvary Chapel phenomenon, I did not just walk
into a church the size of an aircraft carrier and become an admiral.
The church was not handed over to me, like an industrial magnate bequeathing
an unworthy son some multinational enterprise. Instead, as I will share
with you, I had to work from scratch and obey every new call that came
from God, even when those calls seemed irrational. Behind it was blood,
sweat and tears, as well as a number of unforgettable lessons.
One of the secrets of my preparation for this work, I am convinced, was
my desert years, those years of struggle. It was in this crucible that
God prepared my character for the coming work. God so often makes mockery
of outward circumstances. He repudiates the impossible if we will only
but believe. And believe me, my situation looked absolutely impossible
Drought Before The Harvest
"I am not your hireling. God has called me to be a shepherd
of His Church. You had better find a replacement for me."
These thoughts marked the major turning point in my life. I felt God
clearly speaking to my heart. And after more than seventeen years of
personal drought, seventeen years of failure in the traditional forms
of Christian ministry, I knew that this era of confinement was coming
to an end. I had come to a place where I could no longer digest the stifling
restrictive role I was required to play. Where was the room for the Holy
Spirit to work creatively among us? In my heart, I resigned, then and
there, though I held my silence for the moment as I sat before the board
of elders of the church.
That very night the Sunday evening church service had been unusually
joyous and positive. I stepped out and took a chance. I departed from
traditional procedure and tried something that involved everyone.
We decided to change the format from the traditional song service, announcements,
prayer, and sermon to a more informal kind of a gathering. We were holding
services in the local American Legion Hall. So having arrived early,
my wife and I gathered the chairs in a circle rather than in a row. Rather
than using a hymnal, we worshipped the Lord in singing choruses. Then
we went into a time of prayer. And many people who had been bound were
able to open up and pray. It was a very special experience for them.
And then of course I shared in a more informal way from the Word of God,
sitting there and teaching, more as I would within an intimate home fellowship
rather than the traditional church setting.
It was electric. A lot of people got excited. But the board members had
difficulty with the change of format. They were so upset they called
a board meeting immediately after the service. The irony was that I had
started this church. Yet the incorporating officers had not even made
me an officer on the board. I was put more in the role of a hireling.
Since they all had strong denominational backgrounds, they made sure
that the church constitution and rules of order were virtually the same
as those of a denominational church. So after seeing God move in this
exciting service, they informed me that they did not want this to continue.
It seemed that our church, like so many churches, was artificially bound
by extra-biblical rules and formalities, and run by men who acted as
employers rather than brethren bonded together in the love of Christ.
Elders were often voted into their positions because they were successful
in the secular world. They had prestige or money. And so the leadership
of the church was chosen by worldly standards. If they had succeeded
pragmatically in business then why couldn't they help the church? It
was a worldly formulation of success and had little to do with the standards
of eternity. In fact, these very people can be the most inept when it
comes to spiritual values and commitment because they have rooted their
lives in outward success. If asked to sacrifice some of their affluence
for the sake of Christ, I imagine that, like the rich young ruler, many
of them would shake their heads and walk away. In our day, the Madison
Avenue approach to church procedure has been sanctified.
Thus, the elders on the board used their rules of procedure to shape
and confine the church to their own image. Little wonder it lacked the
explosive dynamism, relevance, and love of the early Church as reported
in the New Testament. It seemed that we had lost something on the way
as these past twenty centuries went by. This, unfortunately, even applies
to doctrinally conservative and "safe" churches. They so often follow
a codified form of godliness but do not evidence the true power thereof.
As I sat before the church board that evening I kept my composure and,
rather than stir up dissent, acquiesced to their request, not even seeking
to defend what I had done. But in my heart burned a quiet certainty that
God had called me to be a shepherd, not a hireling, or a ministerial
employee on the payroll of businessmen.
I realized at that moment that this was not going to be my permanent
place of ministry. It was the final move that solidified my decision
to leave that rapidly growing fellowship and start all over again with
the Bible study class I had in the Newport area. And the tiny fellowship
at Calvary Chapel was already pressing me to come down and start my ministry
with them. What was attractive in this was the opportunity to establish
bylaws and articles allowing me freedom to be the shepherd responsible
before God that I was called to be. I vowed in my heart that I would
never again be a hireling of men.
Still, I faced uncertainty. If leaving this church was my decision alone,
this costly choice would not have been nearly so nerve wracking. But
naturally it involved my wife as well. I knew my decision would jolt
her like an earthquake. Seventeen times she had to follow me and move
to a different location. For seventeen years she had seen me work to
supplement my ministry income. I had anything but a track record that
would bring confidence and hope into the heart of a wife. Finally, I
had worked up to a respectably sized church that was growing monthly.
Only recently had we been able to purchase a beautiful new home that
she loved. Now, after seventeen years of wilderness wandering, this brief
oasis would once again be snatched away from her and replaced with an
uncertain future. It was almost cruel. But the critical factor for me
was that I was certain that God had ordained my decision to move. I had
no choice but to tell her.
As usual in the churches I pastored, including the most recent, Kay formed
deep emotional bonds with the people. She could not understand how I
could consider leaving this blossoming fellowship that we had started,
that loved us so deeply, in order to go to a small struggling church
that was floundering and considering closing up shop. Not only that but
officially I would be associate pastor. I wouldn't even be the senior
"Are you sure this is the will of the Lord?" she asked me in emotional
disbelief. Finally after a great deal of prayer, Kay looked me in the
face. Her eyes shone like Abraham's Sarah, for she was willing to follow
me anywhere [What a woman of faith! Praise her!!!]. God used her to break
my heart before him. This had to work. I pleaded before God with passion,
though I knew God's leading was too strong for something not to be in
the wind. By outward standards my move was insanity. How true that is
when faith is required...
MOST UNLIKELY PROPHECY
During the era when I was still a member of a denominational
church, a group of us would meet for prayer together. One of us would
sit in the chair and the group would lay hands on him and pray. As I
was sitting in the chair with the group praying for me, there was a word
of prophecy in which the Lord said that He was changing my name. The
new name He was giving me meant
"Shepherd," because He was going to make me the shepherd of many flocks
and the church would not be large enough to hold all of the people who
would be flocking to hear the Word of God.
Then there was another prophecy that followed some years later. The discouraged
group down at Calvary Chapel had met to determine whether to call me
to minister or to disband. As they were praying, a word of prophecy came
to them that I was going to come, that I would seek to remodel the church
immediately, that I would be remodeling the platform area especially,
that the church was going to be crowded to where it could not contain
all of the people. The congregation would then have to move to the bluff
overlooking the bay, and would eventually develop a national radio ministry,
and become known around the world. A more unlikely prophecy could not
have been uttered to sixteen discouraged people ready to quit and throw
in the towel.
Far As The Eye Can See
In the wilderness of Galilee, where the plains meet the mountains
folding in upon them, there is a beautiful but brief phenomenon. For
just a few days every year, beginning one early morning, you can look
out on what had been a plain, and see a meadow covered with a canopy
of wildflowers extending as far as the eye can see--poppies, lilacs,
buttercups, all radiating color and dancing in the wind. It literally
One morning Kay and I looked out into the California streets and on the
beaches, and we beheld another radiantly colorful sight: human forms,
extending as far as the eye could see. The countercultural revolution
of the '60's had begun, and the new citizens were the hippies, "heads," and
trippers. Their colorful outfits belied the deeper problem that they
represented. God was trying to tell us something, as we looked out on
that field. We faced the problem of a gap of culture and thought that
stood between our generations. I was brought up in old-world piety compared
to the fast-track rebellion of the hippies. How could my wife and I cross
The Lord clearly impressed on our hearts, Reach out in love. Now
we knew that love could never be contrived with a group as sensitive
and perceptive as that one. So, to quote my wife, we saturated the air
with prayers. She organized late-night prayer groups and morning prayer
groups. It seemed that Kay and her friends were praying all the time.
Meanwhile I prayed with the elders and some church members. Before too
long, we both felt a quiet change in the air, an excitement just beneath
Kay and I could feel growing inside our hearts, almost independent of
our own efforts a growing burden of love and concern from God for these
young people. With love would come necessary understanding. Then we would
be equipped to minister to the real needs of these estranged youths.
Could this be what God had been preparing us for all these years? Were
we looking at fields rich with harvest, dislocated souls ripe for almost
anything from Buddha to Christ, and only waiting for the chance to commit
their lives? The cultural shift had happened quickly between our generation
and theirs, like wildflowers suddenly appearing on the Galilean plains.
How could we penetrate it?
Kay and I would often drive to a coffee shop in Huntington Beach and
park our car. We would sit and look at those kids and pray for them.
Where others seemed to be repulsed by these dirty, long-haired "freaks," we
could only see the great emptiness of their hearts that caused them to
turn to drugs for the answers to life we knew only Jesus could supply.
But how to reach them?
Then one day it happened. We met several youths who were hippies, yet
they had a different glow on their faces. They were Christians, converted
in San Francisco's Haight Ashbury district through a communal ministry
called The House of Acts. They were perfect representatives of their
generation, having been to all the "Human Be-Ins" in Golden Gate Park,
Grateful Dead Concerts, "acid tests," Merry Pranksters events, Whole
Earth Festivals, and communal experiments. They had done it all. Then
one day they saw the bottom of the elevator shaft within their souls.
They glimpsed the ultimate emptiness of their pursuit, and finally called
upon Christ to be the center and Lord of their lives.
We invited a couple of these youths to move into our home with us in
Newport Beach. They soon moved some of their friends in as well, and
it became sort of a communal house for a while. Our four kids accepted
them and we began to understand their disillusionment with the church
and the adult world that they called Straight Society. They had lost
all faith in any values that had preceded their generation. They took
it upon themselves to find newer and higher spiritual truths and begin
But in their rootlessness, they were supremely vulnerable. Without history
they operated out of a vacuum. They were like medieval peasants going
into the sophisticated center of London, naive people open to being conned
by slick street sellers and card tricksters. They denied the powers of
darkness while they trafficked in the occult. Yet, as C.S. Lewis observed,
God is equally happy with an occultist who worships him, as he is with
a rationalist who denies His existence.
As the numbers of new believers grew, we realized that we had to find
a place for these converted hippies to live. For we could not send them
back to the hippie communes, knowing that they were not yet strong enough
to resist temptations of free sex and drugs that abounded there.
We started establishing Christian communal houses to hold them. The initial
elders came from the group that Kay and I had put up for a while. Their
own zeal was contagious as they shared the rich truths of their newfound
faith. By their zealous sharing about Jesus to those on the beaches,
in the parks, and on the streets, they filled the area with the reality
and truth of Christ. As we will see in detail when I discuss the lives
and ministries of Greg Laurie, Jeff Johnson, Steve Mays, Mike MacIntosh,
and others [you have to order HARVEST yourself to read of these amazing
men and what the amazing God did in their lives], this urgent and timely
ministry took off like a rocket. It was irrepressible. God decided to
use people whose lives had been a social engineer's nightmare. And my
wife and I witnessed this miracle time and again.
BARRIERS OF PREJUDICE
Ironically, the only resistance we encountered to this move
of God came from the church itself, those from our midst who had grown
up with the church backgrounds, those from the "Straight Society." This
sudden infusion of rebellious youths met predictable opposition.
Our challenge was to overcome what most churches had not, namely their
insistence on respectability, conformity, and a judgmental attitude toward
anything that departed from the norm. Many of our members rallied to
the challenge, feeding off the zeal of the hippie converts. But there
were still some who resisted and disdained these newest members of our
church who showed up with long hair, bells on the hems of their jeans,
bare feet, and who otherwise looked like wildflowers in their great diffusion
of dress inspired by American Indian or Asian tribal styles. It was wildly
creative. But it was also threatening, especially to those with young
children who did not want them emulating hippies.
The interesting thing is how we saw love prove itself as God's adhesive
force time and again. Duane Hart, a man who today is one of our elders,
is a good example of the resistance many felt. He was furiously suspicious
of the hippie converts. He felt that they were insincere freeloaders
and manipulators who were unable to change. Never would they be able
to work and support themselves.
Then one afternoon as Duane was working side-by-side with a group of
hippie converts at the time we were dismantling a school building that
had not been up to code he saw something that pierced his heart. These
lean, muscular young men worked tirelessly as they sweat away in the
summer sun pulling off the old roof tiles. Long hours went by and they
never slowed down. By the end of the day, as they were scrubbing down
piles of old roof tiles for use on the new structure, Duane noticed that
their hands were bleeding from working so hard. And with their hands
bleeding, these young men worked on into the night, singing of their
newfound love for Jesus. God so convicted Duane of his judgmentalism
that by the end of the day, there was not a word he could utter about
them except in their defense from then on.
On another occasion, a renowned surgeon came to Calvary Chapel at the
invitation of his future son-in-law, Don McClure. As Dr. Anderson told
us later, he had had utter contempt for the hippie movement, and the
morning he came to Calvary Chapel he was very ill at ease in the packed
crowd. As much as he may have tried selectively to ignore these zealous
converts, they were everywhere.
Rigid as a board, the illustrious surgeon mouthed the hymns. When it
came time to read a passage of Scripture corporately, this world-renowned
man had no Bible. But sure enough, someone near him did, a tall, shaggy,
straggle-haired hippie. Reluctantly, condescendingly, he accepted the
Bible, perhaps the way a Pharisee might take something from someone ceremonially
unclean. As he opened it, he noticed that it had apparently been read
with avid devotion, as Scriptures were underlined, starred, colored with
felt-tip markers, and notes were scrawled in the margins. Shame and conviction
flooded him. By the end of the service something in him changed.
But it really came down to my having to make a statement to men like
Duane and some of our older members from straight church backgrounds.
It was an issue that could have destroyed our work if we did not head
it off. I told them:
"I don't want it ever said that we preach an easy kind of Christian experience
at Calvary Chapel. But I also do not want to make the same mistake that
the Holiness Church made thirty years ago. Without knowing it, they drove
out and lost a whole generation of young people with a negative no-movie,
no-dance, no-smoke gospel. Let us at Calvary not be guilty of this same
mistake. Instead, let us trust God and emphasize the work of the Holy
Spirit within individual lives. It is exciting and much more real and
natural to allow the Spirit to dictate change. Let us never be guilty
of forcing our Western Christian subculture of clean-shaven, short-hair
styles or dress on anyone. We want change to come from inside out. We
simply declare that drugs, striving to become a millionaire, or making
sports your whole life is not where true fulfillment or ultimate meaning
lies. Because the end of all these is emptiness and disappointment."
Perhaps this involves interesting symbolism, but I think that the last
barrier to go in our church was the "bare feet" barrier. When we got
beyond that, we were home free. The pivotal incident centered on a wide
expanse of brand-new carpet that we had just put in. Those who had been
inwardly protesting the hippies finally found a target upon which to
vent their discontent. Dirty feet soil carpets, and these carpets cost
a lot of money. Besides, who wants to see dirt marks on a brand-new carpet?
They took it upon themselves, early one Sunday morning, to hang up a
sign reading, No bare feet allowed.
For some reason I happened to reach the church earlier than usual, and
was in time to take down the sign. It was sad to see division over things
this trivial. It was also sad to see what really lay behind the outward
demarcations of division: a we/they polarity instead of love. This time,
I was the one to call a board meeting, and I would not be overwhelmed
in the manner that I reported earlier. Now, not only was I on the board,
but I was president of the corporation. This did not make me a dictator
by any means, but it meant that I would be free to be God's man with
a clear conscience, and I would not be in a position of a hireling.
Then I spoke from my heart to the board:
"In a sense it is we older established Christians who are on trial before
the young people. We are the ones who told them about James 2 and 1 John
4:7. The kind of action we displayed today puts a question mark across
our faith. When things like this happen we have to ask ourselves who
or what it is that controls and guides our motives.
"If because of dirty jeans we have to say to one young person, 'I am
sorry, you can't come into church tonight, your jeans are too dirty,'
then I am in favor of getting rid of the upholstered pews. Let's get
benches or steel chairs or something we can wash off. But let's not ever,
ever, close the door to anyone because of dress or the way he looks."
Calvary Chapel jumped over that last hurdle. We were ready to move ahead.
...Before too long, I was sending people out to plant other Calvary Chapels
in other parts of California as well as across the country. [And to read
about this amazing Revival as it spread across the country order HARVEST
for yourself and read it through. It's a page-turner!]
[This chapter is what I call The anatomy of a Christian Revival.
These are transferable concepts which Pastor Chuck transferred to the
pastors he trained and sent out across the country and now the world.
They are just as easily transferable to other Christian fellowships and
denominations as they were to Calvary trained Pastors. Are you in a desert
experience in your own fellowship and with your own congregation? Try
these concepts and see what happens. I honestly believe you will be in
for a very pleasant surprise. And you will also become very busy. The
Lord will richly supply the labor and the money you need, though. Just
feed the sheep. That's it. Now let's see how it was done. We have just
read about the results. So we know it works. And if you don't believe
me, visit a Calvary Chapel that's been around for five or ten years.
They don't stay small for very long. Talk to some of the members. You
will find they are deeply committed Christians who know their Bible inside
and out, so it's not just a numeric growth, but spiritual as well. Now
let's take a good look at those transferable concepts, as explained by
the one who first successfully used them in modern times.]
to Grow By
Many churches are built around the personality of the pastor
and as a result the work cannot be duplicated and the concepts are not
transferable. Trying to imitate another person's personality is never
successful. God has made us all unique individuals and His Spirit anoints
us according to our own individual characteristics.
Many times a pastor who is anxious to see church growth makes the mistake
of going to large, successful churches, looking at their programs, and
watching the way the minister relates to his people. Then the pastor
tries to copy the program and the personality. And it just doesn't work.
It is true that God does work through personalities. They play a very
important part in the way we relate to people. But because Calvary
Chapel has been built on principles rather than personalities, the principles
are transferable and work in all varieties of personalities. Through
following these simple steps Calvary Chapel pastors have found tremendously
successful ministries. Let me share them with you.
When I first began in the ministry I served in a denomination whose main
emphasis was evangelism. This was reflected by the fact that the first
bit of information required on my monthly report was the number of people
saved. The next box was for the number of people baptized. I had heard
so often that the primary purpose of the Church was the evangelization
of the world, thus every sermon that I preached was somehow brought around
to evangelism and the appeal made for people to accept Jesus Christ as
their Lord and Savior.
My greatest frustration would come when I would prepare what I felt to
be a powerful evangelistic sermon that would surely convert the most
hardened sinner. And when I would arrive at church to my dismay there
was not a single sinner in the whole congregation.
As I would sit on the platform looking over the congregation, I knew
them all by first name, so I knew there wasn't a sinner in the house.
During the song service I'd pray that God would somehow send sinners
in and when my prayers were not answered I had to preach my evangelistic
sermon to the saints. There was no hope of conversions. As a general
rule I would add a few points in which I would castigate those in the
congregation for their failures to be the kind of witnesses that the
Lord wanted them to be. I told them if they were serving the Lord and
were doing what God wanted them to do they would have brought some of
their neighbors along to hear the Word of God and to be saved. I would
begin to beat the sheep because they were not effectively reproducing
or witnessing for Jesus Christ.
My heart aches when I think of those early days of my ministry, how I
was creating guilt-ridden, frustrated believers. They were guilt-ridden
because what I was saying was correct. They weren't being the kind of
witnesses that they should be for Christ. Their lives weren't measuring
up to biblical standards. They were frustrated because they desired to
live victorious lives, but they just didn't know how because their pastor
was emphasizing evangelism rather than feeding the Body of Christ. [Emphasis
[I.] This was the first lesson. Traditionally I felt that the
primary purpose of the Church was the evangelization of the world. But
biblically, Paul in Ephesians 4 tells us that the primary purpose of
the Church is to build up the Body of Christ to perfect the saints for
the work of the ministry. The church exists to bring people into
a maturity and a unity of the faith so that they would no longer be as
babes but might fully develop in Christ Jesus. With my constant emphasis
on the repentance from dead works and the doctrines of baptism, I had
failed to bring the people into a fully matured relationship with the
Lord and they stayed in a state of spiritual infancy.
[II.] My messages were topical, taken from Scriptures throughout the
Bible. There was no consistent pattern in my preaching. One week
my text might be from Matthew, the next week from Isaiah, the following
week from Revelation, and the following from Genesis. I would share whatever
topic happened to interest me that week or whatever Scripture might have
just spoken to me. The most difficult part of the ministry at that time
was finding a text from which to preach. I would find myself reading
a book of the Bible until some Scripture sort of stood out in my mind
and then I would develop from that text my message. I found that I had
about two years of good topical sermons before I ran out of ideas and
so my first few pastorates were two years' duration. After I had exhausted
my two years' of texts, I would seek a transfer to another church. This
continued until we lived in Huntington Beach. We were coming close to
the end of our two years and it was time to move again, but a problem
had developed. We had fallen in love with Huntington Beach! We enjoyed
living there and our little girl had now started school. We did not want
Suddenly I was under pressure to find more texts and more sermons. About
this time I was reading the book The Apostle John by Griffith
Thomas. In one of the chapters he had outlined studies on 1 John. As
I studied those outlines I found that they were excellent sermon material
and there were approximately forty of them. I decided that if I taught
through the book of 1 John on Sunday mornings, we could spend another
year in this community that we had come to love. I bought several commentaries
on 1 John and began an exhaustive study of the epistle. I expanded on
the outline studies of Griffith Thomas and we spent a year on 1 John.
The interesting thing is that during this year our church experienced
greater growth than we had ever seen before. We also had more conversions
and more baptisms than we had ever experienced in the past. The people
were suddenly filled with joy in their walk with Christ, they were experiencing
greater power over sin, and they had a greater assurance of their salvation.
Of course, these are the three reasons why John wrote the epistle and
we are told that God's Word will not return void but will accomplish
the purpose for which it was sent. Inasmuch as this epistle was sent
to bring the believers into the fullness of joy, freedom from sin, and
assurance of their salvation, God's Word did its work within their lives.
And so I learned the second lesson. Expositional teaching is stronger
than topical teaching for feeding the flock. [i.e connective expository
At the end of the year we still did not want to leave Huntington Beach.
Having developed the style of teaching straight through a book, I decided
to take the book of Romans next, which a seminary professor had told
us would transform any church. I bought as many commentaries as I could
find on the book of Romans, and spent two years teaching on it. During
this time the church DOUBLED. The work of the Holy Spirit in the
hearts of the people was electrifying as they and I personally discovered
the grace of God and began to relate to God in a new way. It was
about this time that I purchased a new Halley's Bible Handbook. (I was
always giving mine away to new converts.)
On the flyleaf I saw a notation that said the most important page in
the book was page 814. So I turned to that page to find out what Mr.
Halley felt was the most important thing. There was the simple suggestion
that every church have a congregational plan of Bible reading, and that
the pastor's sermon be from the part of the Bible read the past week.
I had never taken the people through the whole Bible. As a matter of
fact I had never sat down to read the whole Bible straight through.
[III.] So I incorporated the third lesson. I decided that I would
start the congregation reading the whole Bible...and my sermon would
come out of the chapters that they had read. I have been following this
practice now for many years and have seen people in the church, for the
first time in their lives, read the Bible all the way through.
These two transitions--from topical messages to expository teaching,
and to working straight through the Bible--have taught me some very fascinating
things. Number one, I came to the realization that during the years of
my topical ministry I did not have a true biblical emphasis in my preaching.
Though I preached every sermon from the Scriptures, my preaching was
not biblically balanced. The Scriptures tell of God's part and of man's
part in salvation. The majority of the topical sermons that I preached
were emphasizing man's responsibility. My sermons exhorted the people
to pray, to witness, to commit their lives to serving the Lord.
But when you get into a book of the Bible and continue straight through,
you find there is a greater emphasis on what God has done for man than
what man should be doing for God. In a sense, through the topical sermons,
I was emphasizing what we should be doing for God in order that God might
respond to us. I was making man the initiator and God the respondent.
For instance, if you give, God will give back to you, measured out, pressed
down, running over. If you praise, you will be blessed with a sense of
His presence, for He inhabits the praises of His people. If you will
win souls, you will be wise and shine as the stars forever.
But now I learned that God is always the initiator so His part is
always first. Take the book of Ephesians as an example. Paul spends
the first three chapters of the epistle telling the church what God had
done for them. He prefaces this section with these words: "Blessed be
the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with
every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ." And then
his lists the glorious spiritual blessings and benefits that we have
from God. It is not until he gets to chapter four that he deals with
human responsibility buy exhorting the people to walk worthy of this
calling wherewith they were called.
God was the initiator and now Paul exhorted man to respond to God. I
found that when people began to discover who God is and all that God
has done, they were eager to respond to God and did not have to be pushed
or exhorted to pray or to serve. Now they were volunteering their services
and their time. They could not do enough for the Lord as they came to
the recognition of what He had done for them.
[IV]. The second thing I learned from these lessons was that evangelism
is the natural by-product of a healthy church. When, in the early years
of my ministry, I placed an emphasis constantly on the people going out
and winning someone to Jesus Christ, the numbers that were coming to
the Lord were very small. When I began to feed the Body of Christ
with the Word of God, we had more conversions and baptisms in the first
year than we had had in any previous year of our ministry. And as
people continued to grow, the numbers the next year doubled, and it just
continued to go that way because the people now were strong and spiritually
[V.] Then we happened on the third interesting change to come out of
these experiences. Christmas and Easter Sundays were bedlam. There were
always so many people coming to Sunday school and to church that the
facilities couldn't hold them. Thus, those who would come only once or
twice a year would come during the most trying circumstances, which didn't
really encourage them to come back on a regular basis.
To deal with the problem of overcrowded rooms and the confusion in general,
we decided that on Christmas and Easter we would not have Sunday school
followed by church, but would have Sunday school for the children and
Sunday morning service for the adults simultaneously. We had found in
the past that many people would come to Sunday school and leave before
the church and thus never hear the Gospel. So by bringing the adults
together for teaching they had greater opportunity to receive the Gospel
Everyone loved it so much we continued the practice year-round. We also
discovered that with the children being taught on their own grade levels
and not being present in the sanctuary during the service heightened
the attention level of the adults considerably. They were able to understand
and absorb much more without the distractions of their children around
them. As the morning service and Sunday school ran concurrently, I became,
in a sense, the teacher of the adult class that happened to be held in
the main sanctuary. [VI.] Later on we slipped naturally into the fourth
lesson: double services. This worked out even better because then those
who were teaching Sunday school could attend the next service, and it
provided us with a lot more volunteers for the Sunday school program.
In going to double services we found that a smaller auditorium and smaller
facilities were able to accommodate twice the number of people. So when
we were in our building program we deliberately built the auditorium
and facility with the intention of having double services. We found that
there were those who loved coming earlier, there were those who loved
coming later, and we were able to enlarge the total membership without
enlarging the facilities or the staff. As an added benefit we now had
two congregations supporting one facility. This meant that one of the
congregations could support our local program and the surplus funds could
be diverted into mission ventures. When we were later built to triple
services, it was even more exciting, for we were able then to give two-thirds
of our budget to missions while using only one-third of the total funds
for our own local needs. This pattern continues to the present day.
[VII.] And, then, I learned a fifth lesson for building a strong church.
We were experiencing such growth and so many new converts that we soon
caught the attention of superiors. When a large church in our district
had an opening, I was asked to take it. While in that church, a group
became interested in the work of the Holy Spirit. They invited me to
come and begin a Bible study in their homes, for they declared that they
knew very little of the Bible apart from the readings in their prayer
book. That Bible study soon grew so large that we had to break it into
The importance of having home Bible studies was invaluable lesson. In
these home Bible studies I developed a whole new style of teaching. Rather
than the Sunday oratory style, I would just sit and talk in a very natural
way. They would feel the freedom to interrupt when they did not understand
a particular passage or interpretation of the passage, and it would turn
into animated discussions. I found that their attention span was increased.
In church after thirty minutes of preaching people were restless. [amen
to that one! In a Calvary service I hardly notice the time going by,
even if it's an hour. But in my own fellowship, at times I find myself
clock-watching, hoping for the end of the sermon, drawing submarines
or B-17's in the margins of my notebook.] But we could sit for an hour-and-a-half
to two hours in the home and then the people would actually be disappointed
that I stopped.
Later on when we started Calvary Chapel, we started several home Bible
studies. The one on Monday night was geared for the young people and
I would more or less "rap" with them as we sat in the living room of
a home in Costa Mesa. The group soon became so large that we no longer
fit in the home. Kids were sitting in the dining room, kitchen, up the
stairway, in the entry hall, and there would be more outside who couldn't
get in. We were, at that time, building our first chapel. The slab had
been poured, so at night we would set up lights and the kids would sit
on the slab and I would sit there with them. We just built the chapel
walls up around them as time went on. It was during this time that we
began to reach hundreds of the young people who had been involved in
the hippie culture. They loved the informality of sitting outside and
having the teacher just sit there and talk with them rather than preach
From these informal talks I developed the style of teaching in a natural,
almost conversational way. I just talk with the congregation about the
things of God, of the glories of His nature, of His Kingdom. I found
that if I'm talking--rather than preaching--the attention span holds
for an hour as they sit with open Bibles learning God's Word. A half-hour
of preaching can wear people out, but an hour of teaching, if it's done
in an easy conversational way, does not.
These are not complicated lessons. In fact, the secret that I seek
to impart to those eager to enter the ministry is to teach the Word of
God simply. Tradition can be a hard thing to overcome, but lack of church
growth can be more discouraging. It's been exciting to watch Calvary
Chapels all across the country grow as the power of God touches people's
lives. The harvest of souls into the Kingdom of God is our goal. May
God ever receive the glory and honor due His name.
[VIII.] Another important principle that pastors learn at Calvary
Chapel is complete dependence on the Holy Spirit to help them in expounding
the Word. Jesus said that the Holy Spirit would teach them all things
and bring to their remembrance the things that they had been taught [John
14]. Paul said that the natural man could not understand the things of
the Spirit neither could he know them for they were spiritually discerned
[1 Cor. 2]. What is found at Calvary Chapel is the Spirit of God working
through the Word of God to change the people of God.
There are many churches that offer excellent teaching of the Bible, but
almost deny the current work of the Spirit of God. This creates dead
orthodoxy. The people may be well versed in the Scriptures but it has
not altered their lifestyles to any great extent. They have a form of
godliness but have denied the power.
On the other side of the coin are churches that emphasize the Holy Spirit
but neglect teaching from the Word. This leads to emotionalism and an
unstable condition that is open to every wind of doctrine and cunning
craftiness of men who are standing ready to deceive. Many heretical teachers
have found fertile soil in church congregations that overemphasize only
emotional experiences. It is so important to have a balance of the Word
and the Spirit so that you can see the life-changing power of God at
work and a stable growth of the Body of Christ.
At Calvary Chapel we have confidence that when God guides, God provides,
so there is never an emphasis on money or giving. Many of our churches
do not even pass the plate, but place a box at the entrance where the
people who desire may contribute. God is never represented as being broke
or facing imminent bankruptcy. The pastors have been taught that God
is perfectly capable of supplying the needs for the things He desires
to see accomplished. God does not need the support of His people to stay
in business, the people need the support of God.
It is sad to see people driven away from the church by the appeals and
gimmicks that have been used to solicit funds. Some have dropped out
of church because they have nothing to give and felt embarrassed. We
do not let this happen to them at Calvary Chapel because they are never
asked to give or to pledge. As the apostle Paul said, never let your
giving be by pressure or constraint, but let every man give as he has
purposed in his own heart, for God loves a cheerful giver.
If you asked people who visited Calvary Chapel what impressed them the
most, you would probably hear a variety of things, but some of the words
that you would hear most often would be warm, loving, worshipful, casual.
The first impression as you walk into the service is the warmth of God's
love among His people. You see a lot of hugging, which probably goes
back to the days of the hippies. There is a lot of happiness and laughter.
There is also a reverent but casual atmosphere, which is reflected in
the styles of clothes the people wear. They do not feel that they need
to get dressed up to attend church. Yet if they are dressed up they do
not feel uncomfortable. There is an acceptance of the person not the
style of clothing. This again goes back to the hippie days when all kinds
of clothes and styles were worn. Chuck Girard who was singing with the
Love Song group in the earlier days of Calvary expressed it very well
in his song "Little Country Church" with the lines:
hair, short hair,
Some coats and ties,
People finally coming around,
Looking past the hair
Straight into the eyes."
The music at Calvary Chapel is fresh and alive, and filled
with worship choruses. Many times a worship group will lead the singing
accompanied by guitars, drums, and keyboards. Many of the choruses are
composed by the leaders in the worship groups and are passed on to the
other Calvary Chapels. This gives quite a contemporary feel. Often a
young person will share a song and explain that the Lord just gave him
the song that afternoon.
Most of the churches in the U.S. today are highly organized and highly
structured. By this I mean they stress the dependence that the church
has on the people and the dependence the people have on the church. At
Calvary Chapel we prefer a looser structure, as we stress our total dependency
on God. It is interesting that most of the people in the U.S. today fit
more comfortably into an independent, casual category, thus we fish almost
alone in a huge, well-stocked pond, while many other churches try to
fish in a much smaller pond.
In the book of Acts we are told that when the Church was born the believers
continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine, fellowship, breaking
of bread, and prayers. These are the four features that marked the early
Church and these are the features that mark Calvary Chapels. These are
the things that are emphasized, sought after, and practiced, and we have
discovered that--as in the early Church--the Lord adds to our numbers
After seeing this work of the Lord with its remarkable fruit one is left
with an obvious conclusion:
"To God be the glory, great things He has done."
quote a famous 1960s tune, The times, they are a changin.
After September 11, 2001 we have all become aware of the fact that
the world has become a more dangerous place to live in, even within
the borders of the United States. September 11th should be a wake-up
call for all Christians and those who think they are Christians. If
you were to die today-tonight-would you be assured of your place in
Gods heavenly kingdom, a recipient of eternal life? The words
of the apostle Paul ring out across the centuries asking this age-old
question Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove
your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ
is in you, except ye be reprobates. Dr. Charles F. Stanley poses
this same eternal question in his sermon What Does It Mean To
Believe In Jesus. And he gives three essential criteria that
will help you answer that question in your own personal life. The assurance
of your eternity is worth confirming. http://www.unityinchrist.com/faith/whatis.htm to
find out if Jesus Christ is in you.