Pastor Chuck Smith Talks Jesus Movement, Cancer, Successor

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By Eryn Sun, Christian Post Reporter
March 7, 2012|8:48 am

What made the man behind the Calvary Chapel churches, which traced its explosive roots back to the Jesus movement during the early 70s, so successful in reviving the youth of America?

His expository teaching, focus on Jesus, and his emphasis on the grace and love of God, well-known preacher Greg Laurie highlighted during his second of three radio interviews with Chuck Smith on K-WAVE, 107.9.

Discussing what he called "the genuine American revival" of the 70s, the Harvest Christian Fellowship founder spoke with Smith on Tuesday about the revival and his role in the Jesus movement, which transformed Christian youth culture and revolutionized the way believers praise and worship today.

"As I look back at that time, right as the Jesus Movement was beginning to explode in 1970 ... I discovered something very special had happened ... [there was] a total spiritual revival," Laurie shared on the Pastors Perspective segment normally hosted by Smith and Don Stewart.

Although the term revival had lost its meaning in the current culture, he noted, often associated with once-a-month or once-a-year meetings or hot and sweaty people fired up for God, revivals during the 70s meant something different.

"It's really the spirit of God, working through the Word of God, in the hearts of the people of God," the Harvest Crusade creator said, recalling Smith's words.

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"It's just a fresh wave of God's spirit moving through His people," Smith explained. "You can't describe how it begins but it's just the sovereign work of God and God wanting to work in the hearts of people and just letting Him do it."

Though revivals were the sovereign work of God, the Lord used human instruments, specifically prepared by Himself, to do His work; instruments like Smith, who helped spawn thousands of congregations worldwide, reached out to the "hippies" and disenfranchised youth of the 60s and 70s, giving them a space to create a new style of Christian music, and trained prominent ministers like Laurie, Mike MacIntosh and Skip Heitzig.

While the Calvary Chapel senior pastor now influenced hundreds of thousands of people with his infamous verse-by-verse, chapter-by-chapter, and book-by-book messages, his impact and success was not achieved overnight.

There were "a lot of ups and downs" for the California-born preacher, who didn't always have explosive growth and full churches, Laurie pointed out.

Pastoring at a few churches before being asked to join a small, struggling church in Costa Mesa, Calif., in 1965, Smith did not know what lay ahead of him at his new 25-member congregation church called Calvary Chapel.

Not long after he joined Calvary Chapel, the Jesus movement began to explode, bringing with it a whole new wave of young, long-haired, "hippie" converts who began to change the style of music within the churches.

Welcoming every new convert, Smith's church began attracting musicians from bands like Love Song and Children of the Day, who wrote new hymns and worship songs in a different style than before.

"I was sitting in the church one afternoon, and of these guys introduced themselves and said we are a rock band and live in Laguna Beach and we accepted the Lord and he's been giving us some Christian lyrics," Smith remembered about Love Song, who initially asked the pastor if they could share their songs with the church.

"They had the long hair, beards, and you just wondered, they're new Christians, what kind of lyrics would they have? So I said, 'Well, I would like to hear something.'"

Grabbing their guitars, they began playing what eventually turned into their first debut album, leaving Smith in tears. He allowed them to play during his Monday night Bible study session, giving other bands and individuals similar opportunities to lead worship as well.

During the Jesus movement, Calvary Chapel had approximately 15 different bands that hosted concerts around the country, setting a whole generation of young people on fire for the Lord.

Marantha! Music, a nonprofit outreach of Calvary Chapel was also created as a result of the movement in 1971, giving believers the chance to publish and promote their new Christian music. Much of Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) today has its roots in Calvary Chapel worship music, which is widely adopted by churches now.

"It was so radical at the beginning," Smith told Laurie during the hour-long interview.

"The church was sort of stuck in a rut you might say as far as the music was concerned. We were singing a lot of Fanny Crosby and these were all written in past generations and they didn't really relate to the everyday environment that the kids were in and so the Lord began inspiring their hearts with music and it was just so exciting."

"It was great because it was so fresh, so alive, and so today," he added. "It wasn't singing someone's experience from years ago, but up to date and modern and it just really touched the hearts of the young people."

Though many in the church began to embrace the new style of worship, several believers criticized Smith for welcoming the "hippie" kids, many of whom were past drug addicts, and allowing them to sing their new songs on his platform.

But regardless of the opposition, the LIFE Bible College graduate continued to encourage the creation of the contemporary music, taking risks and steps of faith despite the controversy.

"I've always loved the opportunity just to see what God would do if we would just let Him," Smith revealed. "Not try and put Him in a box but just open the box and see what God might do. I've always been in that kind of adventurous mode. We've had the joy of seeing what God wanted to do."

It was Smith's openness and risky steps of faith that also allowed Laurie to successfully create the Harvest Crusades, which has since attracted nearly 4 million people and led to thousands of proclamations of repentance and salvation.

"The Harvest crusades would not have existed if you did not have the faith to say let's go out there and see what the Lord will do," Laurie gratefully said to his mentor.

Don McClure, the former assistant pastor to Smith at Calvary Chapel and successful church planter, also praised the 84-year-old senior pastor for steering him in his own career and influencing his way of thinking about ministry.

"I'd been around in evangelism and a lot of other ministries," McClure said over the phone during the broadcast.

"There was evangelism and there was preaching that was motivational, topical, it was telling you how to behave, what to do, it was exhausting, but the teaching of the Word strengthens, it fills, it edifies and Chuck just taught and taught and taught, and when he was done teaching, he taught again."

While many other churches were teaching congregants about the Word as well, a majority of them were "legalistic, controlling, and caught in cultural environments they didn't know how to break out of," McClure, founder of Calvary Chapel Bible College, explained.

"One of the most unique factors with Chuck at Calvary was grace ... Grace and understanding of grace just opened the floodgates for thousands of disenfranchised, dysfunctional, people that never felt good enough and all of a sudden they found love, there was hope for them; it was incredible."

Smith echoed God's grace in his own actions as well, McClure described, telling listeners of a time when he made a very expensive mistake and was received in grace by the senior pastor.

"It's the way you relate and work with human beings," he complimented Smith.

In addition to his grace-filled teaching and preaching, McClure also applauded the preacher's ability to "stay on course" during the many attacks from the Christian community.

"I was more interested in what the Lord thought about [the ministry] than what men thought about it. If God is pleased, that's great," Smith responded.

Though he is currently facing many challenges still, including a battle with lung cancer, Smith continues to carry through, hoping to finish well.

"I'm more interested in how I finish than how I started," he said. "The Lord said, 'I've chosen you that so you should bring forth fruit and your fruit should remain,' and that's what I'm more interested in. What is the fruit that is remaining from the ministry? I think when you have that as your goal and ambition ... you know you're on the right track."

And the fruit of his ministry, Laurie pointed out, was evident in his successful training of leaders.

"You know Chuck, the question often asked is who your successor will be. And I want to say publicly I am your successor," Laurie shared. "Mike, Don are your successors. And the list goes on and on and on. What you've done very effectively is you've passed it on."

"As Paul says he wanted to finish the race with joy which he did but he says you know these things pass on to faithful men. You've passed it on to us, we're passing it on to another generation, and we trust they'll do the same. That to me is the ultimate legacy, it's not the building, radio stations, ultimately. It's the mark you've made on these men and women."

Looking back on his life now, Laurie asked what an older Chuck would say to a younger Chuck about life in ministry.

"I would say just continue on trusting the Lord and be faithful to the calling he's put upon your heart and though it may not be as productive in the beginning as you would like it to be, hold the course and stay there.

"And just continue to love the people, serve the people, and love God and serve God and God will bless your ministry and your life. God loves the people and He wants you to love them too."

Pastor Chuck Smith still speaks three times every Sunday at Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa, and also hosts Pastors Perspective live on K-WAVE, 107.9 from Monday to Thursday at 3 p.m. PT.

He is currently undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatment for his cancer, which is expected to end next week after which doctors will reevaluate the course of treatment.

"As Paul the apostle said, 'For me to live is Christ and to die, is gain,'" Smith said about his cancer. "So no fears, no worries, no concerns, because I know God is really in control and I've committed my life to Him so long ago that I don't know anything other than 'hey, I'm in His hands and He could do with me whatever He pleases' and whatever it is, it's going to be great."

SEE A CANDID INTERVIEW WITH PASTOR CHUCK SMITH HERE

 

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