IRVINE, Calif. – Calvary Chapel movement founder Chuck Smith, who also was a key figure during the nation’s “Jesus people” era that began more than 40 years ago, shared much of his life’s story in a rare interview with evangelist Greg Laurie Thursday evening.
Smith, 84, who told his congregation at church last Sunday that he had lung cancer, was asked by Laurie toward the end of the interview if he was afraid of anything. The two were seated at a desk facing the crowd of nearly 2,000 in attendance at the Irvine church’s main sanctuary and overflow.
As he stared back at Laurie with his well-known grin, pausing briefly, Smith answered, “Not really.”
To which Laurie replied, “You are unlike any man I know.”
Laurie, whose ministry of delivering messages at large outdoor evangelistic events began as part of Smith’s vision, started the evening by talking about what was known as the Jesus movement. The movement began in the late 60s as part of Smith’s, and his wife, Kay’s, desire to minister to hippies.
“Chuck is known globally as the father of the Jesus movement. You can also make a case for contemporary Christian music and even contemporary praise and worship, which began in the early 70s at Calvary Chapel,” Laurie said during the interview, which was broadcast from Harvest Orange County. “If that was all Chuck ever had a hand in that would be more than enough for one guy in one lifetime, but Chuck was just getting started.”
“His emphasis on Bible exposition not only changed a church, it changed a generation, because thousands of young men, now not so young, went out around the country and around the world and started Calvary Chapel-style churches,” Laurie continued. “There are over 1,400 Calvary Chapel-style churches around the world today.”
Laurie said that after he was asked to do an outdoor event at an Orange County concert venue he began Harvest Crusades in 1990.
“Since that beginning, really from the vision of Chuck, we have had 4,400,000 people in live attendance and 370,000 people have made commitments to Jesus Christ,” Laurie said.
Smith, who appeared healthy and fit despite his diagnosis of lung cancer for which he is scheduled to have surgery next week, delighted those in attendance with stories of growing up in Southern California, meeting his wife, and the trials and pitfalls of pastoring a church.
He also shared about the tragedies in his life, including when he lost his father and brother in a plane crash.
“It was extremely hard for me to handle because it was so sudden and you’re not prepared for it,” Smith said. “You’re not ready for it. It is a shock that hits you right in the guts. After that I would have a dream that we were out together having this great time. Then you wake up to the reality that they are not there. It took a long time for me to get over that.”
“It was a hard experience, but yet the Lord was with us and I actually did the funeral service for them,” he said.
Laurie, who also suffered from the tragedy of losing his son, Chris, in a car crash three years ago, shared how Smith came to his home to share in the grief.
“You told me something very helpful. You said, ‘Never trade what you do know for what you don’t know,’” Laurie said. “My understanding was, what do I know? Well, I know that God loves me. I know that my son loved the Lord and I know that he is in heaven. I know that because I put my faith in Christ I’ll be in heaven someday and I will be reunited with him. I don’t know why this happened.”
Smith was then asked what he would tell people that may be suffering a similar tragedy presently.
“Don’t give up. Never trade what you do know for what you don’t know because the question is always, ‘Why?’ That question will haunt you and make you crazy trying to figure out why did this happen. I don’t know why. But what I do know is that God is good and God loves me and God is working on His perfect plan in my life. So, I’m just content with that,” Smith replied.
Asked to define Calvary Chapel, Smith answered, “It is the exposition of the word of God. It’s encouraging people to read the Word of God and expounding to them the Word of God. It’s really built on the Word of God. It’s just God honoring His word as he said He would. He said He would honor His word even above His name. So, the movement has been built on the solid teaching of the Word of God.”
Near the end of the interview, Laurie asked if he would do anything differently if he was able to do things over again.
Smith said, “The Lord had charge of the whole thing and so I would not try and improve on His program.” His reply brought a long applause from the audience.
Harvest organizers of the interview event said that a huge influx of online viewers brought on some technical difficulties at times during the webcast. The interview is currently available, archived at Harvest.org.