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Pastor Chuck Smith: God's Vessel for the Jesus Movement

Lori Colbo loves to write about her Christian faith and the Bible to encourage and inspire others.



... the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 2 Timothy 4:6b-7

Moved From Tent to Mansion

On October 3rd, 2013, at 3 a.m. Pastor Chuck Smith, the founder of Calvary Chapel and father of the Jesus movement of the 1970s, left this world and on into the next after a long battle with lung cancer. He was 86.

God did such a mighty work through him - one that impacted an entire generation, a generation that continues to bear the fruit of his ministry to this very day. It will continue to bear fruit for years to come.

In a message he gave back in the 1980s, Pastor Chuck spoke about the tent we live in here on earth, a temporary and fleeting residence, and how when we die we will be leaving our tent for our eternal residence. In this message, he spoke of his death, which of course would occur several decades later -

"And one of these days, should the Lord tarry, you will no doubt pick up your paper and read 'Chuck Smith died last night. Pastor of Calvary Chapel etc., etc., etc.' Don't believe it. That's poor reporting. If they're going to tell the truth, they're going to have to say Chuck Smith moved last night out of a decrepit, old, holey tent, leaky tent, into a beautiful new mansion. Hey, you don't need to weep for me, because I've moved out of the tent to the house of God, not made of hands, you see."

It brings to mind the song, "This World is Not My Home:"

This world is not my home I'm just a passing through
My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue
The angels beckon me from heaven's open door
And I can't feel at home in this world anymore

The Vow

A few months prior to his birth, Chuck Smith's sister Virginia was struck with spinal meningitis and collapsed in her mother's arms. Maude Smith, who had recently committed her life to Christ, carried her dying daughter two blocks away to a little church. The pastor told her to take her eyes off her daughter and just worship Jesus. Maude's husband and Virginia's father, Charles Smith, received word that his daughter was dying at a nearby church. Not yet a man of God, he determined to go to the church and beat the pastor up. But when he got there he broke down and wept when he gazed upon his lifeless daughter. But as prayers and worship were going up, little Virginia opened her eyes and went on to make a complete recovery. When her daughter came to life, Maude Smith vowed to the Lord that she would serve him and do whatever He called her to do for the rest of her life. From that day forward, Charles Smith became a follower of the Jesus who healed their daughter.

Two months later, Maude gave birth to Charles Ward Smith. When he was born, Maude told the Lord, "Lord, through my son I will fulfill my vow to you." How reminiscent Maude's vow was of Hannah's vow of dedication of her son Samuel. Having been barren, she went to the temple in Shiloh and prayed the Lord would give her a son,

O Lord Almighty, if you will only look upon your servant...and give her a son, then I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life..."(1 Sam. 1:11).

After God granted her a child, the boy Samuel, she took him back to the temple when he was weaned and fulfilled her vow, saying,

"I give him to the Lord. For his whole life he will be given over to the Lord" 1 Sam. 1:28

Interestingly, Chuck Smith was not to hear of his mother's vow for many, many years.

Lord, through my son I will fulfill my vow to you."

— Maude Smith

Chuck's Calling

Young Chuck was raised on the Word of God. Maude read and taught him the Scriptures and taught him to read at age four. He often sat and read the Bible while his mother did her household chores and he memorized verses. Chuck gave his heart to Christ at church service at age 14. It was a joyous experience and his faith grew stronger each day.

Chuck wanted to be a doctor and began his studies toward that end. During that time he attended a young people's camp that changed his life forever. The speaker told the young people "You have only one life, it will soon be past. Only what's done for Christ will last."

This remark resonated with young Chuck. Later that day he sat with his Bible under a pine tree and thought about what he'd heard - "You have only one life, it will soon be past. Only what's done for Christ will last." He sensed the Lord saying, "You can be a doctor and help people physically, but they will die. But if you devote your life to helping people spiritually, you will help them eternally. Do you want to give your life for something temporal or eternal?"

Chuck Smith chose the eternal.

You have only one life, it will soon be past. Only what's done for Christ will last."

— Pastor at Youth Camp

Pastor Chuck's Bride - Kay Smith

In 1948, Pastor Chuck met a beautiful girl named Kay at a sporting event. With Christian chivalry, he dusted off a spot for her on the bleacher bench and love blossomed. Six weeks later they were married. He quipped to Pastor Greg Laurie during an interview, "They told us it would never last. But they're all dead now." At his passing, he and Kay had been married 64 years.

Many Calvary Chapel pastors credit Kay for their coming to Christ. Pastors Skip Heitzig and Greg Laurie have both said that before they knew the Smith's and before their conversions, they used to walk past the Smith's house with friends. They later found out that Chuck and Kay used to sit out on the porch and Kay's heart would be burdened for the lost hippies that flowed through their community. She took that burden to the Lord. Kay prayed many a hippie into the kingdom of God. She was as much an integral part of that revival as her husband. God used them both to reach out to a generation no one had any hope for.

Pastor Chuck and wife Kay.

Pastor Chuck and wife Kay.

Birth of Calvary Chapel and Jesus Movement

Chuck had to struggle just like every other preacher. In his early years of ministry, he served God as an evangelist. Through the years he served as pastor in a variety of churches in the Foursquare Gospel denomination. He had seasons of disappointment and trial in ministry and seasons of very fruitful ministry. In 1965, Chuck Smith was pastoring and enjoying a thriving, growing church in Corona, California. At the time he was also holding a Bible study in Costa Mesa for a group of shut-ins in a trailer park. Someone heard about a fledgling church in Costa Mesa called Calvary Chapel and asked if he'd consider pastoring there to get it moving forward. He loved south Orange County and told them he'd pray about it; however, his wife Kay was none too interested and it became a slight bone of contention between them. But God moved in Kay's heart and they left their bustling, growing, church in Corona and answered God's call to ministry at Calvary Chapel, Costa Mesa. The church building was small and located on the outskirts of town and the congregation consisted of about fifty people.

While pastoring there in the early years, Pastor Chuck's feelings on hippies were less than hopeful and positive: "It's important that I confess my initial revulsion at the hippie movement, long-haired, bearded, dirty kids on the streets were miles away from me in their thinking and attitudes," wrote Chuck Smith in the history of Calvary Chapel. But his wife Kay had developed a burden for them and they would go down to Huntington Beach, sit in their car, and pray for them. Chuck's daughter brought home a friend one day, a recent convert of Christ, who ministered to the hippies on the street. Inspired and moved, he asked John to introduce him to hippie. John showed up one evening with Lonnie Frisbee in tow - a Jesus look-alike hippie who was on fire for the Lord. As God had now given Chuck Smith a heart for the hippie generation, He partnered with Lonnie Frisbee and the Holy Spirit began to draw the restless, rebellious hippies, strung out on drugs, and transformed them into what the non-believing world called Jesus freaks (meant as an insult, but really a compliment). The move of God on this generation through Chuck Smith's ministry was in truth, a great revival.

Chuck Smith, a balding, middle-aged preacher, was an unlikely conduit for such a great move of God on a generation of young, rebellious, free love, drug-addicted youth. He appealed to the youth because of his love and acceptance of them as they were. He made no demands, presented no expectations for the kids to cut their hair and put their shoes on before or once they came to the Lord. To him, it was about becoming a new creation inside, not outside.

Many of the hippies and other troubled youth who came to Christ in their dirty jeans and bare feet, later became pastor's as well. Pastor Chuck encouraged and mentored many of them until they were called to ministry. Their first impressions of Pastor Chuck and Calvary Chapel so put them at ease and drew them in, that God was able to reach these young ones that otherwise might not have been.

Calvary Chapel grew into a big tent meeting revival.

Calvary Chapel grew into a big tent meeting revival.

Resistance Within the Church

The older, conservative people in the church resisted the wave of "filthy hippie" converts. In fact, they found them repulsive. At one point, they put up a sign on the door that said "No bare feet." Pastor Chuck dealt with it swiftly by calling a board meeting. "If our plush carpet leads to closed church doors to even one bare-footed young Christian, then I believe the carpet should be removed," he said. "If dirty blue-jeans worn by the new believer are offensive to us and cause concern about transferring some of the dirt to pristine pews, let's get rid of the upholstered pews...No, let's never, ever close our church doors because of someone's appearance - never!" God had given Pastor Chuck a unique love for this motley generation, breaking all stuffy traditions. The Holy Spirit worked in the heart of many of these traditionalists in leadership and they came to love the "dirty" new congregants, with newly cleansed souls.

Through God's move in his heart, Chuck Smith opened his arms to a generation of young people no one else thought worth loving or saving. He dropped his middle age disdain for the counter culture and yielded to God's call to love them and bring them the good news. At Pastor Chuck's memorial service Tom Stipe, who had served with him in the early days said, "He dedicated the Jesus movement to God. It wasn't his idea. It was God's idea, and he was just cooperating with it." Pastor Chuck never let others forget that the Jesus movement was not born of his own ambitious efforts to create a mega-church and a name for himself. He believed and said that the Jesus movement and Calvary Chapel were a miracle, wrought by God "The results you now see," he wrote, "happened by the power of the Holy Spirit; not by might nor by power, but by the Spirit of the Lord," referring to Zechariah 4:6. Chuck Smith was a humble man, in awe more than anyone at what God was doing in the church, and in his life.

There is one particular Scripture that comes to mind when thinking over the miracle of Calvary Chapel; 'Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout the ages, world without end. Amen" ( Ephesians 3:20).

— Chuck Smith -The History of Calvary Chapel

Through the Bible with Chuck Smith

Chuck Smith message on his expositional foundations

Expository Bible Teaching

Chuck Smith was a faithful, Spirit empowered, Bible expositor, taking his congregation through the Bible, book by book, chapter by chapter, verse by verse throughout his decades of ministry. His gift was exposition in simple terms that the kids could relate to. Pastor Greg Laurie, once one of the hippies who was mentored by Pastor Chuck and went on to become a pastor and evangelist himself, attests to the power of Pastor Chuck's teaching of the Word of God, "His emphasis on Bible exposition not only changed a church, it changed a generation."

Chuck Smith often shared the story about how he came to be a Bible expositor. As he told it when he was a member of the Foursquare Gospel denomination he was a topical preacher. He told how he'd go through his two-year litany of topics then ask the denomination to send him to a new place where he'd start his litany of topics again. It came to him one day that perhaps this wasn't working too well and decided maybe preaching through a book in the Bible would be a good change. He decided First John would be the place to start. So he told his congregation the plan and gave them a homework assignment, which was to go home and read the book and find out the three reason's why John wrote the book. He was inundated with calls all week because people were having trouble finding the third reason. His answer was the same every time, "Keep reading." From that first book series, he went on to teach and exposit the Bible this way for the rest of his ministry. It was when he began to teach this way that his ministry really took off. He fed the people what they needed, and they couldn't get enough.

In the interview by Pastor Laurie, Smith told him that reading and teaching the Bible this way changed his spiritual life forever. The Bible came alive and the truths were more evident than the way he'd done it before. This was a move of God in his life. Pastor Chuck remained faithful to the exposition of the Word throughout his lifetime. He remained endued by the Spirit with love for people. Through his ministry God raised up literally thousands of pastors, teachers and evangelists, all once broken, rebellious, and hopeless youth who went on to exposit the Bible themselves. This is to be Chuck Smith's legacy. It will live on in the thousands of lives that were taught the Word of God through his ministry.

* Currently there are nearly two thousand Calvary Chapel churches worldwide, and several Bible colleges.

Sometimes we make the mistake of thinking God uses only 'special' people - the strong, the intelligent, the beautiful. We don't think He has a place for the rest of us. We are so wrong!”

— Pastor Chuck Smith

Chuck Smith on the beginnings of Contemporary Christian music

Chuck Girard and Love Song testimony

Altering the Landscape of Christian Music

Chuck Smith also paved the way for contemporary worship music. It all started with Chuck Girard and Love Song, the hippie band who sang the now historic songs, Welcome Back and Little Country Church. The little country church was none other than Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa, CA in its very humble beginnings. Many more Christian bands sprang up, welcomed with open arms by Chuck Smith. He offered them all a chance and a platform to sing God's praises in this new genre.

The famed Maranatha Music came from Chuck Smith's ministry and they graced believer's everywhere with their new contemporary praise music. They were much like the Hillsong we have today. They made countless records of their praise and worship songs and traveled the world to carry the good news.

In recent years, Pastor Chuck went on a tour with Love Song and the Maranatha singers with the desire to bring a new generation into a saving relationship with Christ.

Pastor Levi Lusko of Fresh Life Church in Kalispell, MT said of Chuck Smith's participation in the contemporary music scene, "He altered the landscape when it comes to Christian music by embracing modern worship and giving birth to Maranatha music..."

In Remembrance of You

Chuck Smith will be remembered for his radiant, beaming smile - a reflection of the radiant, beaming love he had for God, and God for him. He touched several generations and millions of lives. Said Pastor Tom Stipe, "Chuck will be remembered as a great man of faith, who let sinners and rejects into his house, into his car, into the house of God." His whole life exemplified the grace of God. Pastor Chuck Smith will be deeply missed and fondly and affectionately remembered.

Dear Pastor Chuck - "I thank my God in all my remembrance of you..." (Phil. 1:3).

Chuck will be remembered as a great man of faith, who let sinners and rejects into his house, into his car, into the house of God. And here we are."

— Pastor Tom Stipe

Chuck Smith sings "The Love of God'

Pastor Chuck's last sermon


A Lifetime of Impact: Greg Laurie interviews Chuck Smith, Harvest: Greg Laurie, January 5, 2013. Published Oct. 3, 2013

Chuck Smith: A Memory of Grace, June 1, 2009. The Word for Today Publisher, Costa Mesa, CA

Pastor Chuck Smith: A Life Well-Lived, Levi Lusko blog, Oct. 3, 2013

Calvary, Calvary Chapel History link to The History of Calvary Chapel, Chuck Smith

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2013 Lori Colbo

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