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Chuck Smith and the
Calvary Chapel Christian 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: , then click on "Pastor Chuck Smith's Materials", then "Books", then "General books and pamphlets" and scroll down until you come to the title of "HARVEST."]

Chapter 1

Calvary 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 and amazed.

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 morning.

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 spirituality.

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 2:47).

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've 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 at times!

Chapter 2

The 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 pastor.

"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...

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