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The Philosophy
Of Ministry



By Chuck Smith

Chuck Smith is the senior pastor of Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa, California

This booklet was transcribed from a message given to the leadership of Calvary Chapel of West Covina on December 13, 1988.

The Philosophy of Ministry of Calvary Chapel

By Chuck Smith

The philosophy of Calvary Chapel concerning the role and function of the church is found in Ephesians 4:9-13 where Paul speaks about Jesus Christ Who has ascended into heaven, but He is the One Who first of all descended into the lower parts of the earth. And when He ascended, He led the captives from their captivity. And He gave gifts unto men and gave some to be apostles, to some prophets, and some evangelists and some pastors and teachers. He then declares why--for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the building up of the body of Christ. We believe that the church exists primarily for Jesus; to bring pleasure to Him; that we might be to the praise and glory of His grace. The Lord has created the church for His own good pleasure, and thus, the church exists primarily for Him; it is His church. Christ said, "Upon this rock I will build My church." I am a part of His church. There is only One Person Who can say, "My church." And that is Jesus. It is His church. The interesting thing about His church is that you can't join it. You've got to be born into it. We are born again by the Spirit of God into the church of Jesus Christ. It is His church.

What, then, is the purpose of the church? To bring glory to God; to be God's instrument of ministry to the Lord. But also in a secondary sense, the church exists for the edifying or the building up of the saints; to bring the saints into full maturity so that they might engage in the work of the ministry.

When I was in seminary, Oswald J. Smith, pastor of the Peoples Church in Toronto, Canada and noted worldwide for being a missionary-minded church, placed a tremendous emphasis on foreign missions. In the seminars I attended, I heard him say over and over that the primary purpose of the church is the evangelization of the world. I heard him say it so many times that I accepted it as gospel truth. So, when I began in the ministry, I sought to evangelize the world. My sermons were always evangelistic sermons. They were always followed by an invitation, "Bow you heads, close your eyes, and no one looking around; you who would like to receive Jesus Christ tonight, just put you hand up and down again." Everything was geared toward evangelism. I sought to be an evangelist because I felt that the primary purpose of the church was evangelization of the world. That's what had been drilled into me.

I soon discovered, however, that the most difficult thing in all the world is trying to be something that God didn't make you to be. Paul asked are all apostles, are all prophets, are all evangelists? The answer is obviously no. Not everybody has the calling of an evangelist. Not everybody has the calling of a pastor-teacher. Not everybody has the calling of a prophet. And trying to be something that God didn't make you is the most difficult thing in the world. I was trying to be something that I was not called by God to be.

Paul, in opening his letter to the Ephesians, says, "Paul, an apostle by the will of God." I can buy that. I can say, "Chuck, a pastor-teacher by the will of God." It's important that we discover what we are by the will of God. For years I wanted to be "Chuck, the evangelist, by the will of Chuck." It was not by the will of God. I was trying to conform myself to the mold of the denomination in which I was serving. It was a denomination whose emphasis was on evangelism. Exhortation was held in higher regard than exposition, thus, they did not encourage the pastor-teacher role. They expected all the pastors to be evangelists, so we endeavored to be evangelists. But I was a miserable failure as an evangelist. My wife sought to help me. She saw frustrations, and she said, "Honey, you're just not dynamic enough." She said, "Watch Billy Graham. He just doesn't stand behind the pulpit; he moves around." She said, "You're going to have to learn how to move around, be more dynamic." I tried, and it didn't work. I was frustrated, because I was seeking to be something that God didn't make me to be.

As I started reading and studying the Word of God, I could not find the Scripture that said the primary purpose of the church is the evangelization of the world; I still can't find that Scripture. But I did find in Ephesians 4 that God has placed gifted men, apostles, evangelists, prophets, pastor-teachers for the perfecting of the saints for the work of the ministry, the building up of the body of Christ. This brought into my life a tremendous philosophical change as far as my concept of the purpose of the church was concerned. Rather than seeing the primary purpose as being the evangelization of the world, I saw that the purpose of the church was for the perfecting of the saints, making the believers strong, bringing them into maturity, feeding them, loving them, strengthening them so that they would be able to engage in the work of the ministry, for I realized that God has called all of us and placed us into His body and He has a plan and purpose for each of us. Paul said that the types of men listed in Ephesians 4 were for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, the building up of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, unto the fully matured man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we're no longer like babes tossed to and fro with every wind of doctrine. But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into Him in all things which is the head, even Christ.

So, in changing my philosophy, I no longer preached evangelistic sermons per se, but began to teach the Word of God in a consistent way designed to produce growth within the believers.

When I first started out in the ministry, my sermons were all topical sermons centered around evangelism. I had two years of sermons, so every two years I would request the bishop for a change of church, and then I would move to a new area and preach my two years of sermons again. I did this in four communities until I finally hit Huntington Beach, California. By this time my older daughter had started school and personally, I loved Huntington Beach. It was a lovely little beach community of only 6,000 people at the time, and I began to really know and like the people. But I was running out of sermons because preaching topical sermons, it is rather difficult to find the text. When you're searching through the whole Bible to find a text to preach on each week, it is difficult because the Bible's a good-sized book. Every week, though, I found myself going through, reading until some text really hit me. And of course, I had to have three sermons every week and it began to get difficult for me to find my text, especially since it had to be in the area of evangelism. Once I found a text, I was able to develop it, but finding a text was always a problem.

I came across a book at that time called the Apostle John, by Griffith Thomas and in the middle of the book, he had outlined studies of the book of First John. I began to read his outlined studies of First John and found that they were great expository outlines of this little epistle. There were 43 outlines, and I thought, "Wow, I can spend another year here in Huntington Beach if I just teach First John." So I announced to the people on a Sunday morning, that the next Sunday we would begin a study of the First Epistle of John.

The very first thing Griffith Thomas explained in his book is why John wrote his epistle in the first place: in chapter one he said, "And these things write we unto you that your joy may be full"; in chapter two he said, "These things we write unto you that you sin not" and in chapter five he said, "These things we have written unto you that ye may know that you have eternal life."

I announced to the people that we were going to begin a study on First John and I said, "Now, there are three reasons why John wrote this little epistle. By next Sunday I want you to be able to tell me the three reasons. When I greet you at the front door when you come to church, if I ask you three reasons why John wrote that epistle, I'm expecting you to be able to tell me." I had people calling me in the middle of the week saying, "We've read the thing through seven times and we can only find two reasons, are you sure there are three?" And I said, "I am sure there are three; keep reading." My sermon that Sunday morning was the purpose of the book. I had three points: reading the book will give you fullness of joy, freedom from sin and assurance of your salvation.

There are six places in which John points to Jesus Christ as our example. So that Sunday I said, "Now next week I want you to find the six places where John points to Jesus Christ as our example, and the key words are as he, or even as he. Six places where he has pointed to Jesus as our example. Find them."

Again the people started reading through the book and it took them 8, 9, 10 times to find all six: if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another; if we say we abide in Him, then we ought also to walk even as He walked. He is our example in our walk. We ought to be walking as He walks, walking in the light as He is in the light, our example in righteousness and purity, for we are pure as He is pure, we are righteous as He is righteous. He said we should love as He commanded us. And finally, as He is, so are we to be to this world.

The next sermon was false professions that people make. First John lists seven false professions with the key words if a man says, or if we say. I said, "Find the false professions that people are making." The congregation was reading through the book again, and the following Sunday, we dealt with the phrase "to know." How do we know what we know? I had them reading through the book again. Beginning with 1:1 and going straight through the book of First John, I spent a whole year in the book.

The interesting thing was that in a year's time, the church had doubled in attendance. I had not given invitations in every service to accept Christ, but we had more conversions and water baptisms that year than any previous year. And the exciting thing was that the people had a greater joy in their walk with the Lord than they had ever known before. They were experiencing real power over sin, and they were assured of their salvation.

Isaiah said, "As the rain cometh down from the heavens and returns not thither, but it waters the ground that it might give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater, so is My word that goes forth out of My mouth,' saith the Lord, 'it shall not return unto Me void. It shall accomplish the purposes for which I sent it.'" If God sent us this little epistle of First John to bring us fullness of joy, to bring us freedom from sin, and to bring us assurance of salvation, that's exactly what's going to happen to the people as you teach them that book. God's Word won't return void. Our words probably will, but His Word won't. If you are faithful in teaching His Word, it will accomplish the purpose for which God sent it. And that's why, when you read an epistle, it is always good to ask yourself, "What is the purpose of this epistle? Why was it written?" Find the purpose, and then you'll find out what it is that God is working out in your life and what you could be expecting to happen as you make a real study of that epistle or of that gospel.

I was able to stay another year in Huntington Beach, and with the new church growth it was greater than ever. As I was finishing First John, I was beginning to develop my own style of expository teaching. I thought, "What book of the Bible could I tackle in the same way as First John?" In seminary, I had a professor who told us that the book of Romans would revolutionize any church. I'd always heard what a glorious book Romans was but, I have to confess, I had read it many times and it really didn't turn me on. But I had a lot of confidence in that professor, and if he said it would revolutionize any church, I thought it would be fun to be part of a revolution. So I announced to the people when we came to the end of our study of First John, "Now, next Sunday we are going to begin a study in the book of Romans."

I went out and bought all the commentaries I could find on the book of Romans and I began to develop outline studies similar to the outline studies I had in First John. I spent two years on Sunday mornings in the book of Romans. Again, the church doubled; we had more people saved and more people baptized than we ever had had before. It was glorious; it was exciting.

I picked up a copy of Halley's Bible Pocket Handbook. In fact, I made a practice of giving one of these to every new convert. I've always said the first book you should have in your library outside of the Bible is Halley's Bible Pocket Handbook. It's just full of valuable, good, background information, cultural, archaeological, historical. For a little book, it's got more nuggets and more facts than any other book I know. So, they came out with a revised edition, and it had a new cover jacket on the front. And on this jacket it said, "The most important page in this book is 867." Now, I had so admired Mr. Halley that I thought, "I wonder what he considers to be the most important page in this book?" I mean, I had always gotten a lot of value out of the whole thing. So I turned to page 867 and there he said, "Every church should have a method of systematically encouraging the congregation to read through the whole Bible." And, "Ideally, the pastor's Sunday morning sermon would come out of the area that they had been reading the previous week." He gave a suggested reading, so you could go through the whole Bible in a year. I thought that was just a little strenuous, but I thought we could go through in two years. Taking ten chapters a week, fifteen when we get to Psalms, we could go through the whole Bible in two years. And then the thought occurred to me, Chuck, you can stay in the church the rest of your life, if you just start teaching through the Bible.

I discovered that it was much easier to get sermons when I was confined to one small area for my text, and the quality of the sermons were much better, for I was able to spend much more consecrated study on the next text I was going to be speaking from than I did when I was hodgepodging around the whole Bible. When you have to find your text within a certain portion of Scripture, it makes you really push and do some consecrated and valuable studying. So I took up Mr. Halley's suggestion, taking the people straight through the Bible and that's been my practice ever since.

At the present time (1989), we are going through the Bible at Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa [35,000 members strong!] for the seventh time with our congregation. I have slowed down considerably. I am only taking a couple of chapters a week, sometimes three chapters, but I've really slowed down my pace going through. And I'm loving it more this time than ever because I am progressively learning more. The last I went through I slowed down to five chapters a week. Now, I've slowed down to two sometimes three chapters a week. By the time I'm through with the present systematic teaching, we will have a very thorough commentary on the entire Bible because I've made it a personal practice that every time I go through the Bible I read a new commentary, or sometimes two or three new commentaries, so, as a result, I've been able to read most of the major commentaries on the Bible.

A valuable lesson that I've learned is that the greatest way to learn is to teach. Once you start teaching, you really start learning, because you have to take in so much more material than what you can give out. You've got to take it in and sift through it. You've got to take in probably ten times the amount that you give out. So, it's a great way to learn--start teaching.

In the book of Hebrews, chapter six, the author writes, "Therefore, laying aside the first principles of the doctrines of Christ: the repentance of dead works, baptisms, laying on of hands; let us go on into full maturity." Having had an opportunity of looking back now on my ministry, the 17 years of struggling in the ministry, compared with the last 23 years of cruising in the ministry, the struggling years were when I was endeavoring to be an evangelist, preaching topical sermons. There was a marked transition. I actually became comfortable with teaching in the fourteenth year of my ministry.

I don't know if the book of Romans revolutionized the church, but it did revolutionize me. I was never the same after that. I came into a new relationship with the Lord that was just primo. It revolutionized my whole spiritual experience. God just turned me upside down and inside out. I also realized an important truth through the book of Romans--when the people become strong and mature in the Word of God, they then began to be more effective witnesses for Jesus Christ. Christ became their life. We didn't have to have visitation nights and witnessing programs anymore. Witnessing became a natural function, an automatic thing. A witness is not something that you do; it is something that you are, and when your life is matured in Christ, your matured spiritual walk is a witness to others.

When I was trying to be an evangelist I discovered that the most frustrating thing in the whole ministry was to have the Lord lay on your heart a dynamic evangelistic sermon, and then have no sinners in the church to whom to preach it. I used to get so excited over some of the sermons the Lord would give me. Great evangelistic sermons. They were so powerful in their logic that no sinner could possibly sit through them without accepting Jesus. I would go to church and my heart would be just overflowing with this dynamic message that the Lord had given me. I could hardly wait to deliver it. I could hardly wait till I got to the invitation so I could see every sinner in the house on their knees, for I surely knew that would be the case.

But oftentimes with this kind of a sermon burning on my heart, I would come to church, sit on the platform while the songs were being sung, look over the congregation and know them all by first name. Not a sinner in the house. You can't know how frustrating it is to have a great evangelistic sermon and no sinners to hear it. I would get upset and would add a few points to my sermon: "You people are miserable failures. God is sick and tired of you not witnessing for Him. If you folks were all that God wanted you to be, you would have had your friends here tonight with you. You would have brought your sinful neighbors to hear the Word of God!"

I was laying it on the saints because I was angry that there weren't any sinners there. Those blessed dear saints. As I would take out the whip and begin laying it across their back, they would just sink down deeper and deeper in the pew as the conviction was coming heavy on them. Instead of making an invitation for anyone to accept Christ, I would ask how many wanted to commit their lives to really being the kind of witness the Lord wanted them to be, because I was of the spiritual mentality that you've got to get someone forward praying at the alter or your sermon was not a success.

The problem, however, was not a lack of desire to be better witnesses. They desired to serve the Lord. The problem was that they didn't really know how because they were not taught. All they ever had was the baby bottle. All they ever had was repent from sins and Jesus died to save us from our sins. All they ever had was evangelism. They were never really taught in the Word to where they could mature and where they could grow.

When the saints were perfected for the work of the ministry, however, they began to minister. They began to bring in their friends. Evangelism became the by-product of a strong and mature church. A church that is strong in the Word will automatically be an evangelistic church. It is the natural function of healthy sheep to reproduce. It's very natural. You don't even have to teach them how. It's just the natural function of healthy sheep to reproduce. When you make the sheep healthy by giving them a good diet, a consistent diet that will develop growth and strength, they will naturally reproduce.

I also discovered that in going straight through a book of the Bible, you avoid riding hobby horses. There are certain subjects in the Bible that I find more fascinating than others. There are some things that I love to preach on; there are other things I don't like preaching about. Those things that I don't like to preach about, I find ways of not preaching about them; sort of bypassing them. When you're going straight through a book of the Bible from beginning to end, you can't bypass them, and you're speaking on issues that the people need to hear addressed, but rarely heard addressed in the church because they are not popular subjects, yet God would not have put them in the Word unless they were important subjects. If you go straight through a book in teaching, you will be declaring the whole counsel of God, and your emphasis will become a biblical emphasis. I discovered for years my preaching did not really follow the true biblical emphasis. I believe that as you study the Bible you will discover that the biblical emphasis is what God has done for man; that God is the Initiator, and that man is responder. For the love of Christ is what constrains us. God initiated our relationship by His great love for me and I'm just responding to that love.

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