Chuck Smith: visionary pastor changed American church, legacy felt in Maine

I typically write about more general topics related to the Christian faith, and my personal faith journey. This time, though, I’d like to use this blog to discuss the passing of a man who changed the landscape of American church. And while he called California his home, his legacy is felt in Maine, and will continue to impact lives here for many years to come.

I sat down at my computer Thursday morning and was met with the news that Pastor Chuck Smith, founder of the Calvary Chapel church movement in the mid-1960′s, had died. But Pastor Chuck Smith did not die, he moved. In 1994, those were his words:

“One day you will read in the paper that Chuck Smith died. Don’t believe it. It should say, ‘Chuck Smith moved…’” – Pastor Chuck Smith, 1994

And while the advancement in technology since 1994 meant most of us did not read this news “in the paper”, but rather on the Internet, the mixed feelings of sadness and joy for his passing are the same.

This same truth to “not die, but move” exists for every Christian that calls Jesus their Lord and Savior. Someday, when we pass from this earth, we will be face to face with God himself. And of course, the moment we all long for Pastor Chuck undoubtedly experienced early Thursday morning — when entering into the Lord’s presence he heard the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Pastor Chuck Smith, founder of Calvary Chapel churches and the “Jesus People” movement of the early 1970s, died October 3, 2013 after a battle with lung cancer (photo credit: Calvary Chapel Chino Hills/Steve Hurlbert).

While I’ve studied the history of Chuck Smith and the Calvary Chapel movement in the past, not until today was I aware of how significantly a large segment of American church has been influenced by his vision.

One particular piece on Christianity Today, Ed Stetzer outlines this impact. That article is worth a read, but here is an excerpt:

“Chuck and Calvary Chapel have played an important role in the evangelical movement in the past century. Simply put, it is hard to overstate the significance of Calvary Chapel in remapping Protestantism, particularly evangelicalism. And Chuck Smith was one of the main reasons for that impact.” – Ed Stetzer

Another article asserted that, “his impact can be seen in every church service that has electric guitar-driven worship, casually-dressed pastors, and 40-minute sermons consisting of verse-by-verse Bible expositions peppered with pop-culture references and counterculture slang.

As someone who came to know Jesus in a church with a worship style “cut from that cloth” — all though not a Calvary Chapel — I am grateful.

Chuck Smith, seen here hosting a recent radio show, was founder of the Calvary Chapel church movement in the mid-1960s, which spawned the “Jesus People” movement of the early 1970s in California. While his legacy is expositional (verse-by-verse) teaching through the Bible, his churches are credited with influencing the casual atmosphere and high-energy music of the modern American worship service found in a variety of contemporary evangelical churches today. He died October 3rd, 2013 after a battle with lung cancer (photo credit: K-WAVE Facebook page).

His reach in Maine

The Calvary Chapel influence will undoubtedly live on, even with Pastor Chuck’s passing, and Maine is no exception.

Calvary Chapel Bangor, located on Route 15 in Orrington, under the leadership of Pastor Ken Graves began as a 12-person Bible study in 1991. Today, weekly Sunday services range from 900 to 1200 regular attendees according to the church’s website. Furthermore, at last count 10 other church plants have been sent out by Pastor Ken’s team at CC Bangor to communities throughout the state of Maine.

But the reach of Calvary Chapel in our state isn’t limited to inside their church walls. Since 1996, with the financial support of Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa in California — the home church of founder Chuck Smith — Calvary Chapel Bangor has been broadcasting the full power radio station 99.5 WJCX. It is through this powerful outreach tool the Gospel of Christ is preached daily over the airwaves of our state, equipping people with Biblical knowledge throughout Eastern and Central Maine.

Calvary Chapel reaches Maine through 11 churches and a full power radio station.

Calvary’s numerous churches in Maine — with more on the horizon I’m sure — as well as ministries such as the radio station, assures Chuck Smith’s legacy and the Calvary distinctive of expositional (verse-by-verse) teaching through the Bible will remain alive and well in our state for many years to come.

On a personal note, while I don’t attend a Calvary-affiliated church, each day my car radio is tuned to the aforementioned 99.5 WJCXThe messages broadcast are a part of my daily routine, and serve as nourishment for a student of the Bible such as myself. I encourage anyone to tune in who is seeking a sound Christian perspective straight from the Text.

While Pastor Chuck would have been the last to care, he even trended on Twitter much of the day Thursday due to the mass of tweets from the legions of lives that he and his ministry have impacted through the years — both directly and indirectly.  Fellow pastors from a wide range of backgrounds and denominations all were universal in their praise of his life, legacy, and vision.

In an interview from the beginning of this year (in the video below), he was asked how he wished to be remembered. His response was plainly:

“Just as one who loves the Word of God, and loves the people of God.”

Amen.

My prayers are with his family, and extended church family, as they mourn his passing, and celebrate his life.

LINK: A complete obituary from the LA Times. 

LINK: More about Pastor Chuck at pastorchucksmith.com

For those with some time, here is an over hour-long interview of Pastor Chuck with friend and fellow pastor Greg Laurie:

A Lifetime of Impact: Greg Laurie interviews Chuck Smith