Many Christians around the world were rocked by recent news that the “father of the Jesus Movement,” Chuck Smith, has developed lung cancer. He made the announcement to his Calvary Chapel congregation just two weeks ago.
Chemotherapy and radiation lie in front of the 82-year old pastor, but behind him is a legacy that will live for decades to come, if not eternity.
Smith graciously talked with WND despite his recent diagnosis and his full schedule as pastor of one of the biggest churches in the U.S.
On deciding to become a preacher, or as he prefers to be called, a teacher, Smith recalls the words of a youth camp counselor back in the 1940s, words that, along with a nudging by the Holy Spirit, propelled him into the ministry: “You have only one life – it will soon be past, and only what’s done for Christ will last.”
Smith described for WND the beginning of the “Jesus Movement,” during the turmoil of the 1960s.
“My wife truly had a heart for the lost youth of the day,” Smith recounted. “She used to make me park the car near Huntington Beach, just so we could watch the kid’s wandering aimlessly up and down the sidewalk. They were searching for peace and love.”
Through his wife, Kay, God placed a love for those youth deep in Chuck’s heart, and he said, “We just knew we had to reach out to them with the hope and peace offered through the gospel of Jesus Christ. These kids were ripe for hearing the gospel. The message resonated with them.”
Smith said that the hippie festivals of the day featured drugs and bands whose leaders encouraged the kids to join the counter-culture revolution, but when the Jesus Movement began, young people came in droves, beckoned by word-of-mouth to the corner of Greenville and Sunflower in South Santa Ana, to hear more about the love of Jesus.
Smith told WND that at the beginning of the Jesus Movement, his daughter was “dating a fellow named John – an outstanding witness for the Lord.”
“He had been a part of the hippie movement and used to eat dinner with our family and told about meeting scores of hippies and leading them to the Lord,” Smith recalled. “He used to pick up hitchhikers for the sole purpose of witnessing to them.
“One day he picked up a hitchhiker in order to witness to him,” Smith says. “It turned out the young man was Lonnie Frisbee, who was only hitchhiking so he could witness to drivers who picked him up.”
John brought Frisbee over to the Smith’s, and a friendship was born.
“He moved in to our home and every few days would bring home a group of kids to be baptized in our pool,” said Smith.
In a recent televised conversation with Smith, hippie-convert-turned-pastor Greg Laurie said, “Kids came to your Calvary Chapel because of Lonnie, but they stayed because of you.
“He was the nitro to your glycerin, and together you were an explosive combination,” Laurie said.
Laurie explained that not only was the Jesus Movement started under Smith, but also contemporary Christian music and contemporary praise and worship.
Smith said that the new Christian kids needed peace and love, but also a place to stay, where they could fellowship and learn more about God.
Before long, Smith and his wife had taken in around 20 young hippies, and they knew it was time for this ministry to grow. Within months, they had arranged for dozens of communal homes for the young Christians to live in.
“It was an exciting time,” Smith said. “We had a full-blown revival on our hands.”
The non-denominational churches that sprang up from that movement are still growing today. Smith’s church quickly burst at the seams – so quickly, they moved from a small building into a large tent.
“The music appealed to these kids, and a number of Christian hippies took the popular beat and rhythm and inserted the gospel,” Smith said. “Kids would come to hear the music, and while doing so, would hear the gospel message.”
Smith then began training the youth to become leaders, teachers and disciples of Christ.
“They would come and learn, and then go out and teach,” he said.
One of those pastors was Mike Macintosh, now of Horizon Christian Fellowship in San Diego.
“I had prayed to God and asked that He would lead me to a man that would teach me the Bible and nothing else,” Macintosh told WND
He said he was led to Smith, who proceeded to teach him about a personal relationship with the Holy Spirit and a walk of discipline and obedience.
“Chuck Smith has had an eternal impact on my life,” he told WND.
Smith said that along with Laurie, Macintosh was one of the “hippies” he trained so many years ago: “One day, I went to Mike and said, ‘I’m giving you two weeks of vacation. Go down to San Diego – but don’t come back.'”
That was his way of letting Macintosh know he was ready to lead his own church.
“I think over 20 Calvary Chapels have sprung from Mike’s ministry down there,” Smith said.
Another “hippie” from that era is Steve Mays, who’s now leading a megachurch, Calvary Chapel South Bay in Los Angeles.
In his testimony, Mays describes an ugly life during the counter-culture that nearly led to his death, until a couple found him asleep on the street and invited him to a church service featuring teaching by Smith.
Now, with over 1,400 non-denominational Calvary Chapel-style places of worship just in the United States, all springing forth from the Jesus Movement, Smith told WND he’s ready to see another revival.
“These last days, where things are getting more and more desperate are similar to the time in the 70s. Society didn’t know how to handle the hippie movement, and our church welcomed them in,” Smith says. “I think these desperate times are similar to that.
“We’re living in a rapidly changing world, and we don’t know what tomorrow will bring,” he added. “The important thing is we hang on to an unchanging Christ, who is the same yesterday, today and forever. Christ is our anchor.”
Smith said that for years his message has been, “Jesus is coming back soon.”
“Like the Bible says to be watchful, you don’t know when the Son of Man comes,” Smith said. “Beware lest that day catches you unaware: The message gives us the proper perspective concerning life – we don’t have much time, use it wisely.”
Smith said that he still leads his church every week.
“I teach more than I preach,” he said. “I take you through the Bible from start to finish, and then I start all over again.”
The Calvary Chapel style, he said, is one of “solid teaching of the Word of God.”
“God honors His Word, just like He said He would,” Smith insisted.
Smith doesn’t spend time worrying about his recent diagnosis. He says he has no fear.
“I told my congregation that it’s in the Lord’s hands,” Smith said. “The worst that can happen is I can die, which isn’t so bad, being a child of the Lord.”
He holds up the advice that has impacted scores of people over the years: “Whatever we go through is preparation for something else.”
Undoubtedly, Smith’s life has had an impact on the world. When asked if he would change anything in his life, he replied, “The Lord had charge of the whole thing. I wouldn’t try to improve on His program.”
For now, Smith is taking one day at a time, with plans to stay in ministry as long as he is able, continuing his quest to change lives with the gospel message.
Of his mentor and friend, Laurie recently said, “Rarely does a man come along that literally changes a generation – but such a man came, and his name is Chuck Smith.”