It was the summer of 1996 when it all began to turn around for me. My high school years were spent running from God, but during my senior year I came under the Holy Spirit's conviction. He would not leave me alone in my sin. I was a coward during the year, but after graduating I finally began to respond to Him.
Immediately my life began to head in a different direction. I pulled myself out of the university I planned to attend, opting instead for Calvary Chapel Bible College. I wanted to learn how to walk with Christ, so this seemed to be a logical decision. I had grown up in a Calvary Chapel, attending camps and services geared towards my age group. I felt connected to what God was doing through Calvary Chapels, so heading to a school with their name felt natural.
In a real and tangible way, I feel I owe my life to Calvary Chapel. I know it was God working through the ministry of Calvary, but I am so grateful for the work of Calvary Chapel in helping me come to Christ and learn of Him.
I will always be grateful to God for Calvary Chapel. Like any family, it has its quirks. Every church network or denomination has its faults. I cannot defend every church, pastor, or message ever given under the Calvary Chapel banner. That is a fool’s errand. I cannot even defend all my own messages or decisions. We are fallible people trying to follow an infallible God as best we can. Still, I am thankful for all God has done through Calvary Chapel, including offshoot groups that had their start in Calvary.
For this reason, I thought I would write some of the reasons I am thankful for Calvary Chapel.
I am so glad Bible teaching has become more prominent in other movements and networks. I know Calvary Chapel didn’t discover it, but it seems God used Calvary Chapel to stimulate more expositional Bible teaching. Those early years of my Christian life would have been so slow without this element. I needed to be saturated in the word of God. My mind needed renewal and washing. This came through the Word. This is still my need. I am often blessed by topical sermons or series, but my deepest growth comes from wrestling with the Scripture directly. As I am taught (or teach) the Word, I grow.
I am thankful for the tone of grace that has been prevalent in Calvary Chapels. I'm sure legalism exists in any movement. This is no different in Calvary Chapel, but grace has been the overarching and beautiful song we have sung. Exposition is great, but it becomes life giving when it has a tone of grace. To err on the side of grace has been wonderful. To welcome people of various backgrounds, expect radical conversions, and believe God’s grace is available to all is awesome. I have loved hearing God’s grace in the teaching of the Word, but also seeing it in operation is powerful.
As an independent church, I am glad for the freedom Calvary Chapel gives local churches. We are allowed the blessing of seeking God for our community and church. We can respond to Him. There are some distinctive elements of what makes a Calvary Chapel a Calvary Chapel. But we have historically been given broad leniency in the way we apply that to our churches. This is good, for we live in varying atmospheres. I should not lead a church on California’s central coast in the same way I would pastor a church in east Texas. I hope this freedom remains.
My life in Christ began almost immediately with teaching about the ministry of the Holy Spirit. I was baptized with the Spirit and began to operate in His gifts shortly thereafter. I know I could not pastor without the gifts and empowering of the Spirit. For this reason, I am grateful for the teaching of Calvary Chapel about the Holy Spirit. I think our position has enabled a beautiful middle ground between “charismania” and cessationism. I am glad for the empowering of the Spirit. Through Calvary Chapel I was shown a way forward with the Spirit.
There are dangers in any style of church government, including Calvary Chapel’s. I know this and don’t mind it. But when a lead or senior pastor is healthy, sensitive to the people around him, willing to listen and learn, I believe great things can come from our leadership style. I speak from experience here: the responsibility is enormous. If it doesn’t sober you, you’ve taken it too lightly. But it is wonderful to be able to lead a church, like a shepherd taking a flock to green pastures. I appreciate the opportunity.
Calvary Chapel believes in the future rapture of the church, a seven year period of tribulation, a 1,000 year reign of Christ here on earth, followed by heaven. I am thankful for this message of hope. I am thankful for this clarity. My hope is in Christ and His return. Eschatology is sometimes a divisive subject, so I have tried to teach these subjects with the requisite humility and charity towards others. But I believe our eschatology is correct and, when properly applied, helpful. This doesn't make me want to write the next Left Behind series, but it does create in me a sobriety and vigilance in the work of the Lord. It helps me long for Christ's return and I seem better for it.
We believe God trains those He's called, not that He calls the trained. In other words, we believe God’s calling to church work and ministry could come upon anyone. Calvary Chapel has watched drug addicts, sex offenders, and violent men come to Christ and enter ministry. Their lives are changed. These stories of grace are amazing. I am glad this is the environment we live in. Obviously, we must work hard to learn, read, and grow, for we cannot stay in an uninformed state, but this element of Calvary Chapel is refreshing to me. Many men and women who might not have stepped into church work have done so as a result of being in a gracious Calvary Chapel setting, myself included.
God builds His church. Calvary Chapel has always championed this. I have so enjoyed this. Like most pastors, I can get swept up in the vicious pressure to build the church. Since it is easier to see numerical growth than spiritual growth, it is often the baser, visible metrics we feel drawn to. But at Calvary Chapel I learned we are to let Jesus build His church. He will add to the church. We are to use our minds and we are to outreach. A strategy for the future is fine, but Jesus is the one to build the church. I tend to easily feel pressure, so this one has been a lifesaver for me.
Ventures Of Faith
Calvary Chapel has always taught about taking ventures of faith. I remember watching an old VHS documentary someone made about various Calvary Chapels and their leaders. Each one was a big venture of faith. Missionary work, church plants, and ministries are all propelled forward when we walk by faith. When I take risks on people, I am demonstrating faith. Calvary Chapel has praised this type of faith life. This has been wonderful for me because I am cautious by nature. To venture out by faith has been a challenge for me, but God has shown up every time. It isn’t my church, but His, so it is wonderful to let Him take the pressure and get the credit for the work of the church.
I’m not God, so I don’t know what the future holds for Calvary Chapels throughout the world. I only know I am thankful for what has already come, while looking forward to the future Jesus still has for us. I feel blessed to have grown up in this move of God’s Spirit. I hope and pray for God’s continued strength to continue. I believe there is much work for us. I believe our past heritage can help us in these present times; and that these present times will require a fresh outpouring of God’s Spirit upon us.