"You have only one life and it will soon be past, and only what's done for Christ will last." - Pastor Chuck Smith
Chuck Smith was born and raised in Ventura, California, in a Christian home, under the strong influence of his godly, praying mother and his outgoing, evangelistic, salesman father.
It was in 1942, when Chuck Smith was 15 years old, that he made a life commitment to Christian service at a church camp. That year he was the only teen from his church at the camp; the following year he was leading the youth group and brought a large group of kids with him to the same camp.
He grew up in the Foursquare Church, and went to Bible College at Life Bible College in Los Angeles to prepare for full time ministry. Upon graduation, he met and married Kay. They were 21 years old. They moved to Prescott, Arizona just after their honeymoon.
Being a smart, gifted leader, it was easy for him to think that the world was waiting for him and that success in ministry would come rather easily, but it did not. Through most of his early years in the ministry, he worked at various jobs to supplement the income paid to him by the churches he pastored.
Chuck’s first pastorate began in June 1948 at Prescott where he earned $15 a week, and their apartment cost $45 a month. He and Kay found jobs and began to learn the duties of life in ministry.
His next pastorate was in Tucson, Arizona, where there was a university. He and other young people from the church enjoyed street witnessing there. Tucson was followed by a pastorate in Corona, California – where the church grew smaller over his two years there. When he first arrived, there were 57 people, and on his last Sunday, there were 27 people, seven of which were his own family.
A Huntington Beach, California pastorate followed Corona. Chuck loved living in Huntington Beach, and wanted to break his pattern of changing churches every two years because he had run out of sermons. He began teaching verse-by-verse through the book of 1 John. Chuck learned expository teaching and the church doubled in a year. Next, he taught Romans and it revolutionized his life by showing him the grace of God, after growing up in a works-oriented relationship with God.
The Lord began to speak to Chuck about church growth, which was emphasized by his denomination and was a sore point for Chuck. The Lord led him to the verse in Acts 2:47 “And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.” Chuck realized that his job was to feed the Word to the people who attended his church and that the Lord would send hungry people there.
After Huntington Beach, Chuck pastored churches in the Chino Valley, California area and then in Costa Mesa, California. While in Costa Mesa, Chuck’s mother died. She had been his strongest link to the denomination he was affiliated with and he resigned within a month. He had a wife and four young children to support. The Lord had taught him to trust the Lord with all his heart.
“Trust cannot be partial. It is an all, or nothing at all, proposition. Christ’s lessons on faith were identical. There is no room for half-hearted commitment when we are called to walk on water.”
Eventually, a home Bible study group in Corona started flourishing. People started financially supporting Chuck and his teaching. Cassette tapes of the Bible studies were produced into a radio program and new people overflowed the home Bible study. Chuck founded an independent church, Corona Christian Center, with a board of elders who had attended the home study.
Yet, unexpectedly and by faith, trusting the leading of the Holy Spirit, he left that growing congregation in Corona the next year to lead to a little, troubled church in Costa Mesa, California.
The year was 1966 and Chuck was 38 years old. The Costa Mesa church had 25 congregants and they were experiencing division. In fact, the week after Chuck’s first sermon, about half the church members did not return. However, the Lord had plans for this core group of people.
Within weeks, the attendance at the church started growing as Chuck faithfully taught the Word, in depth and verse by verse. Soon, there was a surplus of funds and the church put Chuck’s sermons on the radio. The church was crowded and there was no room to expand, so the board started looking for property with room for a larger church.
In 1967, Chuck and Kay started noticing the cultural changes occurring in their area. With three teenagers, Kay especially yearned over the many young people they were seeing on the streets of Huntington Beach, Laguna Beach, and their hometown of Newport Beach. The hippies seemed to be living on the streets, constantly high on drugs, and living with no stability or purpose. They often looked disheveled and hungry. Kay wanted to understand why they chose this life.
Their eldest started dating a boy named John whom she met at the local Christian college. He shared with Chuck and Kay that he had been a hippie himself but that the Lord had done a miracle for him and he had left the lifestyle. However, he loved and understood the hippies and often gave them rides when they were hitchhiking. He used the time in his car to witness to them. Kay asked John to bring a hippie to the house so she could talk to them.
John picked up a hippie named Lonnie. As they each started witnessing to each other, Lonnie told John he hitchhiked just to witness to people who gave him a ride. John decided this was the hippie to take to meet Chuck and Kay. Soon Lonnie and his wife moved into Chuck and Kay’s house.
At this time, the church saw huge growth as Lonnie was given a van and started bringing kids to church straight off the streets. They would listen to the sermon, accept the Lord, get off drugs, and needed a place to live the Christian life. Chuck asked the church to help the young converts and the church responded by providing houses, with elders to oversee them, where they could live, worship, and study the Word in a safe, pure setting.
As the parents of the hippies saw the transformation of their children’s lives, they visited the church services to try to understand what was happening. Many of them also accepted the Lord and began to live for Him. The church grew and grew and had to build a larger church to make room for the newcomers as well as the now amazed core group of believers who had originally invited Pastor Chuck to be their new pastor.
There was great joy in the church as the hippies grew in the Lord, married, started families, and went to work. Many went back to their hometowns and started churches there. Others went back to school or universities, others started Christian musical groups, and many others moved home to their once fractured, now healed, families.
Over the years, the church started ministries and outreaches to the community and to the world. There were schools and Bible colleges established both here in the States and abroad. Radio programs, television programs, films, internet ministries and over 1500 churches were established with the goal of reaching lost people who needed the Lord and then feeding them spiritual food.
Pastor Chuck continued to faithfully preach and teach three services on Sunday mornings, another service on Sunday evening, and a week night study until just a few days before his death at age 86 in 2013. Many of the young people who accepted the Lord back in the hippie days are still walking with the Lord. They comment on social media about how much they miss “Papa Chuck” and look forward to seeing him in Heaven. Young people who have just discovered his teaching comment that they appreciate his ability to make the Bible clear and how they have grown in their faith as they have put into practice what they have learned.
Throughout his ministry, Pastor Chuck always pointed people back to God. He knew that the church was the Lord’s work and he never accepted the credit for what the Lord had done. The early years of failure, testing, trials, and discouragement were proof to Pastor Chuck that it was “Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit” that the Lord built His church. All praise and glory belongs to the Lord, now and forever.