By Mark Ellis
A capacity crowd at The Pond in Anaheim paid tribute tonight to the life and ministry of one of the 20th Century’s most significant American
pastors and one of God’s great servants – Pastor Chuck Smith. Uncounted multitudes watched and listened around the world via radio and the Internet.
“It is not often that a man comes around who impacts the lives of so many people,” said Pastor Brian Broderson, recently named senior pastor of Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa. Broderson is also Smith’s son-in-law. He recalled some of their ordinary family times together, along with Smith’s surprise as the unassuming pastor found himself at the epicenter of an extraordinary move of God.
A succession of prominent pastors spawned or influenced by the Calvary Chapel movement spoke in person or through previously recorded messages. Greg Laurie, Raul Ries, Rick Warren, Alistair Begg, Mike MacIntosh – and many others – spoke of Pastor Chuck’s fatherly guidance and encouragement.
Songs that spanned the history of the Calvary Chapel movement graced the proceedings from beginning to end. The graying roots of the earliest participants in the 70s movement were personified by the band “Love Song,” who played Welcome Back, the song they used to audition for Pastor Chuck only three weeks after band members found Jesus.
Pastor Tom Stipe recalled those early days when “young people just kept coming.” Once Stipe was driving in a car with Pastor Chuck at a
time when the church was considering buying the 10 acres that became the church’s flagship site in Costa Mesa. Suddenly Pastor Chuck grabbed the wheel of the car and swerved sharply into the dirt, stopping abruptly.
With urgency in his voice Pastor Chuck said, “We have to pray.”
“He prayed that if this (purchase) is just the ambition of men, close the doors, don’t allow it to happen.”
Stipe recalled the outpouring of joy during the revival of the 1970s. “It was fun; it was concerts and baptisms and love and witnessing and worship. Nobody came to church late during the Jesus Movement. You got there early.”
Before his exposure to Calvary Chapel, Stipe had only seen church in formal settings. “All I had seen was robes and candles and bad music. Somebody told me about a hippie preacher and a balding senior pastor where people raise their hands all the time. I was there the next night. I asked Chuck how to do church and he said ‘teach the Bible and do it simply.’
“Chuck will be remembered as a great man of faith who let sinners and rejects into his house and into his car. Chuck really trusted the Holy Spirit to clean us all up. He trusted young people whose only qualification was the calling and anointing of the Holy Spirit.”
Pastor Don McClure remembered Pastor Chuck as a fierce competitor and “a tremendous risk taker for the kingdom.”
The Holy Spirit knit the hearts of the believers and future pastors together, McClure observed. “People said it wouldn’t last. But look at the love, the brotherhood — men closer than brothers. The men he brought together have this incredible love. I believe it will last until the Lord Jesus comes for us.”
Pastor Jon Courson fondly noted Pastor Chuck’s influence as “a spiritual father, whose heart was beating in harmony with His heavenly Father. Chuck taught us it is all about Jesus. We were taught to keep the main thing the main thing. It is all about Jesus! It is all about Jesus!” Courson repeated with emphasis.
David Siegel, the Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles, remembered Smith as a special friend of Israel. “His love for Israel was legendary. He visited Israel over 60 times. He was a giant of his time. In the 65 years of Israel’s existence it would be hard to find a greater friend. Pastor Chuck was our Jonathan. He was a true partner and spiritual brother.”
Smith’s youngest daughter, Cheryl Broderson, gave one of the most heartfelt and touching tributes of the evening. She said she “met Pastor Chuck 53 years ago and it was love at first sight for both of us. I want to thank Kay (her mother) for introducing us.”
Cheryl spoke of her father’s enthusiasm for whomever and whatever he encountered. “He never lost the thrill of preaching the Word of God,” she noted. “He never lost the thrill of hearing a new testimony of someone who got saved. He never lost the thrill of meeting somebody new, of baptizing somebody into the Body of Christ.”
Pastor Chuck continued to be amazed and delighted when they drove into the church parking lot on Sunday morning and saw the overflow of cars.
Dennis Agajanian, one of the great acoustic guitar players of his generation, considered Pastor Chuck a close friend, and was emotional when he spoke briefly before a tribute song. “Pastor Chuck introduced me at Harvest Crusade as his best friend. I miss him down here. I miss his calls,” Agajanian said.
Pastor Greg Laurie gave the closing message of the evening, which recounted some of their history together. They first met when Laurie was only 17, and at19-years-old, Smith supported Laurie’s leadership of his young church exploding in Riverside, California. When Smith first
suggested that Laurie lead an evangelistic crusade at the Pacific Amphitheater, Laurie had his doubts. “That’s a big place,” he told Pastor Chuck.
“We serve a big God,” Pastor Chuck replied.
Smith and Laurie shared many memorable moments together. “To travel with Chuck has been amazing because of the way God used him,” he recalled. “Chuck said when you get to heaven you may not recognize me because I will be the guy with the big Afro.”
At the end of September Pastor Chuck delivered his last message about the life of Abraham. “He preached his last sermon four days before he went to heaven,” Laurie noted.
At the end of his message, Laurie gave an opportunity for people in the audience around the world to receive Christ, and for “prodigals” to return to the Lord.
Contemporary singer-songwriter Phil Wickham sang two songs at the end of the four-hour service, including an emotionally charged and ultimately triumphant version of Amazing Grace.