Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ.
EPHESIANS 4:11-12 NLT
This congregation was made up mostly of folks who were connected with the Shiloh ministry in Eugene. Many of the members worked for the Shiloh ministry, and many of the members were right out of the community and from the university there. What little preparation I had in the two Shiloh houses was just that — little preparation. But when God is at work, He gives you the faith and the strength to do whatever He puts before you. So here we went, week by week, preparing sermons and meeting during the day with people who wanted prayer and advice about what to do.
Then it happened. I started listening to taped Bible messages by Pastor Chuck Smith. I had heard about Pastor Chuck and was now hearing him teach the Bible. To this day, I listen to him; and just hearing his voice is a blessing to me. Little did I know how God would use his life and ministry to change me and guide me and help me find the call of God in my own life.
One day, listening to Pastor Chuck teach out of the book of Ephesians, Chapter 4, about how Christ has given certain gifted men to the body of Christ, and how some were evangelists and some were pastors, my heart and mind were moved. “An evangelist,” Chuck said, “is someone who is gifted to tell others about Jesus and see them saved. On the other hand, a pastor-teacher is gifted by God to help those who are saved grow in their walk with God.” As I pondered these two different gifts from Christ, it was clear to me that the desire in my own heart was that of pastoring — not being an evangelist, but, rather, teaching the Bible to those who are saved. Within myself, I did not have the desire to be an evangelist, nor did I think I had that gift from God. But to teach the Bible … now that was a different story. This is what I thought God was calling me to do.
Attending my first pastors’ conference in Twin Peaks, California was something I’ll never forget. There weren’t that many other pastors there, maybe just 50 or 100, including wives and assistants, but it seemed like a huge crowd to me. Every word that was shared by Pastor Chuck and others were like living words hitting my soul and affirming God’s will for my life, teaching me about God’s will and about loving Jesus Christ.
The Holy Spirit was just starting to explode the Calvary Chapel Movement. I can remember Pastor Chuck sitting on the edge of the platform telling us how he was the most surprised of anyone to see what the Lord had done and was doing. How the Word of God would burn in our hearts as we sat and learned from him. Pastor Chuck had come up to Eugene once or twice, and I had the chance to shake his hand and say hello, but now I was really getting to hear the Bible being taught and applied in the most practical of ways. It put a hunger in my heart to be a good pastor and to learn the Bible so I could teach my flock.
The name Charles Spurgeon kept coming up, and Matthew Henry, and G. Campbell Morgan. These men were great preachers and teachers from another era, I was told. They have commentaries and books about the Bible. “They can help me study and learn what the Bible says,” I thought. What a shock I encountered. “The book of Matthew will be a good place to start teaching from,” I thought. It’s right at the beginning of the New Testament. So I obtained a copy of Henry’s Commentary on the whole Bible and opened it up to the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter One. My was I ever surprised! He spent about two pages just talking about the very first verse. He knew so much about the Bible and about Jesus, and I knew so little. “Here I am a pastor and am supposed to teach the flock God’s Word; and I hardly know anything about God,” I thought. All I knew was that Jesus Christ had changed my life, and that I loved Him with all my heart, and that my passion was to serve him in any way He wanted me to.
The more I read these commentaries, the more saddened I became. Eventually, I tried to memorize G. Campbell Morgan’s written sermons in Matthew. It was complete plagiarism. It was not very much fun trying to preach another man’s message; and yet there were all these people coming to church every Sunday, and they were looking expectantly to me to tell them about God. It was sheer misery every week trying to prepare a sermon. There was no joy or pleasure in it.
Lectures to My Students, by Spurgeon, was another life-changing book I ran across. I can’t even remember how I got a copy of it or who told me about it, but what a blessing it was to hear about the call to ministry by God, because that’s what I was experiencing in my heart: the call by God to pastor even though I was already pastoring a church.
It seems to me that God used my sense of inadequacy to drive me to Him and to hear His voice speaking to my heart. My problem was that I really believed that God was calling me to be a pastor, but I did not know the first thing about the Bible. That’s an exaggeration, of course, but not by much. I loved reading the Bible, and I loved hearing the Bible being taught, but I sure was not very confident that I could teach it. Yet the compelling within was unmistakable. I believed that God was calling me, just like it says in the book of Ephesians, to be a pastor-teacher.
Then one day in my home office after Gayle Grenier and I had been married just a very short time, perhaps just a few months, and we had purchased a small but new home and had a couple of new cars, God spoke to my heart. He told me, “I want you to go somewhere (and it seemed to me like He was directing me to somewhere in the southwestern part of the United States) and find a small group of people and begin to study the Bible and grow in Christ.” And the accompanying thought in my heart (what I sensed the Lord telling me) was that a church might very well come out of all this. Additionally, I was deeply conflicted within with the twin problems of a sense of calling and the desire to be a pastor, and with my inadequacy to be a pastor. “I’ve got to find out for sure if God is actually calling me into the ministry of pastoring,” I thought. “If not, then I can serve God in some other way; and if, yes, He wants me to be a pastor, then that’s what I will do.” It seemed to me that the best way to figure out if God had called me or not was to start from scratch, so to speak. If God were calling me, then He would make it clear to me. I’ll go somewhere where no one knows me, and I don’t know anyone and go from there. This way I would know for sure what God was doing in my life.
Having met Pastor Chuck a number of times, and have come to appreciate his wonderful teaching of the Bible, and seeing him as a mentor and someone whom I trusted and respected and believed could help me, I made an appointment to see him. The ministry there in Costa Mesa was huge and very diverse, compared to what I had been exposed to. Sitting through services that week (while I waited for my appointment), I began observing all that was going on and all of the men on staff there. Watching these staff pastors go about their business only reinforced within my heart that I was completely inadequate to do what I believed God was calling me to do.
Two significant things happened that week: one had to do with faith and tears; the other had to do with loving counsel and direction. Waiting for my appointment seemed like it took forever: the days seemed like years, literally. My heart was wrenched inside. I wondered if I would go crazy with all this thought of “Is God calling me to be a pastor or not?” One night (we were staying with Gayle’s mother at the mobile home park), I sat in our car in the carport. “What if God is not calling me, and I’m only making this up in my mind?” I thought. “Yet, I don’t think I am; but what if I am deceiving myself?” Back and forth I went. “I have to support my wife; I can’t just be irresponsible. What am I going to do?” The tears began to flow as I cried out to the Lord to help me and to guide me. God began to minister to me and assure me that indeed He had called me.
This meeting with the Lord was very powerful and very intimate. It was as if God allowed me to make contact with Him, and He with me. His presence was very real to my soul, and very comforting. The burden of confusion was starting to lift from me, and I was much more confident that pastoring was just what the Lord wanted me to do. However, now there were still questions about where and how, etc. How would I support my wife, and so on? This was my first responsibility in life.
Finally, the day came to meet Pastor Chuck in his office. Gayle and I were very happy, and yet nervous and expectant that something would come of all this. Now, it’s important to remember what the Lord had put on my heart a week or so earlier in Oregon. “I’m calling you to leave where you are, (in Eugene, Oregon, pastoring the church) and go some- where (I thought somewhere in the southwestern part of the USA), find a small group of people and start studying the Bible verse by verse and grow with them in Christ (I sensed a church will probably come out of this).”
I forgot to mention the verse by verse part of all this earlier in the book. But in listening to Pastor Chuck teach out of Ephesians 4 about pastor-teachers, equipping the saints for the work of ministry and so on, the teaching part of that gift was explained by him as expository “verse by verse” teaching. That is compared with what is called “topical teaching”: picking a verse here or there and building a sermon on it. Using “verse by verse,” you take the Bible and teach it from Genesis to Revelation: just read the verses, explain the meaning of the verses, and then apply them to everyday life. He stressed the importance of teaching the whole counsel of God’s Word to the people, not just those parts of the Bible about which we may like to talk. This way, the people of God would be fed a balanced diet of God’s Word and would have the chance to really grow up into maturity and become well-rounded Christians. This method of verse by verse teaching would also keep the pastor from teaching his pet doctrines and force him to deal with everything that is in God’s Word.
As Pastor Chuck has often said, “You can teach from the Bible, you can teach about the Bible, or you can teach the Bible.” That is, one could stand up and take a verse here or there and just teach about it. Or, one could refer to the Bible in his sermons. Or, one could open the Bible and just go through it, verse by verse, and teach those verses in their context, explaining the true meaning of them and then showing the people how these truths apply in their everyday lives.
I have to tell you that this is the thing in my own life that I love doing more than anything else. I wholeheartedly believe that this is the very best way that a pastor-teacher can honor God and care for God’s people. Simply, teach the Bible simply. Stick to the Bible; go through it verse by verse, paragraph by paragraph, chapter by chapter, and book by book. What a delight it is to me at this very time in my life. In fact, I would say to you that my love for the Bible and being able to teach it week by week is the most wonderful blessing in my life.
Well … back to the meeting with Pastor Chuck. How kind and gracious he was with us as we sat there in front of his desk. Remember, God had spoken to my heart about what to do, but the sense of inadequacy was taking over again, and fear was at work, as well. “Can I work here at the church for you, Pastor Chuck?” I said. This would help me to learn and grow; and then I could go on from there, I thought. (I also thought it would provide me with a paycheck week by week.)
Pastor Chuck just looked at me, and through me, it seemed, and into me for what seemed like a million years. He did not say anything; he just kept looking at me. Not in a mean way, but not in a comforting way, either; but in a penetrating way. Over the years, I’ve come to understand that he was probably just silently praying and asking God how to answer my question. The silence in his office was deafening, as they say. “On second thought,” I said, “do you know where I might find a small group of people who would be interested in studying the Bible verse by verse and growing in Christ?” “Oh, yes, I sure do,” he said. You see, God was guiding me and holding me to what He had already said to me. He was not allowing my fear and sense of inadequacy to derail me from His plan to go to Visalia, California.
Pastor Chuck began to list off a number of places where people lived who had at one time been at his church but had moved away. They missed the simple Bible teaching of his ministry and always asked him to send pastors to teach them the Word of God in simple, verse by verse method.
He mentioned the Phoenix area and the San Jose area, but nothing seemed to stir within our hearts. Then he said, “Visalia.” “Vi, what?” I said. He repeated it and explained that it was up in central California and that we would drive right by it on Highway 99 as we drove home to Eugene. That’s all I remember from the meeting. He seemed happy, and we seemed relieved — as if something had been accomplished by talking with him. Well, something had been accomplished. It was the Lord directing us to our life’s location and calling and love. As of this writing, we are entering into our 30th year of ministry in Visalia. (More about the ministry in the next chapters.)
We rushed back to Gayle’s mother, Ruth, and got out an atlas of California and started looking for Visalia. “There it is, Honey,” I said. “Visalia” … a pretty name and an unusual name for us. Pastor Chuck had further encouraged us by say- ing, “I’ll bet if you went to Visalia and started teaching the Word of God, that a couple hundred people would come out of the woodwork, and a church might come of it all.” However, he went on to say in the most sobering tone, “It’s very hot there … very, very hot.” “But if you want to cool down, you can go up into the Sequoia Mountains.” He had been up that way many times, he told us. His family used to go up there on vacations.
Pastor Chuck scribbled the name and phone number of a couple named Jim and Valerie, who had moved from Costa Mesa to Visalia and had been asking him to send them a pastor. Atlas in hand, a scribbled piece of paper in hand, excited as we could be, we prayed and said, “We think this is where the Lord is leading us.” I’ll never forget the joy of that moment and the sense of God’s leading us, and so on. This was, as we look back, nothing more than the Holy Spirit of God put into our hearts a sense of the will of God.
We packed up and took off heading north on I-5 and then onto the 99 heading home to Eugene. Along the way, we kept talking to one another. “Do you really think we should go to Visalia and serve God?” We were asking each other what the other thought. “Yes,” was the answer we both felt in our hearts.
The sense of excitement and confidence and relief was growing by the mile. It takes about 3 1/2 hours to drive from Costa Mesa to Visalia. (By the way, over these last 30 years we have made the trip down there and back so many times that we know every bump in the road.) Finally, we saw a sign that said “Visalia/Tulare.” Well, we did not know that the bottom was about to fall out of our hearts in a moment or two.