Jesus also said, “The Kingdom of God is like a farmer who scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, while he’s asleep or awake, the seed sprouts and grows, but he does not understand how it happens. The earth produces the crops on its own. First a leaf blade pushes through, then the heads of wheat are formed, and finally, the grain ripens.
MARK 4:26-28 NLT
Prior to the turn onto this road, and for the last 3 1/2 hours, Gayle Grenier and I had pretty well come to the conclusion that God was leading us to move to Visalia, but when we came upon this near a desolate area, thinking that this was Visalia, we very quickly had serious second thoughts. “Maybe God is not leading us to Visalia,” I said to her, and she agreed. But then, all of a sudden, we saw a sign that said “Visalia — 4 miles ahead,” and our hope revived. On we went, feeling more like we had for the last few hours (which, by the way, was joyous and happy at the prospect of what God was doing and how God was leading us).
The Sequoia Mall looked so good to us as we came into the south side of Visalia. It was new, modern, and looked like civilization. Today, the population is over 100,000; but when we arrived there in July of 1978, it was around 27,000. We stopped at Lyon’s restaurant to eat. After praying over our food, a tall man with a big white beard (whom we came to know later on … his name was John Maynard, and he has since gone to heaven) came over and said, “Are you Christians?” Rather surprised at the question, instantly Gayle and I felt as if this man was being used by God to confirm our thoughts of coming to Visalia. “Why, yes we are,” we both answered. He went on to introduce himself and then to ask where we were from, and so on. We explained that we were seeking the Lord about coming here and start- ing a church. Mr. Maynard instantly encouraged us to do it. He was like a big angel speaking for God, as far as we were concerned. How encouraged we were at that moment. We were more than encouraged: we were thrilled.
Driving back to Eugene and putting our house up for sale all seemed to go by so fast. In fact, our house sold and closed in nine days. How that happened, I have no idea; but it did. This was another encouragement for us … that we were in the middle of God’s will for our lives. Gayle and I packed up the Ryder truck (along with some help from a few friends), hitched our little four-door Toyota to the back, and I drove the truck while Gayle drove the other car.
When I looked out the window of our motel room in Red Bluff, it was 107 degrees or more outside. Having never been in hot weather like that before (except for Vietnam, many years ago; and it was humid there, not dry, like in Red Bluff), we thought we were in the twilight zone. I remember having to go to a 7-11 type store across the parking lot, and I just could not believe how hot it was. “Did we make a mistake?” I thought. “What have we gotten ourselves into?” On top of that, just before we arrived in Red Bluff, Gayle got sick to her stomach while driving the little Toyota wagon. She would pull up next to me in the left lane and gesture and mouth the words, “I’m sick.”
The next day, we got up bright and early and headed for Visalia. Altogether from Eugene, it’s only about 15 hours or so, but it took us two full days. Even to this day, I can remember where we parked the Ryder truck and where we stayed the first few nights in Visalia. Looking for an apartment turned out to be a time of the Lord really helping me. Driving around Visalia, I began to become afraid. “What have I done?” I thought. “Here I am in a city where I don’t know a single soul, and I have a family to take care of. How is this all going to work out?” It was like drowning in fear and worry.
To this day (because these certain apartments are still there), I can remember driving by them, looking at them as a prospect, and sinking in fear; but the Lord spoke to my heart, “I’m going to take care of you and help you. Don’t worry.” Well, that settled me down; and from there it was just a matter of going through the paces of finding a place, and I did. 2750 West James was where we landed — a small, 800 square foot matchbox apartment that seemed like heaven to us. Again, I must say that when God is guiding you and leading you, it’s just a blessing to be where He has you, doing what He wants you to do.
“Jim, this is Bob Grenier. I’ve come here to start a Bible study, and Pastor Chuck gave me your name. Can we meet?” I said on the phone. We met and started a Thursday night study right away. “Wendel, this is Bob Grenier. I’ve come here to start a Bible study, and Pastor Chuck Smith, etc., etc.” Wendel was the president of a newly-formed bank that has become one of the great banks here in Visalia. Wendel invited me into his office at the bank, and I began explaining why I had come to Visalia. He started beaming and smiling and telling me how I was the young man for whom they had been praying. “You have?” I said. “Yes, we have a Bible study going, but we have been praying for someone who can teach the Bible to come along and take it over for us,” he said.
Furthermore, he knew a little about Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa and my pastor, Chuck Smith. “Would you take the study over for me?” he asked. Well, to say I was excited was an understatement. In just a matter of a few days, we had found an apartment and had the go-ahead to be involved with two Bible studies … one from scratch and taking leadership over the other.
At Jim’s study, which had about four people attending, we met a young single mom who told us about a part-time waitress job she knew about in town. Gayle got that job. She would work while I would study all day in my bedroom, reading Matthew Henry and listening to Pastor Chuck’s tapes on the section of the Bible on which I was teaching … James on Thursday’s at Jim and Valerie’s, and Colossians at Wendel’s … and then First John on Sunday afternoon in a community room at a local department store. (More about that in a moment.)
Wendell’s study was held at a very nice, up-scale home; and the place was packed. There must have been 50-60 people there, as I remember. They were sitting on the floor, in chairs, on couches, on dining room chairs and on the steps of the staircase leading upstairs. They all sat there very intensely looking at me and wanting me to lead the study, which I did as best I could. I had never done this before, except in the two Shiloh houses I had pastored, but that was more on my own turf, and not with complete strangers.
Back to the inadequacy thing for a moment … It would take me about two to three days to prepare a lesson from Colossians. My study would cover just a portion of the chapter, maybe eight verses or so. As I would get to the end of the verses, I would say to Wendel’s group, “Well, that’s it for tonight.” They would say, “Oh, no, Bob. Can you keep going?” “No,” I would say in response. “We will pick it up next week, where we left off tonight.” You see, I had only prepared and only understood the verses I had taught them that night, and I had no idea what the next verses said or meant. I gave the impression that I did, but just wanted to bring the study to a close for the evening.
I was very uncomfortable and very nervous. Then I began to become very depressed and discouraged as the weeks rolled on. You see, this group that Wendel had asked me to take over started to dwindle in numbers (the other study at Jim’s remained at about five to seven or so), and week by week there were fewer and fewer people who were coming to it. At first, I tried to make myself believe that it was just due to circumstances like vacations, sickness and other things that kept them from coming; but deep inside I knew that something was wrong, or so I thought. At one point, there were now only a total of three people in this study. I was one, a newcomer to the group was another, and the lady who owned the house was the third. I distinctly remember thinking that the only reason she was there was that it was her house.
“Where have all the people gone?” I thought. “What does all this mean?” I thought God had called me to Visalia and had opened so many doors and given me so many confirmations that Gayle and I were in His will, and so on. “What is happening?” I thought. In the meantime, I had written Pastor Chuck and had asked for permission to use the name Calvary Chapel of Visalia as the name of our church. You see, I wanted to be associated with him and the ministry of Calvary Chapel Visalia since that’s where God had led me and made me part of the Calvary Chapel family and philosophy of ministry. “Yes, of course, Bob,” he said; and that’s exactly what we did. The newspaper ad said, “Calvary Chapel of Visalia meets every Sunday at 1:30 p.m. at Gottschalk’s Community Room for Service — Child Care Provided.” And then at the bottom of the ad, it said, “In association with Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa and Pastor Chuck Smith.”
Well, to my surprise, that group started with about 80 people who showed up right off the bat; but it, too, began to shrink week by week. I was teaching through First John. By the way, if you add up three studies a week in three different books of the Bible, for a guy who already feels inadequate and does not know much about the Bible, it’s quite a load; but it’s also a good way to begin learning about the Lord and how to follow Him and serve Him.
We also applied for and pretty quickly became a stand-alone corporation with official board members and all. So, on some levels, things were going OK; but on another — the attendance level — things weren’t that encouraging, and as I mentioned, was very depressing. But God helped me through it. More about that in a moment.
I forgot to mention earlier that the first home we bought in Oregon was due to my older brother loaning me the down payment. (Initially, before we met with Pastor Chuck and received direction about Calvary Chapel Visalia, we at that time only knew the Lord was leading us to move somewhere in the Southwest.) There was no way I was going to call Bill and tell him we were leaving that home, though I felt a certain obligation to do so since he had loaned me the money. I figured the conversation would go something like this: “Bill, I’m going to move from Eugene.” “Oh, where will be you moving to, Robert?” “Well, I’m not quite sure, Bill.” “Did you say you’re moving from your new home and the church there in Eugene, but you don’t know where you’re going?” “Yes, that’s right, Bill.” You can see that it would have been a rather odd conversation, so I waited until we were actually in Visalia before getting in touch with him. He was and is to this day a very gracious man and has been a wonderful older brother to me.
He was extremely helpful to both my mother and me after the death of our father, and together we took care of our mother until she died. I love my brother and respect him as much as I do any person I know. I wish you could know him and hear the story of his life.
The Scriptures at the start of this chapter (Mark 4:26 — “And He said, ‘The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground,’ Mark 4:27 — ‘and should sleep by night and rise by day, and the seed should sprout and grow, he himself does not know how.” Mark 4:28 — “For the earth yields crops by itself: first the blade, then the head, after that the full grain in the head.”), were used by God one day at one of my most down days. I was literally in tears there in that little apartment, wondering if I had made a mistake about all of this. I had been so sure God had spoken to me and had led me to Visalia, but where were all the people? Perhaps this was going to be the answer to my question. Had God called me to be a pastor-teacher? “I’ll go somewhere and start from scratch,” I’d thought, “and if He has, then it will be evident, one way or the other.” It seemed to me that it was evident that it wasn’t going to work out. But in my reading of the Bible, I ran across the passage there in Mark 4, and the Lord used that passage to tell me that my job was to faithfully teach the Word and then not to worry about it — just like the man in the story — and that just like in the story, fruit would come as time went on. “So, just do your job, Bob, and I’ll do mine,” said the Lord to my heart. “It’s your job to plant the seed, Bob; and it’s My job to bring forth the fruit.” Well, I got off my knees and wiped the tears away from my eyes with another sense of relief in my heart.
Interestingly, right after this incident with God and His encouragement from Mark 4, I found myself at another pastors’ conference down in Southern California. God spoke to me again at that meeting. Even though I had been affirmed by the Word of God from Mark 4, I still had lingering doubts connected to the attendance thing. “Lord, do you want me to be a pastor?” I was asking Him. And as I sat there in one of the studies, the answer came, with this line: “Yes, I do, Bob, and I don’t ever want you to bring this up to me again. Is that clear? This is a settled matter.” Well, from that moment, I have never looked back or doubted the calling from God to the ministry. Oh, yes, there have been times over these 30 years in Visalia that I’ve wanted to resign due to one problem or another, but I’ve never had a doubt about my calling.
Something I have learned over the years in ministry is that there are true and false measurements of success. True success is not measured by attendance, facilities or finances: that is, having all three as signs of being successful. We had none of them at the start, and we have all of them now, but they are not the measurement of success. I believe that the true measurement is, first of all, being faithful to whatever God has called you to. And secondly, that you walk in love and show the love of the Spirit; and that as a pastor, you stick to the Word of God, no matter what is happening around you. Keep teaching and preaching the Word of God, and do it in love and in humility and for the honor and the glory of God. Work hard, be diligent, do your best, and commit the rest to God. That’s the kind of thing that is supported in Scripture, and I believe will be rewarded by God while we are down here on this earth and when we get to heaven, also. (See First Corinthians 4, Galatians 5, Second Timothy 4, Matthew 6, Acts 2 and 3, First John 2, First Peter 5, and First Corinthians 3.)
God used all the heartache and heartbreak of low attendance to work in my life and heart to further confirm me in my calling, to give me the sense that I am in this until God calls me out of it, that I’m moving forward, no matter what, and that I’ll serve Him, no matter how things go. God was helping me to grow, to trust Him, to rely on Him and to be committed to Him and to His glory. I’ve also come to believe, as Pastor Chuck has said so many times, “God can’t work through you until He first works in you.” Well, that was sure happening, and the hand of God and the work of God were now starting to unfold in Visalia. What a blessing the Lord was bringing!