When I was 18 years old, I boarded a plane bound for Hungary. Despite the fact that I had only been following Jesus for two years, my pastor, the late Tom Stipe, sent me out as a missionary. Three years later, when I was 21, Tom ordained me as I was going out to plant a church.
At the time, these actions didn’t strike me as abnormal or unusual, yet now, years later, I look back on them with a sense of surprise. Why was Tom willing to take a chance on me, as young as I was? Why did he trust that I could serve the Lord in those ways without any formal training?
Later on, I came to realize that the reason was because that is what Chuck Smith had done for him when Tom was a young man: In 1976, Pastor Chuck sent Tom to Colorado to start a Calvary Chapel church here. In the movie, “Jesus Revolution,” millions of people saw the portrayal of how Chuck Smith empowered the young Greg Laurie to plant a church in Riverside, California. Still, the even more incredible reality is that Pastor Chuck did similar things with many young people over the years. Tom was doing for me what Chuck had modeled for him.
I remember sitting with Tom and listening to him tell stories of the early days of Calvary Chapel. One thing that Tom told me was that, in his opinion, the true genius of Chuck Smith was not his verse-by-verse teaching, as many people assume, and as masterful as that was. The true genius of Chuck Smith, Tom said, was that Chuck was willing, and even eager, to empower young people to serve the Lord in meaningful ways because he genuinely believed in the work of the Holy Spirit in and through people who were willing to make themselves available to God.
I finally got to meet Pastor Chuck in Austria, at the conference center that he had acquired for Calvary Chapel as a launching point for ministry in Eastern Europe. He asked about our ministry in Hungary and gave encouragement and affirmation. As I look back on that, I’m full of appreciation for him as a person who was more than just a good Bible teacher but an example of foresight and faith. Not only did Pastor Chuck want the Gospel to go forth into the whole world, but he understood that God wanted to use many other people to do that work. He was willing to support missionaries and church planters, including some of us who maybe wouldn’t have been empowered to do those things by anyone else who didn’t have the measure of faith he did!
Now, ten years after Pastor Chuck’s heavenly homecoming, I’m more inspired than ever to carry on his legacy of Bible teaching, evangelism, missions, and empowering people, especially young people, to serve the Lord.