Skip to main content

My family and I started attending Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa in 1974 when I was 11. It was during the height of the Jesus People movement and an exciting time to be around the church. Every night, something was going on at the church, and the main services and concerts were always packed full of people of all different ages. It was truly the way the music group Love Song described it in their song “Little Country Church”:

“Long hair, short hair, some coats and ties / people finally comin’ around.
Lookin’ past the hair and straight into the eyes / people finally comin’ around.“

I remember going to the Thursday night Bible study in the Sanctuary with Pastor Chuck. The place was packed full of people. Not only was every seat taken in all of the pews, but young people ages 11 to 18 were sitting on the floor up and down the aisles as well as on the floor in front of the stage.

Everyone was there to feast on the Word of God. Everyone, including all of us younger people, was super attentive. There was no hype, no fanfare. It was truly a revival, although none of us really even knew what that was at the time. God was doing something amazing in a generation of people, and God used Pastor Chuck as one of His key vessels during that time.

My First Encounter With Pastor Chuck

My first personal encounter with Pastor Chuck happened during that same year. I started attending Maranatha Christian Academy, the school at Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa. I was in the 5th grade, and the school and church staff were playing a flag football game against the kids.

Pastor Chuck was playing running back. If you have ever played sports with Pastor Chuck, you know how competitive he could be. Well, there was this play where he took a pitch and was running a sweep right. He made it past the line, and the only obstacle between Pastor Chuck and the end zone was me; I was playing safety.

As Chuck came running toward me, I got into position to try and pull one of his flags. I expected him to try and put some move on me. But instead of putting a move on me, he just ran me over. As I lay there on the ground, completely unhurt, I might add, I remember thinking, “Wow, that guy is my pastor.”

Seeing The Ripple Effect of Pastor Chuck’s Leadership

My next personal encounter with Pastor Chuck happened about six years later, during my junior year of high school. Randy Osborn, the high school pastor, was leaving, and I had been a part of the high school group at the church for three years at that point.

Under Randy, I felt like the group was going as well as it had been in my three years of involvement. The group had doubled in size, and I was really vested in the group. I went to a public high school, and high school ministry was my sanctuary, my refuge, my lifeline, so I really wanted Pastor Chuck to make a good decision in picking Randy’s replacement.

One Sunday after the morning service, I waited in the line out in the courtyard to speak to Pastor Chuck. When it was finally my turn to talk to him, I introduced myself and told him my thoughts about the high school ministry. I asked him if, before he made a decision, he would come and visit the group on a Wednesday night and see what was happening there.

When I think back on that conversation today, now as a Senior Pastor of a church, I think how silly it was of me that Pastor Chuck would need to visit the group or have the time to visit before he could decide on who was supposed to lead it.

Well, Pastor Chuck didn’t visit, but he did send a little Italian guy named Richard Cimino to come and check it out. Richard became the high school pastor, and God used him to make the single greatest impact on my life from the age of 17 to 21.

It was Richard who gave me my first opportunities to serve the Lord and to teach the Bible. Richard has been a dear friend in my life for the last 41 years. Chuck definitely made the right choice.

Richard served in the role of the High School Pastor at CCCM for nine years. During those years, hundreds of kids were saved and became true disciples of Jesus. At last count, at least 100 students who were involved in that high school group over those nine years went on to serve Jesus in full-time ministry as pastors, pastors’ wives, missionaries, and church planters around the world.

Wondering If God Could Use Me

Aside from Pastor Chuck’s faithfulness to teach the Bible, he faithfully loved the sheep at CCCM for all his years there. The single greatest impact that Pastor Chuck made on my life is one that he didn’t even know about when he was alive.

It happened during a Preach The Word conference that Greg Laurie was hosting. I was a young man serving as a youth pastor and wondering if I had a call on my life to be a senior pastor. I was looking for this conference to help me grow in my preaching. Pastor Chuck was one of the speakers, along with Chuck Swindoll and a few other noted and well-esteemed pastors.

Pastor Chuck was the last to speak, and the pastors who preached before him gave these very polished and masterful sermons. They were textbook sermons with great introductions, great connected points, humor in just the right place, and personal illustrations to drive their point home.

I remember listening to these amazing messages and thinking, “I could never do that!” “I could never preach like that.” I later found out that several of my friends who were there that day were all thinking the same thing about their lives. These men were such gifted communicators that my friends and I realized we just didn’t have that kind of gifting.

But then it was Pastor Chuck’s turn to give his message, and Pastor Chuck did something that day that I had never seen him do before and never saw him do afterward. As he was giving his message, he suddenly paused and said, oh, I forgot something. Then he started flipping back through his notes until he found it.

When he found it, he said, “Oh, there it is,” and proceeded to share that point. It was such a weird, awkward moment that stood in stark contrast to the other perfect messages the other speakers had given that day.

Realizing That God Can Use Me!

To this day, I don’t remember what the point was, but that moment impacted me and, later found out, also impacted all my friends who were there. It was at that moment that we all had this thought, “I can do that!” “Maybe, just maybe, God can use me to teach the Bible to people. ”

Later, as I reflected on that moment and those other speakers, I realized that none of them have had many other men who have come out of their churches and have gone out to plant other churches, but to this day, there are at least 1500-2,000 churches that have been planted out of Calvary Chapel that can trace a connection back to Pastor Chuck who lived by the principle to simply teach the Bible simply.

Pastor Chuck’s impact on my life through his example and his faithfulness to teach the Bible has shaped me deeply as a pastor. I have often said that should the Lord tarry another 100 years, which I doubt He will, but if He does, in 100 years, people will be talking about Pastor Chuck and the influence he made on the church in the same way that we currently talk about the influence of Spurgeon.

I greatly miss the stability that Pastor Chuck brought to our family of churches.

​Rob Salvato is the lead pastor at Calvary Vista in Vista, California. He is married to Denise, and they have three grown children.