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Who will take Chuck's place?

Written by: George Bryson, July 03, 2007

Many of the pastors in Russia have been asking; who will take Chuck's place (in the Calvary Chapel movement) when he retires or goes to be with the Lord? Many pastors in America are asking the same question. I am happy to say that from where I sit Chuck appears to be in very good health and may out-live many of us who are twenty years younger. If he is thinking about retiring, his very active ministry life, tells a different story. Moreover, from the pulpit at CC Costa Mesa, at CC national conferences, and to me in personal conversation, I have heard Chuck say that he plans on burning out rather than rusting out. I am sure this figure of speech translates into Russian, but just in case something is lost in the translation, it means he has no intension of retiring. He will be serving the Lord in whatever capacity God enables him to until the Lord raptures him (which he has high hopes of) or until he goes to be with the Lord, which ever comes first.

Whenever Debbi and I can make it to CC Costa Mesa to hear Chuck preach and teach (chapter by chapter and verse by verse) through the Bible, we are amazed at how God still uses him to minister to us (and thousands of others), clearly and powerfully, just as he did nearly 4 decades ago. I am sure that Chuck would admit that he is slowing down a little (in his gait) because of an old football injury. However, most people I know (half his age) would collapse with exhaustion trying to keep up with his ministry schedule. As to who will take Chuck's place, I have always said (as Brian Brodersen once told me) no one will or can take Chuck's place. What I mean by this is that Chuck is fulfilling a unique role in the history of Calvary Chapel. A movement only gets one founder.

Religious movements looking for a "next in line" are not usually all that healthy. Dwight L. Moody had no successors. J. Vernon McGee has no replacement. Franklin Graham may follow in his father’s footsteps (and take over many of his responsibilities) but he would never try to "fill his shoes". Those shoes were custom made for Billy Graham and they will fit no one else. The same is true for Chuck. The church in general gets one Billy Graham and Calvary in particular gets one Chuck Smith. At the 2007 Calvary Chapel senior pastors conference (with Chuck just a few feet away) Greg Lauri said "all of us [pastors and future pastors aligned with Chuck] will take Chuck's place". That is why no one man or even a team of men should or will need to take Chuck's place.

While Chuck has been at the helm (humanly speaking) of a movement that now includes hundreds of churches, he never personally planted any other Calvary (that I know of) all these many years. Chuck is well known for saying that "healthy sheep beget sheep". I think we can extrapolate this principle into the multiplication of churches as well. Chuck never needed to start or pastor another church after he became pastor of CC Costa Mesa because he faithfully equipped the saints of CC Costa Mesa for service. Those saints have gone out into the entire world "reproducing" and planting churches as they went.

Certainly, if the Lord tarries, someone will follow Chuck as the senior pastor of Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa. One or more men will also become responsible for the various ministries (Calvary Publishing, The Word for Today, CCBC in Murrieta, The Castle in Austria, CCBC in Hungary, KWVE, etc) that Chuck is leading today. Whether these ministries will be under the umbrella of CC Costa Mesa or not I do not know and I am not concerned with such matters. I am sure Chuck has given lots of prayerful attention to who should lead these ministries if he was no longer able to lead them.

As for the Calvary Chapel ministry as a whole, God has graciously used Chuck to raise up a lot of godly men who I believe will just continue doing what God has called them to do. Greg Lauri will continue (Lord willing) with Harvest Christian Fellowship and the Harvest Crusades etc. Mike McIntosh will continue as the pastor of Horizon Christian Fellowship and many other churches will continue to pop up around the country that have come out of Horizon or that have come out of churches that have come out of Horizon. Local Calvary Chapels (and related churches-big and small-with various names) will continue to be led, fed, and cared for by men of God that are called and empowered by God to be Calvary senior pastor-teachers, just as it is now.

Personally I am very optimistic about the future of the Calvary Chapel movement. As I have traveled around America, Russia, and elsewhere in the world, I see a spiritually strong and healthy movement. I do not believe Calvary will become a denomination in the near future because the pastors of the churches with Calvary and the leaders of ministries related to Calvary see themselves as a part of an affiliation, fellowship, and family of churches and ministries in which local Calvary pastors and ministers are without national or regional governing boards. Older and more experienced ministers can and do help younger and less experienced ministers in many ways. We do not, however, have nor need archbishops and will not likely (Lord willing) be getting them anytime soon.

Everyone has been taught by Chuck to roll up their sleeves, go to work for the Lord, and at the end of the day rejoice in what God has done in and through them. They have been taught that they are responsible to the Lord for the stewardship he has given them. The Calvary form of leadership may not be the only way but it is our way. A national or world-wide successor to Chuck would (I believe) represent a slippery slope and would almost certainly lead to a Calvary Chapel denomination. It would, therefore, be unthinkable for most Calvary Chapel pastors and ministry leaders.

So who will replace Chuck? If we outlive him and the rapture does come before the Lord takes him (the jury is still out on both these matters) we all will. That is (I believe) the way Chuck intended it to be and the way God desires it to be (if Chuck goes to be with the Lord before the Lord comes to receive Chuck to Himself).


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