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The Case for Big Change at Calvary Chapel
Image: Calvary Chapel

Five days after the death of Chuck Smith, the hippie-loving founder of the Calvary Chapel movement, son-in-law Brian Brodersen became the next senior pastor at the movement's flagship congregation in Costa Mesa.

In his first major interview as senior pastor in Costa Mesa, Brodersen says his relationship with Smith goes back to the early days of the Calvary Chapel movement, when Brodersen was a new disciple and manager of a surf shop. That's when Smith invited him to minister as an intern, and within a few years Brodersen became pastor of Calvary Chapel in San Diego.

In the last half century, Calvary Chapel has grown from a single Bible study to a worldwide fellowship of more than 1,500 churches and ministries, yet not without its problems. In a 2007 CT interview, one pastor said of Calvary Chapel, "The Titanic has hit the iceberg. But the music is still playing." Calvary Chapel is, however, still afloat, and has survived not just growing pains, but also allegations of pastoral misconduct, lawsuits, and scandals.

In a historic transition in 2012, Calvary Chapel officially established an association with a 21-member leadership council, which now guides the worldwide organization Chuck Smith fostered. In December, CT's senior editor, global journalism, Timothy C. Morgan interviewed pastor Brodersen.

Did you ever imagine someday filling the shoes of the Calvary Chapel founder?

I grew up in Southern California surf culture with a Roman Catholic upbringing. I did not come to faith through Chuck or his ministry. I came to faith through an encounter with the Lord in my room one night. Knowing the reputation of Calvary Chapel, I plugged in.

I met my wife Cheryl, Chuck's daughter, and we married. I was managing a surf shop. Chuck gave me an invitation to come on and train as an intern pastor. I was happy working at a surf shop and sharing the gospel. But Chuck gave me the invitation. He saw my fervency. He said, "I want to train you. Why don't we just give it a try and see what happens." Chuck really wasn't mystical. He had a phrase that he would often use: "God works supernaturally in very natural ways."

Then, I pastored a church in San Diego North County. The Lord began to speak to me, shaping my ministry more after my personality and less after Chuck. In 1993, Chuck first approached me about being his successor. But in 1996, I felt God was calling me to go to the UK, but I consulted with Chuck. He was very upset. On the day I told him I had a plan to go to the UK and spend six weeks there, I said, "I'm sorry I ruined your day."

His response to me was, "You did not ruin my day. You ruined my life. You shouldn't leave your church for six weeks. That's too long. What kind of a shepherd are you?" This plan was something unheard of at Calvary Chapel. The model at Calvary is you plant a church. If the church grows and becomes successful, you stay and spend the rest of your life there.

The Lord spoke to me and said, "Are you listening to Chuck or are you listening to me?" I realized I needed to do what God is telling me to do.

The Calvary Chapel movement is known for the so-called Moses' model of leadership. Is this as prevalent as some say?

It's exaggerated by people on the outside and by the disgruntled. At Calvary, Chuck Smith was the senior pastor and operated as a person who believed God called and guided him. Coming out of the denominations as he did, he didn't want to have his hands tied. The Moses model that you find at Calvary is Chuck's way of explaining leadership. It's certainly not a required model. People do not understand that, even people within Calvary Chapel itself who say, "Well, we've got to do our church government like this, right?"

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