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From the Archives: Greg Laurie and Chuck Smith on the Harvest Crusades

A New Beginning / Greg Laurie
The Truth Network Radio
August 20, 2022 3:00 am

From the Archives: Greg Laurie and Chuck Smith on the Harvest Crusades

A New Beginning / Greg Laurie

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August 20, 2022 3:00 am

In this classic interview, Greg Laurie sits down with his mentor, the late Pastor Chuck Smith, to discuss the origins of the Harvest Crusade and share stories of God’s faithfulness. 

Encouraged by Pastor Chuck, Greg Laurie held the very first “Summer Harvest” in 1990 at the Pacific Amphitheatre in Costa Mesa, California. Since then, more than 9.8 million people have participated in Harvest Crusade events in person or online around the United States.

Pastor Chuck Smith, who went to be with the Lord in 2013, was the founder of Calvary Chapel and speaker of the radio broadcast, The Word for Today.


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Hey there. Thanks for listening to the Greg Laurie Podcast, a ministry supported by Harvest Partners. I'm Greg Laurie encouraging you. If you want to find out more about Harvest Ministries and learn more about how to become a Harvest Partner, just go to Today we want to focus on one slice of church history, how the Lord used those tools to touch hundreds of thousands of lives through a move of God called the Harvest Crusade. And I'm happy to introduce a couple of gentlemen who know more about this move of God's hand than perhaps anybody else this side of eternity.

Pastor Chuck Smith is Senior Pastor of Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa, and Pastor Greg Laurie is Senior Pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, California, and the speaker of the Harvest Crusades. Gentlemen, thanks for talking with us today. Good to be here.

It's a joy. Well, Pastor Chuck, let me ask you about this idea you came up with. More than 260,000 people have made decisions for Christ through the Crusades. How did this idea come to you, and what did Greg say when you suggested it to him? Well, Greg was doing the Monday night studies for the young people here at Calvary Chapel, and the church was just crowded back to capacity, and kids were outside and all. So I just was wondering, you know, if we took it to a larger venue, just how many would come out?

And it was just a curious kind of an idea on my side of it, just how many would come? So I talked to Greg about maybe getting the Pacific Amphitheater and just do a one-week kind of a Crusade to see what the Lord would do. Now, contrast the size of Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa with the size of the Pacific Amphitheater.

Well, Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa, we can seat, I would say there's probably 3,000 kids coming on Monday night, and Pacific Amphitheater is 18,000 at a capacity. Big jump there. And my response was, well, Chuck, that's a pretty big place, isn't it? And Chuck replied, well, Greg, we serve a pretty big God.

So I thought, yeah, you have a point there. But it really was a bold step of faith to do something like that, and Chuck envisioned it as sort of a Billy Graham-style Crusade. But, you know, a contemporary type, not that Billy Graham's Crusades aren't contemporary, but an idea that where we would take sort of what was happening on the Monday nights, reaching the younger people, and then do it in a Crusade-style, you know, larger scale, and obviously inviting people to Christ. And the Lord honored it. In fact, as I recall, on that first week, by the time we were done, we had broken all attendance records at the Pacific Amphitheater. And the final night, the place was overflowing, there were people that couldn't get in, there was traffic backed up the streets. It was pretty crazy.

And in Orange County, the traffic is backed up on the 55 freeway near the fairgrounds and on most of the side streets around the fairgrounds. So some kind of religious event going on there tonight. It is called the Harvest Crusade, religion with a contemporary approach, organized by a minister from Riverside, California.

If there's a religious revival underway in America, this may well be the leading edge. The last night was just absolutely wild. You remember what was happening then? Oh my, yes. It was the first Persian Gulf War.

Yes. So there was an urgency, people, you know, oh no, this might be the end of the world. And it was just really, though, exciting because they had to finally just lock the gates.

People outside, we set up speakers for them. And then people just couldn't get to the fairgrounds. The traffic was so heavy around the area that they just couldn't get in.

So it was just really far more than anything we had ever anticipated or expected. And that's why the second year we decided we'd take the final night over at the Anaheim Stadium so that we would have more room for people on the final night. Go figure.

You go from a 3,000 seat venue to 18,000 seats and then you run out of room. Yes. Go figure. Well, I guess we do serve a big God, Pastor Chuck.

That's right. Well, Pastor Chuck, Greg had been speaking for many years on Monday nights at the church where you're a senior pastor. When did you first start to notice that God was using him in some kind of a unique way in bringing people to Christ? Well, of course, we were able to observe it out there in Riverside as God just had his hand upon Greg's life and the anointing of the Spirit on the messages and the way the church in Riverside was growing, so successful. And then, of course, when he came down to take the Monday nights, it was instant. It was just right at the beginning.

It was packed to capacity where we just couldn't get any more in. What do you think makes his kind of communication unique or effective? Well, I think that it is so relevant to the present day situation.

In other words, it's very current. And he uses great illustrations that people understand, and he uses the thoughts and the ideas of frustration that are expressed by worldly people all the time, but famous people that you think these people really have got it made. And, you know, when you hear of their frustrations and all, and he was very good at illustrating, you know, just the need that is basic within every man to really know and to have an understanding of what it is to be at peace with God and to have that security that is ours in Christ Jesus. Two thousand years ago Jesus Christ the Son of God went to the cross and died for the sin of the world. He was tortured. He was humiliated. Crude spikes were driven through His hands and feet and a crown of thorns placed around His head and a spear thrust in His eyes and He bled and died there.

Why? Because we are all separated from God by our sin. And it wasn't nails that held Jesus to that cross two thousand years ago. It was love for you and for me. For God so loved the world He gave His only begotten Son and whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. God loves you. And the last thing He wants to do is see you face judgment. That is why He poured His judgment on His Son who died in your place.

But if you will turn from your sin and come to Jesus tonight you can be forgiven. I was listening pretty intently to what Greg was saying and he was talking about Jesus dying on the cross for me. And it was very personal to me. And I just knew that something was going to happen.

I just was on the edge of my seat. And when he made the altar call, I had already made up my mind, and when he made the altar call I just looked at my sister and I was sobbing and I got up and I just ran down there. And hundreds of people were coming. Greg helped us to pray.

He helped me to pray for Jesus to come into my life and to be my Savior. And I did that. And I felt such a relief after I did it. And I knew I was saved. Pastor Chuck, more than 260,000 people have made decisions just like that. More than 3.3 million have walked through the turnstiles since you had that idea in 1990. Is that what you expected to happen?

No. Of course the Lord always does, exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or even think. And so you take a step and then you just stand back and you have your mouth open. You know, you're just in awe of what God is doing and how far God is able to take something like that and just expand it and reach so many people. Well, now Pastor Greg, many of our listeners know that you grew up spiritually under Pastor Chuck's teaching.

That's right. He's your pastor, as a matter of fact. What is it about his example that has influenced you the most? Well, you know, that's a hard question to answer because there's a lot of things I could say, but just sort of tying it to this topic of evangelism. You know, I didn't come from a Christian background at all. I came from a real secular, hedonistic kind of a home, as people may know.

My mom was buried and divorced seven times, alcoholic, et cetera. So it was a completely godless environment. And frankly, even before I became a Christian, I was really sick and tired of what this world had to offer. And I knew there had to be answers somewhere.

I just didn't know where. And it was a youth pastor that came to my high school campus named Lonnie from Calvary Chapel that I first heard and I made that commitment to Christ. Well, then when I started going to Calvary, I remember I was sitting there and Chuck came walking out. You know, Lonnie was, I related to Lonnie because at the time I had long hair. Well, I just had hair and it was long. But, you know, I related to him as more of a peer.

Okay, he's cool. But Chuck came out and he was more like the age that my father would be. So immediately I thought, ah, you know, some adult, I don't know if I want to hear this guy.

I don't think I'm going to really relate to this, et cetera. But what amazed me was Chuck had a way of just speaking in everyday terms, but yet it was the Bible. In fact, it was Bible exposition. I didn't know what it was.

I'd never heard it before. All I knew was I wanted to hear more. So I would go to basically every study every night at Calvary. At that time Chuck would speak on Sundays, of course, and Sunday nights. And I think, Chuck, you're doing Monday nights back then. Monday nights, right. And you may be doing Thursdays as well. Yeah, I did.

I did what Kendall Oksan did Friday nights, and Lonnie was doing Wednesday nights, I think, in that area. That's right. And I went to all of it. I mean, to every single one. Plus, I listened to this new technology at the time called cassette tapes. Ooh. And it's now outdated, of course.

But that was very edgy for them because, don't forget, we came from Atrack, so that was an improvement. But, you know, I just couldn't get enough of it. And I just found that Chuck, you know, interestingly, though he is a Bible teacher and people think of him that way, a lot of times people don't know that really in many ways Chuck is also an evangelist. He felt initially that he might be called to be an evangelist, but the Lord redirected him to be a pastor. But so many times I would hear in his messages these great presentations of the gospel in a way that I could understand and then use as I sought to share the gospel. In fact, it was one of his sermons that inspired me to make my first attempt into evangelism, which was not preaching, but it was using my abilities as a cartoonist.

And I drew a little booklet called Living Water. So to me it was always, it was biblical, it was practical, it was understandable, it was authentic, and it impacted my life. And then I wanted to go and do the same for my generation, and now I'm older than a lot of the people I'm preaching to, so I'm trying to do the same thing for the next generation.

Do you need God's touch tonight? Maybe your life is falling apart. Maybe you're trapped in a lifestyle you can't get out of.

Maybe your marriage is hanging by a thread. Maybe you're in a gang lifestyle right now. We had a guy come forward, a member of a gang up to that point at least, but he accepted Christ and he's turned away from that lifestyle.

God can change a man like that. You might say, well that's good, Greg. You guys reach those down and outers, reach those gang members so they don't rob me tomorrow.

Well we will, but we want to reach you too. Well I'm a good person. I'm a moral person. I play by the rules.

Yes, I recycle. Good for you. Do you know Christ?

Because you'll be asked that same question on that final day. This is not about how good of a life you live, or how bad a life that you live, because you'll always find someone worse off than you. This is about the sin that separates you from God, because every one of us has sinned. Every one of us have broken the commandments of God. Every one of us stands separated from a perfect and flawless God. But God loved you so much that 2,000 years ago he sent his son, Jesus Christ. Not just a good man, but the God-man to die for your sins and to shed his blood for you so you can be forgiven and go to heaven when you die.

It's true. Pastor Chuck, do you remember the first time you met Greg? He mentioned a moment ago that he had drawn an evangelistic tract. And he showed up on your porch with that. I remember it very well.

We lived actually right near the high school, Newport Harbor High. And I do remember that he came to the door and he said that he had drawn up this cartoon, I think it was in one of the classes at high school. And it was the previous Sunday Morning Message, done sort of in a cartoon fashion. We were speaking on, out of his innermost being there will gush torrents of living water. And so the tract was called Living Water. And the little guy with a heart and out of a heart hears this fountain of water shooting up. And so I looked through the tract and, you know, we were talking about how people are looking to find the answers. Find something that will fulfill the emptiness, the void that's within. And how the kids got into drugs and got into sex and these other things, all within an idea of trying to fill the void.

And so he put that in the tract and then how that, you know, through Jesus Christ this, not only the void is filled, but there flows forth then out of that empty area a fountain of living water. And so I said, well, this is great. And so I had Greg redraw it or draw it in such a way that we could fold the cartoons so that they are in order as far as turning pages. And we went down to Kinko's or someone, one of those shops and had 10,000 of them printed. And we got a bunch of kids there at the church. We cut them and we're stapling them and all.

And we set them out for the kids, you know, to take free to pass out to their friends. And that first night all 10,000 were gone. And so we had 100,000 printed up and they were gone.

And, you know, 500,000 and they were gone. And that tract just really had a very powerful impact on just kids all over the world. And I was just thinking, as Chuck was saying, that in many ways what I was attempting to do then is not unlike what we're doing in the Crusades today.

It's just using different tools. You know, then I was taking cartooning. But the idea was to build a bridge to a listener and to do it in a way that they could relate to it. Because back in those days, you may remember, Chuck, that the kind of popular tracts, you know, there were a lot of hellfire and brimstone type things. Chick had a bunch of tracts.

They didn't even have flames on the cover. And the funny thing is I had read a couple of those before I was a Christian. And I just threw it aside and laughed at it. It was a joke to me.

So I was trying to do something that a person would actually maybe stop and read, maybe even chuckle at a little bit. Yes. But then also would hear the word. And, you know, in the Crusades that's essentially the same thing that we're doing with, you know, if we could go back in time.

To 1990. The Harvest Crusade at the First Pacific Amphitheater would look different than the Harvest Crusade of today. It would be different in a number of ways. The music would be different. The look of the platform would be different. But the essence of it is absolutely the same as it was.

And I expect, God willing, if we're doing these 10 years from today or 20 years from today, you know, there'll be different musical styles that may be popular. There might be different tools or resources or technologies we might utilize. But it always comes down to just the message of the gospel. And that's where you can't mess with it. You can't monkey with it.

You can't toy with it. You want to just keep it biblical. You want to keep it simple. You want to keep it in everyday language, you know.

And then you want to give people an opportunity to respond to it. Greg Laurie was amazing. Yeah, little stories, you know. Normally people don't know what it says to be a sinner. But when he puts in little stories and little visuals in your head, you get the whole picture. What he said really, really hit me. I mean, it hit me hard. Something he said just clicked in my head and it just made me, you know, I had to give my life to Christ.

My first time, I've never accepted the Lord before. I've never even heard the gospel talk like that. And it just absolutely blew me away.

Blew me away. I think that if you would go to the churches here in Orange County, those that are really evangelical, teaching the Word, that you would find in every one of the churches here, people who had been introduced to Christ in the Harvest Crusades. I can remember the one year that we had a huge baptism down at Corona Del Mar, right after one of the Crusades, about the Third Crusade or so. The tide was so high we couldn't use the Pirate's Cove, so we had to go to the open beach and we had, oh, I don't know, over a thousand people baptized there. And of course, the surf was up.

Yeah, it was. I got knocked over with a wave and went floating into the shore with some lady I was baptizing. A new way of baptizing. Baptized surfing.

Baptized surfing. And it was really, though, very, you know, in our church there are just so many people that made their commitment or were introduced or brought to Christ through the Crusades. And so, of course, we've been going on year after year, and thus it has a long-lasting effect throughout the churches. And so many of them, the people were first introduced to Christ in the Crusade settings.

So I think it's exciting. You know, it's an interesting thing also, Dave, is that I have met so many people now who are in ministry who came to Christ at the Crusades. I was in a church last week speaking, and he was the youth pastor and he was introducing me. He accepted Christ in 1990 at our first Crusade there at the Amphitheater, and now is in full-time ministry.

Yeah, this is Justin Segoian. I did receive Christ in 1990 at the first Summer Harvest Crusade, and it was there that I, for the very first time, I realized that it was because of what Jesus did on the cross for me that made me right with God. After that, I got involved in the local youth ministry, and today I'm one of the pastors on staff at Mariners Church in Irvine, California. Hi, this is Jack Hibbs, and I came to Christ way back in 1977 on a Monday night as Greg Laurie gave the message. It was the first time I had ever heard the Gospel. And in responding, I had no idea what God was going to do with my life. But some years later now, I'm now senior pastor of Calvary Chapel Chino Hills, and by the grace of God, I've been allowed to teach the Bible to thousands of people.

And I'm grateful to Pastor Greg and all that the Lord is doing through his life and the evangelistic preaching of the Word of God. One of the criticisms of large-scale evangelism is, well, do you think all those people continue on with the Lord? Well, of course they don't. We don't say they do. We describe those who have come forward over the years, not as conversions, but as professions of faith.

Time will tell if they're conversions. But our job, so to speak, is to proclaim the Word. When the Lord told us to go sow the seed, the way they sowed seeds in those days is they would just go and randomly throw the seed out into a field.

And then the soil essentially determined how you would react to the sowing of the seed. So I think our goal is to get the seed out to as many people as possible and then leave the results in the hands of God. But when you do that, sure, people come forward and don't continue on. But there are those that come forward and not only continue on, but then they commit their lives to service, and now they're reaching people, and then those people will reach people, and so the process continues.

So that's what's really exciting to me with the passing of time to be able to see how that's happened. For some reason, I was listening that one night, and Greg was talking about this might be the last opportunity you have to come to the Lord. No one had ever put it to me like that.

No one in the church I had been going to or in the church that I grew up in had ever said, You need to make a decision. Greg was saying, No matter how good you are, you're never good enough. One of the scriptures he said was, What shall profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his soul? And that really struck to my heart because that's exactly where it was. When Pastor Greg had said, You know, the Lord is knocking. He's knocking in your heart.

Open up the door and let him in. It just felt like my heart was just opening to him. He said, Hey, if you died tonight, where would you go? And it was like as you pointed at the audience, and it was almost like he was pointing directly at me.

It's just a statement that hit hard at my heart. And it was at that point where I realized I didn't want to be without God. It was the way he was talking. It was like me and him just sitting down with a cup of coffee talking about, By the way, this is who Jesus is, and this is what he can do for you.

The only thing I know is that it touched my heart so deeply that when he gave the invitation, there wasn't anything else I could do. I had to go forward. As I walked towards the field, almost like galloping down, I couldn't get down there quick enough. I literally ran. I was in the Marines six years, and Father always taught us, Men don't cry. That's all I did.

I couldn't stop. Pastor Chuck, let me ask you, after hearing that, what do you say to people who think that large-scale evangelism is outdated? Well, I do think that people don't really understand so often the Crusades.

Again, there are a lot of Crusades that really don't produce long-lasting results. The way the message is presented, if it is in an understandable and a logical way, it sticks with people. I think that emotions play a part, but I think that so many evangelists sort of tend to play upon people's emotions so that it is an emotional kind of a reaction rather than a true being persuaded intellectually, this is the way to go.

I mean, this makes sense, and I think that that's the gift that Greg has of making it make sense. You've had a lot of years of experience and service in God's kingdom. When Pastor Greg gets to that point many years from now, what is your wish for him when he gets to that stage in his era of service to Christ?

Let me just say, I just hope that he can have the same kind of satisfaction of realizing that I've played my part, done what God has called me to do, and have had the joy of seeing the fruit of the ministry. And of course, with Greg, his success came much earlier in life than mine did. I was actually 38 years old when we started Calvary Chapel. And of course, I was in my 40s and in mid-40s and all before I really began to see any really positive results and fruit of the ministry. And so here's Greg, you know, in his 20s, began to see the explosive growth of the church there in Riverside, and so he's going to have a lot more years of being able to see the fruit, the grandkids and the great-grandkids spiritually.

But I wonder how many generations you'll be able to see, Greg, by the time you get to be 79. Well, I know that at church I'm already dedicating children of children I've dedicated. So at first it was amazing, wow, here's an adult standing before me, you dedicated me as a child, but now as I'm dedicating their children, you know, and that's a glorious thing, and really what better way is there to spend our lives than in serving the Lord, and you never feel as though you've wasted anything. I mean, as I look back on my life and think, okay, I give my life to Christ at 17, oh, gee, did I miss some parties or some fun times? You know, whatever I missed, what few fun times there were even in the world, are nothing compared to all that the Lord has done, and I don't regret any of it. In fact, I wish I had started even earlier, though I started quite young, because you just look back and say, man, that's a good use of my time and of my life and, you know, wanting to see fruit that remains. And frankly, I was the beneficiary of Chuck's preparation years because he shared with us lessons he had learned early in life, things to watch out for, things to avoid, things not to do, as well as things to do and to embrace, et cetera.

So having built on that, we were able to kind of get what you would call a jump start in life and get it very early. I didn't have to unlearn anything. I didn't have any weird theological training or strange experiences in the church. I just came as a non-believer with a blank slate for a mind, and I was saying, okay, tell me what to do.

Unfortunately, I was under the teaching of one of the greatest Bible teachers ever who was able to kind of frame my thinking, and then I was able to move from there. He told me, you know, these are some good books to read, these are things to do, et cetera, and I pursued that, and, you know, so it's fruit. I've always believed it's fruit to Chuck's account. You know, it's the Lord that, you know, one sows, another reaps.

God gives the increase. So it's ultimately God, and we recognize that, but having said that, even Paul would say, writing to the church, you know, you speak of his children in Christ, and so these people that are coming to faith, it really is fruit to Chuck's account as well because he set the framework for the crusade, and I heard the Word of God taught for my earliest years there from Chuck, and so, you know, we just praise the Lord for it. It's all for his glory, but, you know, it's all interconnected, so in a very cool way, the Lord was setting it all up, and I'm just one of many. I mean, you know, there's so many others that God is using that are doing crusades as well, like Raul Reese and Mike McIntosh and others from Calvary Chapel, and that's not to mention, you know, 1,000, 1,500, 2,000 Calvary Chapel pastors. There are many others that have been impacted by Chuck.

I'm just one of many. Well, Pastor Chuck, before we close, would you lead us in a word of prayer? I'd be very happy to. Father, what a joy it is to again enter into another crusade with the expectation and the anticipation of watching the Spirit of God touch the lives of thousands of people, drawing them into a understanding of your love and the great plan that you have for their lives. They will just but submit themselves to you. Anoint Greg, Father, for this crusade. Give him strength.

Give him wisdom. Lord, we pray that those that will be doing the music and all, that they'll each one be so anointed by your Spirit that people will be touched. In Jesus' name, amen. Amen.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-03-08 01:51:37 / 2023-03-08 02:03:25 / 12

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