2005 updated 10/9/06 reformatted 10/24/2015

Many people have been blessed and edified by the teaching and fellowship in Calvary Chapel church organizations. Many people have testified to being saved at Calvary Chapel music concerts. I rejoice when Christ is preached. Even though there is a lot of good that people can point to about the “Calvary Chapel Movement”, no organization, movement, institution, or individual, can be beyond critique. It is a cult-like mentality that says that all criticism or all dissent is division; or that anyone who criticizes a leader or an institution is necessarily a divisive person.

Most people do not realize that Calvary Chapel church organizations are not, themselves, affiliated with the original Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa, California. It is the clergymen who are affiliated. They submit a request to become affiliated and then are supplied with a form to fill out. The form contains many questions about doctrine and philosophy of ministry. The form is submitted along with the recommendations of other Calvary Chapel clergymen. If the staff at Costa Mesa accepts the person, he becomes an affiliated clergyman in a global network led by Chuck Smith.

Chuck Smith is the founder of the mega-church, Calvary Chapel, in Costa Mesa, California. He exerts influence throughout the system via audio tapes, videos, radio programs, a website, printed material, and regular “Pastor’s Conferences” in different regions of the country. Clergymen who have served on the Calvary Costa Mesa staff go on, in many cases, to have congregations of their own. Many of these have become mega-churches in their own right.

Calvary Chapel Clergy & Moses Authoritarianism

Hirelings – Pastor/Teachers – Elders

Jesus says:

” I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep. But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth: and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep.  The hireling fleeth, because he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep.” John 10:11-13

Jesus is that true shepherd. Paul and Peter both call elders to shepherd the flock. And a Biblical elder is not a hireling. One thing about any hireling is that he can always be hired away to bigger and better things!

Calvary Chapel clergymen have a tradition of saying that their position is not that of a hireling. But they speak against hirelings as those who are dictated to by a board of elders. They speak against hirelings to justify their view that a “Pastor/Teacher” is to be an absolute ruler over the congregation. In his book called Harvest (co-written by Tal Brooke), Chuck Smith writes about an early experience of his in which he felt that the elders were quenching the Spirit in his congregation: 

“But in my heart burned a quiet certainty that God had called me to be a shepherd, not a hireling, or a ministerial employee on the payroll of businessmen.”

Of course the elders should not simply be businessmen. Whatever their occupation, they ought to be mature Acts 17:11 Bereans, disciples of Jesus, meeting the qualifications in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-11. Now, if you operate the congregation as if it was YOUR own business, then you’re not on the payroll of businessmen… you ARE the businessman! The problem is you’re still a hireling. You’re just paying your own salary. Chuck Smith also writes in his booklet, “The Philosophy of Ministry of Calvary Chapel”:

“If someone in the church comes to a board member about something they feel that the church ought to be doing, it is presented at the board meeting. The board will discuss it and pray about it together, and oftentimes the board will say, “Chuck, what do you feel that we should do?” The board recognizes that God has called me to be the pastor of the church, the shepherd. In Calvary Chapel the pastor is not a hireling. There are many churches in which the pastor is a hireling. He is hired by the board and can be fired by the board. He becomes a hireling and he’s totally responsible to the wishes of the board as they govern the church. But these men are oftentimes businessmen and not the most spiritual men within the church. In that case, the church becomes governed by men rather than governed by Jesus Christ.”

“There are dangers, though, in a theocratic form of government, primarily because there are some pastors who disobey what the Lord said concerning the one who is chief becoming the servant of all. There are pastors who have abused their powers. They do not make a clear accounting to the board of the financial aspects of the church. They do not seek the advice and counsel of the board before they make important decisions that are relevant to the function of the church. They try to be a one-man show.”

It is good that Chuck Smith expresses concern about the dangers of a theocratic form of government and pastors who try to be a one-man show. But also in this same booklet he illustrates the absolute power that he teaches that a clergyman should have by telling about a time he helped fire all the elders of an associated congregation when they disagreed with the clergyman. (See the article on this site entitled, “Calvary Chapel Clergymen and Moses Authoritarianism”.) 

One-Man Show

But a one-man show is EXACTLY what the Calvary Chapel philosophy of ministry creates! A one-man show, celebrity, absolute ruler, businessman is a hireling who is dedicated to maintaining his empire at all costs by lording it over the congregation because he’s convinced that the Lord is speaking mainly to him and not to the other elders.

I’m not questioning whether Calvary Chapel clergymen loves Jesus. And I’m not saying they aren’t knowledgeable teachers of the Bible. Many of them sincerely care about the people in their congregation. But all men are tempted. They are tempted by power, money, pride, women, and prestige. The more you raise up a man above his brethren and put him in a position of a lord, the more likely he will succumb to the corruption of the flesh. In fact, usurping such a role IS a corruption of the flesh.

Be the Body of Christ

I exhort followers of Jesus to be the Body of Christ together, according to the scriptures. If you are called to serve as an overseer, then be content to lead as a brother, being an example to the flock, side by side with the other elders, and the rest of the brethren. Be content with your wages as you work for a living. Serve in the Body of Christ as a brother, not as a lord or the CEO of a family business.

Jon Courson: Applegate Christian Fellowship 

Roger Oakland Removed from Calvary Chapel Radio

See Lighthouse Trails Blog


A Recent Email
 Representative of others I get from time to time:

“Response to your page “What I recommend

“Thank you for your web page.  It is comforting to know that I am not alone in my thinking.  My wife and I had attended a Calvary Chapel for eight years before we left.  Even after leaving, it has taken years to understand just how much the authority structure has influenced us.  In order to retain any friendships with those still part of the Calvary movement, we must not discuss any of our grief’s and keep our relationships purely superficial. (which one could argue that they are not genuine friendships at all).  We have attended many churches since, however, our experience has been very bad.  We love Jesus and do not neglect our salvation, but it has become very apparent that the modern church is willing to sacrifice the individual and true fellowship for it’s corporate structure. We are currently in the process of moving to a nearby small community to start a home group.  The thing I fear the most is to become the very thing that I hate, that is, I fear becoming the same thing as a corporate church on a smaller scale.  I would appreciate talking to you personally because the e-mail format is so difficult to communicate the complexity of the issues  which I question.”


A Discussion Board Posting

From: Tuppence
Date: 3/17/2005
Time: 2:45:47 PM


“I was saved at a Calvary Chapel sponsered concert back in 1978. I have had a “love-hate” relationship with Calvary ever since! Until I came across the information on this site, I couldn’t really put a finger on what it was that didn’t sit right with me. I know that not all CC’s are the same but there does seem to be a similarity concerning the leadership of the church-and authoritarianism. Our Pastor seems to feel that he has the right to tell us where we should live, what and where we should go or do and really dislikes any autonomous thought on our part. (We recently relocated to the area and are just getting to know our co-paritioners, as well as the Pastor.) At any rate, this probably doesn’t make much sense…don’t think I explained it well….but if anyone out here has experience with Calvary that sounds like what we are experiencing I would love to hear from you. God Bless! Tuppy”


A Recent Email
Representative of others I get from time to time:

Jim, my husband and myself are members of Calvary Chapel in _______, New York, and we are certain that the Lord has placed us here for a reason. Our pastor is _______, and we love him but do not put him above Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. We are happy and content with our teachings here, and enjoy great fellowship at Calvary.
We would like to know who you are, and if you belong to a Calvary Chapel. Where do you get your information from, as it seems you are very critical of how Calvary Chapels operate.  We feel that they are run very biblically, and we support them. (including Chuck Smith and Jon Courson)
God Bless you.