“Have you heard the hippie preacher?”
It’s a question spreading throughout Southern California in the late 1960s. To many it seemed a contradiction in terms. A preacher was a man in a suit telling people how to live but a hippie was someone who dropped out of established society.
But that a hippie preacher didn’t seem to make sense was part of the draw.
Years later, Love Song member Chuck Girard noted his own sense of disappointment when Chuck Smith began preaching. There had been a bait-and-switch; promised a hippie preacher he’d been given a middle-aged balding man in a golf shirt. Despite initial hesitance, he was quickly won over Smith’s preaching and evident love for a congregation that included many hippies like Girard.
The Power of Partnerships in the JPM
This dynamic evident in the Smith-Frisbee partnership, an established church leader and a counterculture evangelist, was repeated throughout the Jesus Movement. As one interviewee noted, they were the hippie and the square. One a symbol of the anti-establishment of the 1960s counter-culture and the other of the very establishment they had dropping out from. These kinds of partnerships should not work. Yet during the Jesus People Movement, many of the more enduring and impactful communities were the products of this relational bridge.
At Peninsula Bible Church in Palo Alto, Ray Stedman and Ted Wise worked together to draw thousands of young people into regular church life. A true hippie, Wise eventually connected with Stedman at Peninsula Bible Church where they proved a formidable team. Steadman was an experienced pastor with experience as a preacher and leader as well as established network of relationships traditional churches and ministries in the Bay Area.
At the Haigh Ashbury, Kent Philpott’s evangelistic work was supported through ongoing discipleship of the famed professor of missiology Francis DuBose. In his interview, Philpott regularly pointed to the influence of DuBose not only in shaping his theology of mission but in the more practical task of encouraging him when many others questioned his work.
Beyond California, this pattern littered the hotspots of the movement. From Ray Renner in Anderson to Fenton Moorhead in West Palm Beach to Richard Hogue in Houston, these ministry advocates were critical bridges between the counterculture and the established church. Yet the most famous was the partnership between Frisbee and Smith.
For leaders hoping to make cross-cultural connections, it is critical to recognize the importance of this dynamic. Both leaders brought something to the relationship that was necessary for the church/ministry to succeed. Established leaders who succeeded in reaching the counterculture recognized that it was impossible without discipling and empowering representatives who could bridge the cultural divide. Countercultural leaders who developed communities or organizations that theologically and pastorally flourished recognized the importance experience and expertise that older leaders could offer. At the center of the partnership was a mutual commitment to reaching a community that was often overlooked and unloved. Two different people, one unifying mission.
Looking to today
Extra material to include:
Even as the younger leaders were more likely to make connections with hippies and others in youth culture, Fischer noted that Stedman was always “at the center of it.” Far from keeping them at a distance, Stedman used leaders like Wise as opportunities to engage young people himself.
Historians such as Eskridge point to Ted Wise and his wife Elizabeth as two of the earlier “Jesus People.” That is, they were among the first to be saved out of the counter-culture hippie movement into a radically evangelistic and charismatic strain of American Protestantism. A true hippie, Wise eventually connected with Ray Stedman at Peninsula Bible Church where they proved a formidable team. Steadman was an experienced pastor with experience as a preacher and leader as well as established network of relationships traditional churches and ministries in the Bay Area. In contrast, Wise
These young Christians proved invaluable to their established counter-parts, serving as culture interpreters that made it clear to others like them that they were welcome. As we continue to learn, representation in church leadership matters and for young men and women to see people who looked and acted like them on stage signaled a different kind of church.
Just as critical was the role establish ministers played in the relationship. Perhaps the clearest function was serve as theological and practical grounding for their passionate but inexperienced counterparts. Chuck Smith and Ray Stedman’s ability to exegete scripture in clear and simple terms provided young Christians unfamiliar with bible study a roadmap for taking hold of scripture and young preachers a model for their own ministry.
to offer cover within the traditional church where young, counter-culture leaders were regularly viewed with suspicion and hostility. What can be lost in the history is how these ministry advocates represented the exception to the rule. It was sadly far more common for church leaders to either ignore or actively reject ministry to the counter-culture. Even when it walked in their front door looking for Jesus.
In our interview with Ron Juncal, he recounted a more common experience among early Jesus Movement leaders. Deeply engrained in hippie culture prior to being saved, Juncal had begun attending the small church and been well received despite its rigid dress-code and music. Enthusiastic to save those from his community, Juncal started a bible study on his campus that quickly overflowed his dorm room. Asking his church’s young pastor for help, he soon found out the church board had forbidden his involvement, forcing him to choose between the church and the students. When the minister chose the security of his church, it alienated and isolated Juncal and his group from any theological and pastoral support.
The history of the Jesus People Movement is filled with these examples of alienation where the church turned their back on those seeking Jesus. What makes many of the movements defining leaders so memorable fifty years later is not their innovative strategies but through selflessly and defiantly refused to turn their back on people who needed the gospel.
Reflecting on the relationship between Stedman and Wise, John Fischer observed that both served vital roles in growing the church. The “as far as really connecting to the hippies, it would be some of the other people on staff like Ted Wise” while the more established Stedman was painfully uncool.
Wise drew young people into the church, his very presence on stage and in leading bible studies a testimony to the fact that there was space for them just as they were within the community. Yet Stedman provided the theological and pastoral grounding,
Often lost in the historical memory is the ways both figures stepped out towards one another. Stedman
At the root of both these convictions were their commitment to the mission of the church. Reflecting on the ministry of Stedman, John Fischer observed, “he was not going to turn away anybody who wanted to know about Jesus.” No matter what they looked like or who disapproved, Stedman saw the crowds of young people as Jesus looked out upon the crowds in Matthew 9:36-38: as sheep without a shepherd.
Fischer remembers that Ted “didn’t know how to talk ‘evangelical-speak’.”