Surprised by Grace and Rescued by Love
| A younger Kenn Gulliksen
And it didn't matter who you were, your temperament, sex,
ethnicity or previous religious or lack of religious
affiliation-straight, kinky, right brain, left brain, marketplace,
creative, housewife, male, female, young, old. Kenn Gulliksen had a way
of opening minds and especially hearts to the possibility and then the
reality of God. And not just any God, The God of First John, Chapter
four: "God is Love."
In fact, because of his gentle and loving delivery, his song
"Charity"-a musical exposition of the "love" chapter (1 Cor.13)-his
emphasis on intimate worship, and his album Charity: Love Songs to
Jesus and the Family, he was called "the pastor of love" by Chuck
Chuck Smith recognized Kenn's unique ability to connect God
those who were listening to him teach. When you ask Kenn about his most
memorable experiences as a pastor, one of the first to surface goes
like this: "My first nighttime message to a large meeting at a Calvary
Chapel camp, I had no message though I had prayed for weeks. I was
determined not to say anything God hadn't given me (oh for that kind of
innocent heart again), and spent the entire day of the message in
prayer and fasting. Nothing. Chuck introduced me and then sat in the
front row (no little intimidation there, since he hadn't yet asked me
to come on staff). I stood and walked across the stage to open my mouth
to say I was very sorry, but God hadn't given me a message. Instead, I
heard my mouth saying (no joke), 'They that have entered His rest have
ceased from their own labors,' from Hebrews four, and I continued to
speak prophetically for over half-an-hour, then I sat down. Chuck came
up and said, I came tonight to hear Kenn, but what I heard was the Holy
Spirit.' Wow. As they say, 'It doesn't get any better than that.'"
had a unique work to do in a unique timeframe. Dozens of pastors before
and since have come to West L.A. and Beverly Hills with a vision and a
mandate to plant a work there. Most have left desolate, retreated to
other parts of the city or state or country that are less hostile to
the Christian message. A few have stayed to struggle to keep their tiny
congregations alive. It is said that there are less Christians per
capita in West L.A. and Beverly Hills than in Japan. Kenn and his wife
Joanie saw human loaves and fishes multiplied as their church grew to
2000 and in Kenn's words saw "the church have unplanned pregnancies,
birthing and planting other churches around Los Angeles and up the
Coast." (All of the churches still survive and thrive to this day.)
This move of God grew pastors and worship leaders and sent
into every corner of the nation and the world. These men and women had
experienced and embraced a vision for intimate worship and a focus on
Scripture. Music that spoke directly to God and was a magnet for new
believers exploded via a Diaspora of leadership and musicians that
attended their church and then went out to other states and nations
with a new imprint, a new story of the God of Love.
Between 1974 and 1982, eight churches had emerged which
the foundation of a new denomination: The Vineyard. It now has
membership that surpasses a number of mainline denominations, as does
Calvary Chapel's association of churches, where Kenn was also one of a
handful of early leaders.
But what happens when the message you bring, the message you
believe wholeheartedly, the message of truth that the Holy Spirit can
endorse by showing up and moving on a congregation, is being
experienced by almost everyone except you?-crisis. What happens when
like David, you start out with a sling shot, and then start looking for
armor, stop relying one hundred percent on what God delivers and think
you need to live up to your past victories.
It probably happens a lot. You start out transparent,
authentic, someone says-a lot of someones-"You're great." "You changed
my life." And then you start holding yourself to that standard. You
start having a performance level you have to measure up to. You start
watching yourself, and editing and critiquing. You start looking at
your life and you see the cracks. You start comparing today's delivery
with your best and you lose objectivity.
amazing ascent to pastoral celebrity status must have been a little
unnerving for a young man in his mid-twenties, the child of immigrant
parents, brilliant, but unschooled in the ways of the world... God
gives Kenn and his wife Joanie a vision for Beverly Hills. They go and
all heaven breaks loose. Bob Dylan gets saved. T-bone Burnett and David
Mansfield of Bob's Rolling Thunder Review join the fray. Bernie Leadon
of The Eagles and Debbie Boone, who has a number one radio hit,
attend-Priscilla Presley, Eldridge Cleaver, Bubba Smith, Maureen
McCormick, Lisa Whelchel, Frank Peretti, and the list goes on. The most
influential musical artists of the Jesus Movement make his humble
church plant their home: writers and rockers, artists and
photographers, actors and models. It would be overwhelming for someone
twice his age. Davin Seay, one of his congregants, writes a feature
article on his experience with God at Ken's Vineyard that ends up in
Los Angeles magazine. It's not a good idea to read your own press.
Over-close personal scrutiny always makes one feel
The greater the success, the more unworthy one feels. Maybe that is
what motivated Kenn to hand over his eight churches in 1982 and plant a
church, first in Newport, California in '83, then in Framingham,
Massachusetts in '84. "Giving the churches to John Wimber in 1982 was
an unexpected turn in the road," Kenn says, as was the fact that we
were "continually moving to plant churches when I continually expected
the current church to be my last.."
Gulliksen with newly baptized believer at Pirate's Cove, CA, after a
Calvary Chapel mass baptism
Kenn continued to plant churches through 2001, when his health-a severe
degenerative disease of the spine which is extremely painful and
precludes an ability to rest or sleep-and issues with his marriage
demanded it. In the stillness provided, Kenn came to a new revelation
of God, or perhaps rediscovered the revelation he encountered when he
was first introduced to Christ and then filled with the Holy Spirit.
Kenn says, "I realized I was seeing God as a kidnapper." In his early
days at Calvary, he says, "I wanted to live in New England. I wanted to
be an architect. I was engaged to a girl I'd been in love with for
seven years." Kenn traded his dreams for God's dreams. "I ended up in
L.A., not Massachusetts. I ended up as a pastor, not an architect, and
marrying in faith rather than feeling." Kenn and Joanie married at
God's direction, a course that resulted in significant challenges for
them both. By the time Joanie was 26, she had four children and she had
had three miscarriages.
"All those years, I saw god as a kidnapper. I was doing thus
and thus and God kidnapped me. God was someone who steals joy, someone
you run away from. I was serving someone you identify as a kidnapper.
Then the lights went on, he hadn't kidnapped me; he rescued me from
what would have been bad choices and lesser choices. He rescued me
because he loved me and had a better plan. You run from a kidnapper and
you run to a rescuer."
Kenn says, "The Holy Spirit clobbered me and I had to face
the revelation about my self-centeredness, control, manipulation."
Most would think after a life of phenomenal success, Kenn
his wife Joanie would be securely planted, they'd own a home. Kenn
thought that, too. "But the opposite occurred." Kenn says, "Every
single thing that I had expected, the Lord took away to show me true
grace. And I was born again, again... I recall one day, I was
attempting to take a walk near our apartment. I had been throwing up. I
could barely walk or stand. A jogger approached and when he got close
he looked into my face as if in hazy recognition and said, 'Aren't you
Kenn Gulliksen?' I looked at him and said, 'I used to be.'"
In losing his life, Kenn, as the Scripture says, gained his
life. "I had thought I had to perform. I preached grace to everybody
else and yet had to prove I was worth saving." In his dark night of the
soul, Kenn rediscovered the God of Love, he once knew and preached. It
changed his relationship first and foremost with God, with Joanie and
his kids. Kenn sees it "as a work in progress." But out of the ashes,
Kenn has discovered new life and new hope. The pastor of Love and the
God of Love are no longer separated by a distortion of God's character.
Kenn says with sweet emphasis-there has always been a smile
voice, even in his most painful moments-"I view this season, more than
ever about personally knowing Jesus more and more; it's about just
knowing Jesus. That's the point of everything. So when I serve I can
serve from the overflow of that relationship, from the overflow of the
deepening experience of knowing Him."
One of Gulliksen's great joys is hearing from the acorns,
"people who came to the Lord through relationship with us." And that's
something that he can look forward to until the return of the King,
because of the remarkable amount of seeds he and Joanie have planted
and continue to plant. In 2003 and 2004, he and Joanie had a chance to
visit the churches they planted on the East Coast and the churches that
those churches in turn had planted. Gulliksen got to see firsthand how
God had allowed him to partner with Him in bringing true life and the
message of God's love, evidenced in Jesus Christ.
Most recently Gulliksen has assumed leadership of a Thursday
night Bible Study at Ocean Hills Church in San Juan Capistrano,
California, whose pastor, Skip Heitzig, recently returned to Calvary
Chapel Albuquerque. Knowing all about loss and recovery, Gulliksen is
ideally suited to minister grace, comfort and truth. In fact, Kenn's
vision for the next twenty years is "to speak the truth in love to the
church." It's the vision and message he's really always had. Surprised
by grace and rescued by love, he now runs to his Father. Now he is
united with every word he speaks. Now he truly is "the pastor of Love."
"They that have entered His rest have ceased from their own
For more information on Ocean Hills Church go to: www.oceanhillschurch.com.