“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; a hippie was someone who dressed down and 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. He had hoped to finally hear the hippie preacher Lonnie Frisbee and had seemingly found the opposite: a middle-aged, balding man in a golf shift. Despite initial hesitance, he was quickly won over by Smith’s preaching and evident love for a congregation that included many hippies like Girard.
Cross-cultural partnerships in the JPM
On paper, this dynamic between religious establishment and counterculture should not have worked. As one interviewee in our recent JPM Oral History Project reflected, they were the hippie and the square. One a symbol of the anti-establishment of the 1960s counterculture and the other of the very establishment they were dropping out from. Yet partnerships such as the one forged between Smith and Frisbee proved a repeated pattern throughout the Jesus People Movement (JPM) and many of the more enduring and impactful communities were the products of this relational bridge.
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. At the Haight 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 of nontraditional alliances littered the hotspots of the movement. From Ray Renner in Anderson with pastor Charles Tarr at the South Meridian Church of God, to Fenton Moorhead with pastor Jess Moody at the First Baptist Church in West Palm Beach, to Richard Hogue with pastor John Bisagno at First Baptist, Houston. While many remember the relationship between Frisbee and Smith, these ministry advocates were critical bridges between the counterculture and the established church.
The missional power of relational bridges
In these partnerships, both leaders brought something necessary for the success of the church/ministry. 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 of 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.