Calvary Church Albuquerque: Creating Life Change
Calvary Church Albuquerque: Creating Life Change

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Calvary Church Albuquerque: Growing Believers in the Family of God for Four Decades

Story by Christmas Beeler
Photos by Micah Martin, taken before COVID-19

This story originally ran in Issue 83, Spring 2020.

Pastor Skip and Lenya Heitzig moved to New Mexico in 1981. By God’s grace, they have watched Him grow Calvary Church Albuquerque into the thousands; their last Easter Service drew nearly 22,000. Using multiple channels to share God’s Word, they continue to focus on verse-by-verse teaching and proclaiming the Gospel.

Jonathan Lund sat miserably in his parents’ home wishing he could erase the night before. He barely remembered screaming in rage at his parents and his fiancée after someone at a party had laced his alcohol with PCP. Sadly, he recalled the heartbroken, shocked look on his fiancée’s face as she had told him he wasn’t the man she wanted to marry. Head in his hands, he groaned and wondered, What’s wrong with me? He confessed to his mom that he had ignored a gut feeling that warned him not to go to the party. His mom gently said that it may have been the Holy Spirit trying to tell him something. Jonathan considered this. Had the Lord been warning him? He realized that God was the only One who could help him.

Skip outdoor Easter teaching

Pastor Skip Heitzig of Calvary Church Albuquerque, NM, shares the Gospel at a stadium packed with 22,000 people on Easter morning.

The next morning at Calvary Church Albuquerque, Pastor Skip Heitzig invited people to come forward to surrender their lives to Jesus Christ. Jonathan felt that same deep pull in his gut, urging him to come to the altar. This time, he didn’t resist. Feeling a euphoria unlike anything that drugs or alcohol or success in the film industry had ever given him, he surrendered his life to Jesus. He prayed, I want to change, God. I want to live for You. I want to know what it’s like to have You in the middle of everything in my life. Those who had come forward went to a room adjoining the sanctuary to talk about their decision with pastors and counselors. One pastor warned Jonathan that following Christ could be a difficult process wrought with spiritual warfare. “I wish I could tell you things got easier from there,” Jonathan confessed. “I had always heard the term ‘spiritual warfare,’ but I had never been aware of it in my life until that day.” Though he tried to read his Bible and make amends with his fiancée, “I was in a constant internal fight trying to drown out who I was before.”

Skip kneels to lead new believers

Later that morning at Calvary Church, Pastor Skip prays with several people who came forward to give their lives to Jesus Christ.

A lifeline came in the form of a Connect Group—a small group of believers from the church who gather to discuss the Sunday message, share their own experiences and struggles, and pray for each other. Jonathan shared, “We lift each other up; they have turned into my brothers. I don’t know where I would be now without those guys. I would probably be back in the party life; but they are getting me through.” Jonathan’s group—men aged 25 to 50-something—is especially tight-knit. “Seeing them have the same struggles as me, I don’t feel so alone. It’s great having a group of God-fearing men who have my back. We hold each other accountable; that was missing from my life.” As his brothers in Christ have shared God’s Word with him, prayed for him, and challenged him to make godly choices, Jonathan has grown in his faith. “My tools to fight the spiritual battle have been honed and sharpened. My anxiety and depression are falling away. My brothers are always there for me, and I’m forever grateful.”

But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin. 1 John 1:7

Wide church shot

Calvary Church has four campuses in the Albuquerque and Santa Fe areas; this is their main campus in Albuquerque, which can hold nearly 2,000 people.

God has changed the lives of many others through the loving fellowship and powerful teaching of His Word at Calvary Church—including Brenda Roybal. “I was on depression pills for 20 years,” she recalled. “I had no friends, no life.” After struggling with suicidal thoughts, Brenda wandered into a Calvary Church outreach service five years ago. “As I walked in, two or three people greeted me, giving me hugs, telling me that they were glad to see me and they loved me.” Deeply touched by their warmth, Brenda sat down as Pastor Skip began to share the Good News of Christ and God’s love for all. When he said, “It doesn’t matter how depressed you may be; God still loves you,” something inside Brenda melted; she began to weep.

At the end, Brenda came forward to rededicate herself to Jesus. In a back room, Brenda confessed to her counselor that she had been clean from illegal drugs for 25 years, but her depression had her considering using again. The woman listened with compassion and prayed for Brenda to grow in her faith. Brenda recalled, “She didn’t judge me. When I walked out of there, I felt so loved and so happy again. I stopped taking my depression pills that day.”

Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation. Habakkuk 3:18

Baby dedication

Pastor Skip enjoys greeting a baby girl before dedicating her to the Lord with her parents.

God has filled her once-empty life with love and support. Not only did her husband also accept Christ, Brenda said, “Now I have all these Christian friends who talk to me day and night, who love me.” Her Connect Group helped her through a rough season: The members pooled their money and bought her a $100 gift card during a tough time. “And the pastors at the church are available to help you; I can call the church and say, ‘I have a problem; I need someone to talk to.’ It’s just awesome.” Another big breakthrough in Brenda’s life came while Lenya Heitzig was teaching the women’s ministry about forgiveness. “I had a hard time growing up,” Brenda explained. “My mother abused me really bad, hit me with two-by-fours.”

Lenya shared from Matthew 18, the parable about the king who forgave his servant a massive debt that the servant couldn’t repay. Instead of showing the same grace to others, the servant jailed his fellow servant who owed a smaller debt. When the king heard, he had the unkind servant punished. Lenya read Jesus’ words to the group: “So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses” (Matthew 18:35). She expounded, “It’s inextricably intertwined: forgiveness from God and forgiveness to our fellow man.” Lenya prayed to God: “Help us forgive any sins against us, as we have been forgiven by You. Set captives free. And perhaps we will find it was our own bitterness, anger, and vengeful attitudes that had us chained up.”

Creating life change sign

Believers greet each other in the large foyer at Calvary Church. The church’s motto, Creating Life Change, speaks to how following Christ touches all aspects of a believer’s life.

Brenda knew she had to forgive her mother. Later, alone with God, she followed Lenya’s suggestion to write down wrongs suffered and give them to the Lord. As she wrote, tears began to pour from her eyes. Brenda recalled, “I could feel the Holy Spirit with me, such a peace.” For others who struggle with anxiety, Brenda said, “Start your day with the Lord. Read verses about how He loves you; write them down. If you don’t stay strong in the Lord and listen to His Word every day, you can stray away. Start your day out with your Father who loves you.” Her favorite verse, which Pastor Skip shared the first night she came, is 1 John 4:19, We love Him because He first loved us.

Committed to the Word

Before he became the well-known pastor and author he is today, Pastor Skip Heitzig was a skeptical, soul-hungry young man who had tried drugs and astral projection but shunned the blossoming Jesus Movement of the early 1970s. One day in 1973, he happened upon Billy Graham preaching on the television. He sensed that God was speaking directly to him through the live broadcast, and he opened his heart to Jesus. Knowing he needed to be taught God’s Word, he moved to Southern California to attend Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa. “I still remember going there the first time and hearing Pastor Chuck speak intelligently about the Bible, explaining it. I was hooked,” Skip related.

Youth worship arms up

More than 200 high school and middle school students gather every Thursday night for Spectrum, the youth ministry at Calvary Church.

In an age where many are gravitating toward a worship experience in church, Skip reflected, “The Word of God and worship of God go together. Jesus said that the Father is looking for those who will worship Him ‘in spirit and truth’ (John 4:23b). You need both to have balance. Once we discover the truth in His Word, our response is to worship Him.” As he grew under Pastor Chuck’s expository teaching, Skip also felt a calling to teach this way. Sensing the Lord leading him toward Albuquerque, Skip proposed to Lenya, and they headed to New Mexico on their honeymoon to start a venture in faith together.

Skip cited Nehemiah 8:8 as a model for teaching the Word: “So they [the teachers] read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading” (KJV). He elaborated, “Their text was the Bible. They helped people understand the meaning of it and apply it to their own lives. That’s the template for expository teaching and preaching.” At Calvary Church, their motto is “Creating Life Change.” Skip explained, “Without the Holy Spirit working through the Bible, there is no lasting spiritual transformation. Change comes from God through His Word, His people applying His Word, and through worshiping Him in spirit and in truth. This all brings about life change. Every great [Protestant] revival in history has at its roots a return to the Word of God.” When Skip first started a Bible study in Albuquerque in 1982, he found that many who came from traditional religious backgrounds had never heard the Word taught in such a way. As their small Bible study blossomed, Skip asked the group if they would like to start meeting on Sunday mornings. Collectively they voted ‘Yes,’ and now Calvary Church reaches nearly 14,000 people on four campuses. “I didn’t come to Albuquerque with a vision to start a megachurch,” Skip recalled. “I was just seeking to be obedient every step of the way as God led us.”

Skip teaches at Good Friday service

Pastor Skip shares a Good Friday message at the church’s outdoor amphitheater.

For years, Calvary Church has used multiple means of getting God’s Good News out to the masses, including those who have never attended church. Impacted by Billy Graham’s TV broadcast and Pastor Chuck’s use of radio to spread God’s Word, Pastor Skip desired early on to use every channel available to reach the lost. “Even Charles Spurgeon had his sermons printed in a weekly paper in Victorian London,” Skip commented. “I believe we should use whatever means we can to spread God’s truth.” For years they have seen the spiritual fruit: “I get letters from people every week who were impacted or saved through a message on the radio or TV,” Skip relates.

In addition to radio and television, Calvary Church also uses social media and the Internet to connect with people where they are. “Social media is very limited,” observed Skip. “You can’t go deep, but you can use it to drive people to another platform where God’s Word is taught; use it as a hook to draw them to church and ultimately to Jesus.” Nearly 70 percent of all Americans use Facebook, and 73 percent use YouTube, according to the Pew Research Center. “Yet, even in our sound-bite culture, people are finding that sites like Twitter and Instagram can’t fill the void,” Skip commented. “Even though it’s called ‘social’ media, it’s about as antisocial as you can get. That’s why we want to give them genuine community and authentic family in the Church.”

I will give You thanks in the great assembly; I will praise You among many people. Psalm 35:18

People sit outside to listen to service

People listen to the Sunday message outside.

Reaching the Lost

Forty years ago, Pastor Skip and Christian media expert Chip Lusko discussed how to reach a secular audience with a biblical message. “It’s difficult,” said Chip, who oversees the radio ministry. “You have to hit the sweet spots in people’s lives, the things they are wondering about: relationships, money, career, family.” Rather than imitating secular talk shows, Chip explained, the Church must focus on communicating the truth. “We Christians have something that will change your life toward God,” he said. “No one else is doing that, because no one else can.”

Kids palm Sunday

Roxie Sharp, director of children’s ministry, teaches on Palm Sunday.

Using multiple channels need not be limited to large churches. “There are so many channels and forms of media available—you can use them effectively on an economic budget,” he explained. “Use what you have; be creative. ... It’s an avenue into hospital rooms, bedrooms, and cars that we could not otherwise get into. You can speak into people’s lives—in prisons, in hospices.” Regarding technology, Chip reflected, “Some want to keep operating in the same ways, but we are responsible to reach our communities. We don’t need to water down the Word; we keep our message consistent. The Gospel is God’s Good News, yet so many have never heard it.”

Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. 2 Timothy 4:2

People exit service

Between 12,000 to 14,000 people attend Calvary Church over Saturday and Sunday.

Brian Nixon oversees education and publishing at Calvary Church. He is grateful that Skip not only stays faithful to teaching the Word of God, but also focuses on providing sound biblical resources and intelligent arguments in support of the Christian faith. Pastor Skip has written several books, including The Bible from 30,000 Feet, a popular survey of Scripture from Genesis to Revelation. In addition, the church often hosts guest speakers such as Joel Rosenberg, Franklin Graham, and Josh McDowell, sharing what God is doing around the world and evidence for the Bible. “Archaeological evidence shows the Bible to be consistent and reliable,” Brian stated. “Our very own Dr. Steven Collins is digging in Jordan; he used the Bible to determine where the ancient city of Sodom is. Geography also serves as evidence: The Bible talks about real people, places, and cultures—not fictitious lands or fairy tales. That’s important because many other religious books don’t. But the Bible is rooted in reality.”

Pastor ministers to man by stage

Assistant Pastor Eric Lamb (left) and other pastors are available to pray after services.

Calvary Church does several things to help the large church family stay connected: video messages, social media pages, various activities, and weekly fellowship groups. There are more than 120 Connect Groups—small gatherings of believers in people’s homes during the week. Aside from enjoying fellowship, accountability, and prayer, attendees also focus on the message taught on Sunday.

“I do a video for our Connect Group leaders,” Skip explained, “reinforcing the Sunday message, offering discussion questions so that they can break it down in their groups, go deeper, discuss how people can live it out.” Leaders also emphasize the same message for Sunday school and children’s ministry to enable family discussion. “It helps keep us all on the same page as a body,” Skip added. Believers at Calvary Church have opportunities to serve in a variety of ways, locally and beyond: feeding children in poverty, reaching out at nursing homes, community outreaches, and sharing Christ with callers through the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association hotline. To help hurting brothers and sisters find healing, Calvary Church offers several different Life Courses to encourage those who have struggled with divorce, substance abuse, grief, anger, and other areas.

And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him. Colossians 3:17

 

All verses above are quoted from the New King James Version.

© 2020 Calvary Chapel Magazine. All rights reserved. Articles or photographs may not be reproduced without the written permission of CCM. All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.® Used by permission.

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