“God has blessed me with the heart of a pastor, and I love people,” says Olson, 48, who joined the Lake Avenue Church staff last summer after eighteen years in ministry at Rolling Hills Covenant Church. “I don’t want anyone to think I’m unapproachable, or detached from the life of the church.”He may be taking on the title of “Executive Pastor,” but the last thing that Chuck Olson wants is to be seen as an office-bound administrator, buried in management details and out of touch with the congregation.
After meeting Chuck, as he prefers to be addressed, it’s hard to imagine that he would ever be in danger of appearing aloof or austere. With his sincere personal concern, friendly attitude and ready smile, it’s easy to see why he started out his early ministry in Christian education and congregational care.
That’s not to say that he doesn’t have a strong gift for administration, however. In fact, he served as Pastor Gordon Kirk’s Executive Pastor at Rolling Hills from 1984 through 1990, when Pastor Kirk left that church to become Senior Pastor here at LAC. Chuck says his core passion is marshalling resources and acting as a practical strategist who will bring together the vision for our church’s future and its day-to-day reality.
He believes that, “great accomplishments begin with a compelling vision, but become reality through daily choices.” His task—to shape those myriad daily choices so that they fulfill the larger goals—is a challenging one, he admits. “My desire is to make a contribution in a context that’s meaningful and not in a vacuum,” he says.
That’s where Chuck’s people personality will come in handy. “I want to get my arms around the heart of this church and its people, to start,” he says. “I want to discover what makes this place what it is, and poke around and learn about all the ministries that are going on, figure out where they’re at and what their next chapter looks like.”
Not surprisingly, given his focus on people, Chuck’s administrative gifts were honed through the prism of congregational care and youth ministry. A Los Angeles native, Chuck attended Biola University and graduated from Dallas Theological Seminary in 1980. He worked at a church in Orange County as the pastor of Christian education for four years, then was called to Rolling Hills Covenant as pastor of congregational care. “When I was in college, I felt that I wanted to pursue education. It wasn’t until my early ministry years that I sensed I also had leadership and administrative gifts,” he recalls.
As the congregation at Rolling Hills grew, he began taking on more and more leadership responsibilities and was ultimately named Executive Pastor. “Leaving there after eighteen years was a very tough thing for our family, with all the friendships and the history we had there,” he says. “But I had sensed that God was preparing me for something new, and I have been overwhelmed by the clarity of God’s leading me here to Lake Avenue.”
Chuck has experienced the clarity of God’s call on his life previously, when he was in school. He went to Biola University, where his grandfather was a board member, intending to study business so he could take over his family’s woodworking business, being the eldest son. But growing up in the Church of the Open Door, his life had been profoundly touched by a youth pastor who took a personal interest in him and called him to rededicate himself to the Lord. “My dad led me to Jesus one night before bedtime when I was five or six, but the reality of my need for a Savior became very, very clear when my pastor called me to something beyond the life I was living,” Chuck recalls. “Youth mission trips were also pivotal times for me, along with the influence of several godly role models.”
The decision to change his major from business to Christian education, made during his sophomore year, was greeted with “incredible support” by his family, he says: “God was tugging at my heart and they understood that.” A younger brother eventually took over the family business, and several years ago Chuck’s father followed him into full-time ministry, retiring recently from a senior ministry position at Mariner’s Church of Irvine. He currently serves as Executive Director of “Senior Living!” a nonprofit ministry aimed at providing for the pastoral needs of senior adults.
Chuck’s family, his wife, Pattie, and sons Boe, 23, and Dusty, 21, have been equally supportive of his recent ministry change, he says. Boe works as an engineer at TRW and Dusty is starting his senior year at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego as a business major. Pattie has been busy getting moved into the couple’s new home in Glendale, after spending several months in Fuller guest housing when they sold their home in San Pedro. A language arts and religion teacher, Pattie plans to take at least a little time off to get adjusted to her new surroundings and find her own place within Lake Avenue Church’s community and ministry, Chuck says.
During their down time, he and Pattie love to take long walks, sample great restaurants and read. Chuck and his boys are big sports enthusiasts, and he runs and plays golf regularly. He is excited and eagerly anticipates what the Lord is going to do through him at Lake Avenue Church.
“My core passion is to call the people of this church to the fullness of life that God has for us,” he says. “I believe God wants us to live life richly, out loud, in full color—from the heart. Seeing lives changed: That’s what really gets me pumped up!”
This interview was originally published in “Seasons Magazine,” Sept/Oct 2002, a publication of Lake Avenue Church. Used by permission.