Lonnie Frisbee was an evangelist,
missionary, artist, and the original “hippy preacher” of the early 1970s Jesus People movement. Largely unknown and uncredited for many years, Lonnie Frisbee has recently garnered much interest concerning his influence on the modern-day charismatic world, as many books and documentaries have been released in the last few years that highlight the role of this unique, anointed, and controversial figure in contemporary church history. Lonnie Ray Frisbee was born on June 6,1949, in Santa Ana, California, to Ray Frisbee and Janette Ashley. As described in his autobiographical series, Lonnie’s childhood was marked by neglect, abandonment, and abuse that would, as with anyone with childhood trauma, have a lasting effect on his life. In the midst of this pain, Lonnie’s life was also marked by the purpose and grace of God. Lonnie became a Christian at age eight after hearing the gospel story told through a local church puppet show, became involved in church and Christian camps, and showed interest in faith healing and spiritual gifts at an early age.
It was this combination
—the desire to experience God, to share “power encounters” with others, as well as the broken foundations of his early years—
that would define Lonnie’s life and ministry.
Like many teenagers in the 60’s,
Lonnie began experimenting with drugs and different forms of spirituality, and as a natural evangelist, introduced many friends and family members to LSD as a new religious experience. During his high school years, he landed a role on Casey Kasem’s live dance show, Shebang!, and began competing in art competitions, even winning a scholarship to the Academy of Art School in San Francisco. (Click here to see some of his works) He moved to the Haight-Ashbury district during the Summer of Love in 1967, and it was there Lonnie witnessed the different cultural movements of the time. This was the Age of Aquarius, and San Francisco was the epicenter of change for the flower-power generation, from the women’s, anti-war, and New Age movements to gay and civil rights, as well the early stages of the Jesus movement. Inspired by the extreme changes surrounding him,
Lonnie changed his personal style,
growing out his hair and beard, wearing robes and sandals, and giving himself a distinctive, Old Testament prophet look.
On a trip back to Southern California,
Lonnie had a divine encounter in a cave in Tahquitz Canyon. Lonnie had a vision from God, “clear as crystal,” in which he saw “thousands and thousands of young people at the ocean, lined up in huge crowds along the coast, and they were going out into the water to be baptized.” According to Lonnie, he “knew instantly that Jesus was real and that he was calling me to follow him.” After recommitting his life to Christ and receiving the call to ministry, Lonnie returned to San Francisco, quit art school, and took his first steps toward ministry as an evangelist. He met and quickly joined Ted Weiss and other Christian families in a communal ministry house called the Living Room in Novato, California. During this period, Lonnie witnessed to a young woman named Connie Bremer, who became a Christian and soon after, his wife. Together, they lived in the Living Room, and Lonnie took to the streets, feeding the hungry, open-air preaching, and even hitchhiking in order to share the gospel.
On one of these hitchhiking trips,
Lonnie got picked up by John Nicholson, a young Christian eager to introduce Lonnie to his girlfriend’s father, a pastor named Chuck Smith. At the time, Chuck pastored a small local church called Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa, which consisted of a hundred or so congregants on a given Sunday. Chuck desired to reach out to the growing hippy community in Costa Mesa, and after meeting Lonnie, a “real hippy,” Chuck offered him a job on his ministry team. Lonnie accepted, and he and Connie moved to Southern California. Little by little in a short period of time, Calvary began to grow. Lonnie preached on Wednesday nights and on the streets and beaches. He was a remarkable power evangelist and began to operate in many gifts of the Spirit, including faith healing, deliverance, and prophecy. Soon hundreds of young people began to flock to Calvary Chapel. Lonnie’s vision from God in Tahquitz Canyon came to pass during this exciting season, as he and Chuck baptized thousands of new Christians in the ocean at Corona del Mar.
As more and more hippies began to turn to Christ,
national and international media took notice of these “Jesus freaks.” Many books, documentaries, news stations, and magazines, such as Time magazine in 1971, covered this cultural phenomenon, and Lonnie, with his long hair and beard, long robes, sandals, and fresh, engaging style, was the perfect symbol of the “hippy preacher” for this movement. Lonnie began going on international ministry trips with Calvary Chapel and saw incredible numbers of salvations and revivals around the world. At the height of this Jesus People movement, he and Chuck Smith, along with several young people from Calvary Chapel, appeared on Kathryn Kuhlman’s I Believe in Miracles.
After leaving Calvary Chapel…
…to be mentored by Bob Mumford in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, during a period now known as the infamous Shepherding movement, Lonnie returned to minister at Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa. On the rocks since moving to Southern California, Lonnie and Connie’s marriage ended shortly after returning to California. While still reeling from this disappointment, in 1978 Lonnie stepped out as a missionary for Calvary Chapel and embarked on an around-the-world mission trip to Central and South America, Israel, Europe, and Africa, experiencing a new level of the Holy Spirit’s power and anointing. Many healings, deliverances, and revivals broke out in the churches in which he preached. Returning home in 1980, Lonnie was invited to minister at the Sunday evening Mother’s Day service at Calvary Chapel Yorba Linda, pastored by John Wimber. John describes this powerful night in his book Power Evangelism, referring to Lonnie as “the young man.” During this service, Lonnie ushered in a dramatic move of the Holy Spirit, shaking up John’s beliefs about the Spirit.
John Wimber eventually came around on this new manifestation…
…and decided to part ways with Calvary Chapel after Kenn Gulliksen, founder of Vineyard Christian Fellowship, offered to let John take the reins of his ministry. John accepted, and many different Calvary Chapel pastors who wanted to pursue this new expression of the Holy Spirit also transitioned into Vineyard churches in what is often referred to as the Vineyard movement. The influence of the Vineyard movement on American church culture cannot be overstated when it comes to kingdom theology, the gifts of the Spirit, and worship music in general. It was during this season that new worship leaders emerged, such as Keith Green, and many Vineyard churches developed throughout California, across the country, and in different nations in a short period of time.
Lonnie ministered at the Vineyard in Yorba Linda until 1983,
when he parted ways after many rumors and accusations came against him concerning his sexuality. The next few years can be described as his “dark night of the soul,” as Lonnie moved to San Diego, returned to his art, and secluded himself from established church. During this season, Lonnie also became addicted to cocaine, but after a couple of traumatic events, returned to his first love, Jesus, reconnected with friends, started a small house church ministry, continued with missions, got counseling for his childhood trauma, and began to see real inner healing in his life. He later connected with Pastor Phil Aguilar of Set Free church, and even became involved in a new ministry with Roger Sachs called Freedom Crusade, which placed a heavy emphasis on international missions. While these later years were anointed and Lonnie continued to see breakthrough in his emotional life, in 1991 Lonnie learned he was HIV positive, which developed into AIDS, still an untreatable virus in the early nineties. He returned to Newport Beach, and many friends visited to help him physically and financially. Though his health rapidly declined, Lonnie used this time as an opportunity to reconcile with a few people whom he had been estranged from over the last few years including Chuck Smith and John Wimber.
Lonnie passed away on March 12, 1993,
and his funeral was held at the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, Orange County, where he is buried.Prior to his death, Lonnie asked Roger Sachs, a close friend, to ghostwrite his life story. Together, they recorded hundreds of hours of audio and video testimonies to ensure that the stories of God’s working would be preserved for generations to come. The Not by Might, Nor by Power series is the personal, compelling result of their collaboration, covering the life of this powerful minister in his own words.
Lonnie is considered a catalyst for many different movements in the body of Christ.
His influence on major ministers and ministries of the seventies and eighties is extensive. The dramatic growth of Calvary Chapel is adirect result of Lonnie’s ministry there, as was his ministry at All Saints Episcopal Church in Riverside, California, which Lonnie handed over to Greg Laurie and later became Harvest Ministries. Lonnie personally influenced Danny Lehmann, who later founded Youth with a Mission (YWAM), as well as many other influential people and ministries around the world, particularly in South Africa and the UK. John Wimber’s ministry and the Vineyard in general were both directly affected by Lonnie. The dramatic outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Mother’s Day 1980 shifted Wimber’s perspective on the anointing, which was the seed for many different revivals in America and abroad. The people and ministries influenced by Calvary Chapel, the Vineyard, Harvest Ministries, and YWAM, as well as the thousands of Christians and ministers around the world who were touched by Lonnie’s life, can all in some way be considered the spiritual fruit of Lonnie Frisbee’s ministry.For more information on Lonnie’s life, read Not by Might, Nor by Power, his autobiographical series: The Jesus Revolution, book one; The Great Commission, book two; and Set Free, book three (coming 2018). For more information on Freedom Crusade, visit the website here.