It was different in the beginning. It was new, exciting, and solid. Pastor Greg Laurie (Harvest Crusade) was an immense advocate of Fresh Life Church and a mentor to Pastor Levi Lusko.
Lusko was coined as the “modern-day Billy Graham,” a new hip version for today’s youth especially. And just like Billy Graham, many would come forth at massive rallies when Lusko spoke and made confessions for Christ.
The church began with only 14 people on top of a downtown Kalispell business. “FL” quickly outgrew their space and moved into the Strand Theater in the business section of East Kalispell. Then eventually they took on “The Liberty” another theater in the business section of Kalispell’s prestigious East Side.
It quickly grew, and the teaching was a “Calvary Chapel” style. Expository teaching and, to my knowledge, the Bible was taught in sequence (book to book) through both the Old and New Testaments simultaneously weekly.
Lusko had good, mature men behind him. Skip Heitzig (Calvary Chapel, New Mexico) and, as mentioned, Greg Laurie, who heads up the “Harvest Crusades” (Harvest Christian Fellowship), where millions of people make/made professions of faith in Christ. These men and others invested deeply into this “promising evangelist’s” life. And Lusko was following in that vein, in Laurie’s footsteps.
However, the congregation excused things all along because “hey, so many people were getting saved” and consistently. There was a weekly altar call and a genuine call to repentance of sin and receiving Christ as Savior.
Each new convert came down to the front and received a Bible and prayer and counsel from various trained teams of stronger believers. All was going very well for the most part. Each new believer was then urged to plug into home bible study (cell) groups through the church.
And in his defense, Levi Lusko is a wonderful father and husband. (Except he seems to have engaged them in the ‘Social Gospel’; more on that later). He is a self-proclaimed virgin (until married), as is his beautiful wife, Jennie, and they would minister to the youth, encouraging them to lead lives of abstinence.
But there were issues. Fresh Life Church had (and still has) no elders. The assistant pastor, office workers, and worship leaders were all in their 20’s. With older board members (which at that time consisted of Laurie and other Calvary Chapel pastors around the country), they didn’t feel the need for “elders.” However, many of these senior board members didn’t live locally, and there’s a reason the Bible wants the day-to-day input and teaching from “local elders.” Ironically about 25% of the church attendees were well over 50 years of age and loved that younger people were coming to Christ, so they didn’t make too many waves for a while concerning the lack of “elders.” (Eventually, though, it was one of many reasons the older folks in the congregation left).
But there’s a reason for elders. These leaders were just too young to lead with wisdom. For instance, they didn’t understand the concept of benevolence ministry very well. When people from the church or the community asked for help such as basic needs (utilities, etc.), the church asked that they repay them. They gave, but minimally and wanted something in return.
As Fresh Life is a 501(c3), anyone could ask the church headship for their incoming and outgoing expenses. However, when asked, all they submitted to the one requesting was a pie circle on a sheet of paper. No actual monetary amounts existed but rather what “percent” went to pastor’s salaries, children’s ministries, etc.
And speaking of which, parents would remark that the staff would give candy to the children to get them to come to “kids church.” Not that the kids didn’t love kid’s church, but that made it all the “sweeter.
But what genuinely threw things off were the cell groups. Cell groups can be excellent ways for people in churches to connect. Or not. The overseeing pastors were very strict concerning the number of church folk “allowed” to group up together in individual homes. So if you got in a group, you did, and if you didn’t sign up at the speed of lightning, well, then tough luck. Some “cell group hosts” even cheated and allowed more than 16 people into their homes to fellowship, eat, and learn from the sheet with questions that were presented to them from that week’s sermon to mull over. It seems Jesus wouldn’t be so strict with the limit.
Where things really started to change was when the Luskos’ lost their beautiful 5-year-old daughter, Lenya, to a severe asthma attack. It was heartbreaking, and the whole church wept together. It was as a result of that event that things exploded. Levi Lusko wrote a book entitled “Through the Eyes of a Lion” about suffering in this world and still walking through sorrow with Jesus as the victor. It was a huge seller—a worldwide hit, and granted; it impacted many in a very positive way.
Carl Lentz (Hillsong, NY Pastor at that time and who (has since fallen into grave sin and been released from his position) came to Montana to be by Lusko’s side and grieve with him. That was the beginning of Lusko’s introduction to unfit pastors. Then came his relationship with Steven Furtick. Furtick is sloppy, a buffoon, and leads his church service like a 3 Ring Circus Act. And Lusko promoted him heavily. He was a lot of flash and not much substance. It was then that Lusko began to change.
And over time, Greg Laurie started to drop out of the picture, as did Fresh Life’s solid mentors. It was then that the young preacher was starting to emerge and side up with “Worldly Pastors.” Slipping in the “Prosperity Gospel” became more and more prevalent and apparent (after all, it’s a movement, and who wants to miss the train)? Many elderly folks began to leave, and the altar calls for salvation became fewer and fewer.
Lusko’s net worth is now somewhere between 7 to 10 million (he owns both Fresh Life Churches in Kalispell MT, The Liberty, and The Strand (both of which are theaters and other properties nearby). Sometimes people can’t handle that kind of wealth and not slip in the Prosperity Gospel as an aside
The young preacher became more enamored with the world (especially the big church evangelical world) and “things.” It’s hard when pastors make more and more money, whether via “book sales” or speaking engagements (or whatever the case may be), to not be enticed with the world. But out of the heart, the mouth speaks, and as a result, his sermons contained more about “prosperity.”
“Fresh Life Church Campuses” began to pop up everywhere, with Lusko becoming larger than life via the big screen. And in Polson, Montana, he was absolutely larger than life. Obnoxious pictures of Lusko in action were plastered outside the building, similar to a Mother Mary relic. There are now seven locations in Montana alone. “Fresh Life Polson, Fresh Life Bozeman,” Fresh Life Missoula” (you get the idea). And there’s a “Fresh Life Portland” too, as well as in other states. Church attendants were so excited to get these started! People would drop whatever they were doing to get involved and further the gospel. And attendees truly were getting saved in many places. However, it’s uncertain if there’s much real overseeing or discipleship by leaders or pastors on these “campuses.”
Montana Daily Gazette did recently receive a report that at least one of these “Campuses” has a female pastor at its head which makes for another downfall.
But he’s changed. His teaching now is sloppy and full of errancy. “He’s famous now.” Actually, he’s been famous for a while and quite untouchable. Lusko isn’t really a pastor; he’s a preacher. Not a large number of people are allowed in his inner circle. He’s a celebrity who is often surrounded by bodyguards. And he owns his own jet. He’s become literally ‘larger than life.’
And one area where Lusko really lost it was his lack of logic and spiritual insight concerning the Covid “pandemic” concerning his church. He felt it was right, almost divine, for businesses to stay open but not the church. That concept is not biblical.
“I’ve not had one non-Christian go, ‘Why aren’t you open?’ Then I say, ‘We’re trying to serve the city by being on the slow side,’ he said. “I’ve never had one non-Christian be like, ‘That’s terrible.’ They say, ‘Wow, I really respect that.’ I feel like it’s an act towards evangelism, and that is driving our desire to be on the slow side.”
Simply put, go out to eat, but don’t come to church. Click here to read the article
When Lusko used “scripture” from “The Passion Translation” (perhaps the most heretical Bible wanna be knock off of the century) in his book entitled “Take Back Your Life,” he didn’t even realize it was heresy. But he also preaches from it on occasion from the pulpit.
In fact, a couple of church leaders ( a married couple) approached him to discuss “The Passion Translation” (as well as other issues) and finally left because they “didn’t see eye to eye” with the young preacher.
Lusko also bought into the BLM deception and at one time had a Black Lives Matter fist displayed on his Instagram account. His family wore face masks in public, even his children. In other words, he bought into the whole agenda. Not good. And then Lusko did the unthinkable. In Kalispell Mt on in Depot Park, just off Main Street, he bowed down at a local BLM event paying homage to the leftists. One person supporter saw Lusko bowed down. He commented, “Reprobates were carrying BLM support signs, anti-police signs, there was LGBTQ confusion, anti-Trump, and other unintelligible causes that day.”
This was definitely not a good move on Lusko’s part.
The altar calls are fewer these days, and the prosperity gospel has crept in. But isn’t that the way things usually go, especially in larger mainstream evangelical churches? No one is deceived all at once, are they?
The fact is many people have left in the last year or so, and it is a whole different church entirely.
It was different in the beginning…..
Editor’s Note. This article was a guest post written by Brenda Roskos. It was originally published at the Montana Daily Gazette