Current Status: Alumni
Central Christian Church reaches an average of 10,000 people through services on five church campuses each week. Senior Pastor Cal Jernigan is a 1978 graduate of HIU, and he says he never imagined a life in the ministry when he was growing up in Arizona.
“I came from a broken, dysfunctional home,” said Jernigan. “I lived in a non-Christian home with my mom and my sister, and I was headed for trouble.”
He was befriended by teammates who ran track and field with him, and they invited him to a Christian summer camp during the summer after his junior year in high school. He said that summer rocked his world and he never looked back after meeting Jesus at camp.
Jernigan’s educational goal was admission to Arizona State University (ASU), where he planned to study engineering, but something told him he needed to look elsewhere. Some of his friends were connected with HIU (then Pacific Christian College), and he decided to go to PCC for one year for the purpose of getting a Bible background. His mother told him that she had saved for ASU and wouldn’t fund a move to California for him to attend PCC.
Shortly after the beginning of his first semester, the business office staff informed Jernigan that he needed more money if he wanted to remain. Despondent, Jernigan wandered to the swimming pool and sat, deciding that he would have to leave school. A woman passed and asked him why he was upset. He told her his story and they talked for a while. The following day, when he went to tell the business office staff that he would be leaving HIU, the staff told him that his tuition had been paid in full and, for the next four years, the woman who had spoken with him next to the pool and her husband, Lois and Harold Rayburn, of Los Alamos, New Mexico, paid for Jernigan’s education.
Between his sophomore and junior years, Jernigan was hired to work as a PCC recruiter at the same camp where he met Jesus. Once again, his summer camp experience proved to be life-changing, as he recognized his call to ministry during those months. He credits a number of PCC influences with his preparation during those years and said that his life and ministry wouldn’t be nearly as rich without his preparation at PCC.
“John Rowe (late Administrator) was like a dad, and Gary Tiffin (retired Dean) confronted me on some stuff… I really wasn’t much to work with,” he said “ Professor Mont Smith (now deceased) encouraged me in my future ministry by teaching me that being a pastor is working with fantastic people, pursuing a fantastic mission, and serving a fantastic God.”
Back in his home state, Jernigan served as Youth Pastor at Central Christian. University President Leroy Lawson was serving as Senior Pastor at Central Christian years later, after Jernigan had served for nearly two decades. One day, Lawson asked him how long he had thought he would serve as a Youth Pastor.
“I thought I was getting fired!” Jernigan laughs.
On the contrary, Lawson had chosen Jernigan as his successor as Senior Pastor. Jernigan spent some time as Lawson’s apprentice and earned a master’s degree from Fuller Seminary. He has served as Senior Pastor since 1999.
“Those apprentice years helped me understand who I am and what I was made for,” he remembered. “It’s perfectly clear, in hindsight, where God was leading me.”
His role as Senior Pastor and in his community has been instrumental in the growth of Central Christian Church, and has also led to great spiritual adventures, which he calls “moving into the difficult realms of leadership.”
“We are building a bi-partisan church,” he said. “Our love of Christ is greater than our affiliation with a political party. We are learning how to love those who are different.”
This particular aspect of his calling began with Jernigan’s epiphany that he had to learn to love the “other,” not just the tight-knit group with shared values, and he says that he has learned to “speak a language I didn’t know existed and, now, I’ve been invited into realms I didn’t even know existed.”
He recently traveled to Abu Dhabi to meet with other evangelical pastors, as well as Muslim imams and Jewish rabbis. The forum focused on creating peace among Muslim countries.
Jernigan was also invited to the Vatican with a group of clergy to discuss unity between Protestants and Catholics.
“God is taking me on a journey to see what He is doing in the world,” he explained. “This stuff matters, and the only way to introduce Jesus to people is to be their friend.”
The experiences of Jernigan’s own life, growth, and ministry serve as a perpetual motivator to continue support of HIU.
“My life has far exceeded what I could have asked or imagined,” he said. “We are committed to provide the means for those who do not have them, as they prepare to follow God’s call at HIU.”