Although the picture of success, in more than 50 years of ministry, pastor Fred Price has learned the hard way to walk by faith. Now he's made it his mission to ensure his congregation doesn't have to.
You may have seen him on television preaching to a neatly dressed congregation, Bibles opened in their laps, eyes glued to the 73-year-old man in a crisp business suit, monochromatic tie and trimmed mustache. Frederick K.C. Price roams the aisles of the Crenshaw Christian Center (CCC), teaching, cajoling, encouraging and—sometimes—disconcerting his flock of 21,000.
This is not “The Fred Price Show,” however. No organ or choir back him up. No theatrics accompany his exposition. There’s no one on the platform to stand and wave a hanky when he waxes especially eloquent. Located in the heart of Los Angeles, CCC has its share of celebrities—TV announcer Ed McMahon, R & B artist Mary J. Blige, Tae Bo creator Billy Blanks. But nobody expects “the celebrity treatment” at Price’s church.
“If you’re a celebrity and you just want to be seen on the front pew in a church,” he explained in a recent interview with Ministries Today, “the best thing to do is not to come here.”
After more than 50 years of ministry, Price’s method and message are essentially the same they were nearly 35 years ago, when he was introduced to the baptism with the Holy Spirit and came to embrace the teachings of the Word-Faith movement. Still, Price has an inquisitive nature that leads him to implement new models of ministry and risk his staid reputation for the sake of reaching people different from himself.
In fact, every fifth Sunday morning, he trades in his jacket and tie for a baggy warm-up suit and joins his son Frederick Jr. on the stage for Hip-Hop Sunday, an event targeting young people and featuring rap music and high-energy preaching—all aimed at reaching unchurched youth and bridging the cultural gap between parents and their kids.
When Price enters a room full of people, he tends to attract attention, walking with a lively gait that belies his age. In his spacious office, photos of CCC in its various stages of growth cover the walls, along with mementos from friends and family. From the books neatly filed on the bookcase, to the folders orderly arranged on his credenza, it is clear that Fred Price is a man who appreciates discipline, structure and attention to detail.
“When I read the first chapter of Genesis, I see that God is a God of order,” he explains as he sits down in the chair behind his mammoth desk. “That’s what I’ve tried to emulate in my ministry—in everything we do here.”
Today he may look like the picture of success, but Price always begins his life story describing the humble circumstances of his childhood in a segregated community and early years in ministry characterized by debt, illness and professional frustration.
FROM STRUGGLE TO SUCCESS
Born in Santa Monica, California, in 1932, Price was reared in a nominal Jehovah’s Witnesses family and accepted Christ in 1953. When he and his wife, Betty, joined a local Baptist church, it was the custom of the minister to ask each person who came forward for membership what they wanted to “do for the Lord.” Before the pastor reached him, Price heard the audible voice of God speak into his left ear, “You are to preach My gospel.”
His first years in ministry were anything but glamorous, as he performed menial tasks for the minister and only seldom had an opportunity to preach. During these years Price supported himself and his growing family by selling magazines and working in a paper factory and a Coca-Cola bottling plant—always “owing his soul to the company store.”
In the years that followed his call to ministry, Price served churches in several denominations—Baptist, African Methodist Episcopal and Presbyterian. In 1965, he became pastor of a Christian and Missionary Alliance (CMA) church that had shriveled to nine members. Four years later, the church had grown to 125, and Price was able to quit his secular employment.
Although he was convinced of his call to ministry, he grew increasingly frustrated with an anemic version of Christianity in which prayers weren’t answered, believers suffered from illness and poverty … and nobody seemed to have a problem with it.
Then, a friend gave Price several books by charismatic authors who awakened him to the “missing ingredient” in his life, and Price subsequently received the baptism with the Holy Spirit in 1970. But it was Authority of the Believer, by Kenneth Hagin Sr., that revolutionized this 38-year-old pastor and introduced him to the principles that have become the core of his ministry.
Soon after, his fledgling congregation of 125 ballooned to 300, and the church became independent of the CMA, purchasing a 1,200-seat sanctuary for $750,000.
“In 1973 God began to deal with me about leaving the denomination and forming an independent-dependent work,” Price says, describing the departure from the denomination. “Independent of man and dependent on God.”
With the move, the church changed its name to Crenshaw Christian Center, and by 1977, the congregation had outgrown the facility (with two services every Sunday) and was looking for land on which to build.
Now celebrating more than 50 years of ministry, Price leads a still-growing congregation based on the 32-acre campus in south central L.A.—land that CCC bought from Pepperdine University in 1981 when the school moved to Malibu. The $14-million property and the $10-million sanctuary the church built there were paid off within six years of moving in.
Price heads a staff of 11 pastors and 235 employees that work in the church’s diverse ministries: a preschool, elementary, middle and high school; 16 helps ministries with approximately 2,500 volunteers; and Ever Increasing Faith, the TV outreach Price founded in 1978 that now reaches more than 15 million households.
In 1990, Price launched the Fellowship of Inner-City Word of Faith Ministries (FICWFM), a ministerial network connecting nearly 500 pastors globally.
In 2001, CCC planted a satellite campus in midtown Manhattan (Crenshaw Christian Center East), now led by Allen Landry, a former assistant pastor at CCC. Price still travels one weekend a month to preach and teach at the church, which now runs more than 1,000 people.
His congregants aren’t the only ones drawn to Price’s success. His accolades include honorary degrees from Rhema Bible Training Center and Oral Roberts University, the prestigious Horatio Alger Award and the Kelly Miller Smith Interfaith Award, presented by the Southern Leadership Conference.
But Price traces his success not to gimmicks or pop theology, but to a strict obedience to the “assignment” God gave him.
“Most ministers just want to carbon-copy what somebody else is doing,” he observes. “My real definition of success is fulfilling what God called me to do—fulfilling my assignment.”
THE FAMILY MAN
Now grown, all four of Fred Price’s children are on staff at the ministry: Angela Evans is the chief operating officer of CCC and Ever Increasing Faith; Cheryl Price serves on the staff of FICWFM; and Stephanie Buchanan is on staff at CCC. The youngest child, Frederick K. Price Jr., serves as an assistant pastor and is the heir-apparent to the CCC pulpit.
Known as a family man, Price often reminds his congregation, “God created the family before He created the church—so family is always going to be more important to me.” The Price children have warm memories of family vacations and trips to the nearby ocean and mountains—and his constant presence in the home.
“He’s an awesome role model,” says Angela, 48, who is self-described as “the rebellious one in my teens” but who has now worked closely with her father for 30 years. “What you see on-screen and his public persona is the same as what he is at home—the integrity of the man is intact at all times.”
She describes the unshakable faith her father modeled when her older brother was hit by a car and killed in 1962. After Price embraced Word-Faith teachings, he began to see God restore what Satan had stolen from him early in his life. But even he was surprised when Betty became pregnant at the age of 45, and Kenneth Hagin Sr. prophesied that the child would be a boy—God’s restoration of the son that had been lost nearly two decades earlier.
Now 26, Frederick K. Price Jr. is being groomed to lead the church when his father retires. However, “Pastor Freddy,” as he is known, says that his was a call from God—not from Mom and Dad.
“Even though Kenneth Hagin told my parents that I would follow my dad in ministry, they allowed me to hear the call for myself,” he explains. “They never once put pressure on me—or even mentioned it.”
The younger Price says he got his imagination, competitiveness and curiosity from his father—a man who relishes sci-fi movies, reads at least one book a week and is always up for a game of Scrabble or Uno.
“People get the idea that my father’s all buttoned-down and doesn’t have any fun,” Fred Jr. says. “But he loves to have fun; he’s got a great imagination—and that’s what helped me become the person I am today.”
In recent years—and since the death of Kenneth Hagin Sr. in 2003—Price has become a major spokesperson for the Word-Faith movement.
Price’s critics (e.g. Christianity in Crisis author Hank Hanegraaff and A Different Gospel author D.R. McConnell) accuse him of propagating a doctrine of health and wealth. But he has remained firm in his belief that Christians should be physically whole, financially blessed and free of suffering—a theology some opponents say doesn’t ring true in a world in which the most vibrant sectors of Christendom are often its most impoverished and persecuted.
Pentecostals and charismatics have sometimes been reluctant to embrace the core of Word-Faith teachings—in spite of the fact that its key leaders often came from traditional Pentecostal denominations. However, Price argues that the renewal provided a fertile ground for what he believes is a deeper revelation of something that God intended for the church all along.
“The Holy Spirit brought this teaching to the fore—out from under the denominationalism, traditionalism and theology,” he explains. “And we realized that it was the key to everything.”
He says that those who considered the Word-Faith a mere movement, rather than “a revelation of the way the system works,” have long since left for greener pastures.
“They got caught up in the illustrations that we used to apply its principles,” he explains. “They tried it for a season, and when they didn’t get the big car, yacht and jewelry, they gave up.”
Prosperity, Price contends, is just the natural byproduct of a life of faith—and its purpose is not primarily for personal benefit. “A lot of teachers have been teaching prosperity for prosperity’s sake,” he notes. “It’s not wrong, but it’s not enough. Deuteronomy 8:18 reveals the true purpose of prosperity: ‘Remember the Lord your God, for it is He who gives you power to get wealth, that He may establish His covenant which He swore to your fathers, as it is this day.’”
Price is transparent about his own affluence-—the Bentley parked outside his office, his ministry’s private jet. “Wealth is for the purpose of establishing His covenant,” he says. “Now in the process of doing that … the crumbs that fall from the table will be the yacht, the clothes, the jewelry and the cars—I don’t have to seek after these things.”
What Price is less likely to talk about is his generosity. His son, Fred Jr., notes that his father gave away more than $1 million of his own money in 2004. “I wish the guys that criticize him could see that side of him,” he says. “I’ve seen what he sows into the kingdom.”
For Price, money is not an end in itself, but a means. His financial success is proof that the message he preaches can be applied in the real world. Price believes that it is especially important for blacks to see that the principles of prosperity transcend economic and racial differences.
“I want them to know that this works,” he explains. “It works for someone black and in the ghetto. So don’t let that any longer be your excuse for not succeeding.”
And what if he doesn’t see people in the pews prospering financially and enjoying health?
“That would be a problem of monumental proportions, but I haven’t seen that,” he says, citing the peace of mind, family stability and prosperity that he contends results from a lifestyle of faith.
Eldrena Hanna was a single mother, when she moved to Los Angeles from Florida in 1985. An unsaved friend recommended she visit CCC. “The preacher’s comical—you’ll enjoy listening to him,” her friend said. Hanna began attending, became a member and within two years was serving in the helps ministry at the church.
After applying the principles she learned from Price, she overcame the trials of a major surgery, bought a home—in Southern California, no less—and was promoted in her job. Currently, a stock broker for Merrill Lynch, Hanna credits her success and spiritual maturity to the consistent teaching of the Word she has received at CCC.
“Dr. Price taught me that it’s not just about monetary prosperity. It’s about studying the Word and applying it every day,” she explains. “He is a role model—but these principles don’t just work for him—they work for everybody.”
FAITH IS A VERB
While critics quibble over hermeneutical nuances, at the core of Price’s theology is a view of Scripture itself that accepts the text on its face value.
“Scriptures in the Bible on healing and prosperity require no interpretation—they are what they are,” he argues. “You don’t have to interpret them.”
This confidence is what is appealing to many of Price’s followers. In fact, he is convinced that belief in the Word, verbal confession of its promises and obedience to its commands constitute a legitimate formula for prosperity and health that “works like a charm.”
“Like money in the secular world, faith is the currency that makes everything work in the kingdom of God,” he explains. “Faith is what drives it. The more faith you have, the more things you can do—good things for people.”
Word-Faith critics have often claimed that the movement’s adherents view faith as a “force” that a believer can tap into to receive whatever he or she desires. Price says this couldn’t be further from the truth.
“Faith is acting on the known will of God,” he explains. “I believe I can pick up the phone and talk to anyone, but it won’t happen if I don’t pick up the phone. Faith is following through with what you believe.”
This perspective shapes every decision in Price’s life. He’s not a man of contemplation, but of action, frequently describing instances in which God told him to do something—and he obeyed. From the location and name of the church to the cities in which his TV ministry was first broadcast, every major decision Price has made has been a result of following through with an “assignment” he believes God has given him.
“Learn how to walk by faith, not by sight,” he says. “That’s the motto of my life.”
For Price, it’s all about saying what God wants him to say—the way God wants him to say it. “God said to me: ‘Don’t preach. Teach what I’ve taught you,’” he recalls. “One of these days, when nobody shows up for church, I’ll know it’s time for me to go golfing. Until then, I’m gonna keep on doing what I’m doing the way I’m doing it.”
For years, Price has been busy doing just that. In fact, his policy has been not to respond to his critics’ offensive statements—even when he’s misrepresented.
“Most of the time I am misrepresented,” he says with a smile. “But I don’t engage them. I can’t change their minds anyway.”
Not that he’s afraid to take a stand. One incident in the 1990s—when a prominent white leader advised against interracial marriage and dating—caused Price to speak out, and it reshaped his ministry.
Several years ago, he was given a cassette containing a message given by a pastor who recounted an incident in which he found one of his children playing with a black friend. The pastor told his child: “We play. We go together as a group, but we do not date one another.”
Although horrified by what he heard, Price says he decided “not to rock the boat” out of concern for his relationship with the leader’s ministry.
“The Spirit of God began to deal with me about it,” he recalls. “When you put it all together, it was racial and ethnic prejudice involved.”
He confronted the leader, and, although an apology was issued, Price believed the apology should have been a retraction.
“Bottom line,” he says. “Since then, there has been no resolution to the problem.”
This event prompted Price to engage in an intensive study on racism in America and the church—culminating in a yearlong series that he preached at CCC and a three-volume book titled Race, Religion & Racism. Price contends that the church is still suffering from a subtle prejudice that says, Whites are the leaders and blacks are the followers.
Although Price is highly concerned by racism, in his trademark level-headed demeanor and passion for getting to the root of the problem, he’s more irritated by the church climate that allows such behavior than he is the individuals who perpetrate it. In an April 1998 article in Charisma magazine, Price is quoted as saying: “I’m not angry at any individual, and I’m not angry at any group of people. I’m angry that the church hasn’t done anything about the situation of racism.”
NO DEFENSE NECESSARY
Price doesn’t have much time for the term Word-Faith “movement”: “That’s the terminology critics use,” he contends. “This has been around since the apostle Paul—there’s nothing new about it.”
This stubborn stability is what was so attractive to Price’s right hand man, administrative pastor Craig Hays. He joined CCC in 1976, became a deacon and then came on staff at the church in 1987. Hays was called to ministry when he was a child, but never entered the pastorate because he was discouraged by what he saw as contradictions in the lives of church leaders.
“When I met Dr. Price, I found a man that stayed steadfast,” he explains. “He doesn’t have a church face and a home face—he is the one who taught me how to be consistent.”
These same sentiments are echoed by FICWFM member and El Paso, Texas, pastor Charles Nieman, who first heard Price’s teachings in the mid 1970s. For the last 28 years, he has led Abundant Living Faith Center, a congregation that has grown to 12,000—success Nieman has largely attributed to Price’s teachings. But what the Texas pastor most admires about his mentor is his consistency.
“With Dr. Price, what you see is what you get,” he says. “Their marriage is, was and continues to be an example to those in ministry. Many of his spiritual sons have said that they learned how to treat their wives by watching how he treats Betty—in fact, I’ve seen their wives stand up and thank Fred for that!”
Price recently stood with Betty through a bout with cancer that threatened her life. Some observers seized upon this misfortune as an opportunity to question Price’s theology. Price says that this wasn’t a failure of faith, but a case of cause and effect.
“I don’t believe in accidents. Everything is a result of something we either do, don’t do or do incorrectly,” he says.
Price teaches that choices and words play heavy in a person’s health and prosperity. Any negative situation can ultimately be traced to a misspoken word, misplaced belief or misapplied principle.
“My wife abused her body all of her life without knowing it,” he explains. “She was raised on eating certain types of food. She changed her lifestyle, but the tumor had already developed.”
The family stood firm together, believing that the cancer would not take Betty’s life, and she is alive and healthy today.
Price doesn’t have much time for people who blame their misfortunes on God … or the devil. In his theology, Satan is virtually powerless—but he uses instances of sin and ignorance to undermine the health, prosperity and spiritual growth of believers. “Satan can’t do anything on his own,” Price explains. “He’s an opportunist. He can only deal with what we give him.”
This personal responsibility is at the core of Price’s theology—a belief that God is limited or released by the words of His human creation. “The devil can’t do anything on his own any more than God the Father can do anything without our help,” Price teaches.
To some evangelicals who believe in the sovereignty of God, these are inflammatory words. But Price is careful to explain that he does not believe God is objectively limited. Instead, He limits Himself to interact with His creation—to authentically answer prayer.
“It’s not because He doesn’t have the power, but because He’s designed the system to work at the behest of our free wills,” Price explains. “People think that God does whatever He wants to arbitrarily. If that were true—we know God wants everybody saved—why doesn’t He save everybody? He can’t, unless we believe.”
When Price explains it this way, it sounds no different than the convictions of a large portion of Wesleyan evangelicals and traditional Pentecostals. Why doesn’t he rephrase his views to be more acceptable to his critics?
“I don’t respond to them,” Price says. “Truth will come out. Since I’m a channel, what I’ve been sharing is not my personal philosophy, but what I’ve learned from the Word of God and what I’ve applied in my own life. So I don’t have to defend it.”
Instead of defending himself, Price is too busy teaching his flock to stay on the offensive when it comes to the problems that other Christians tend to tolerate—whether they be sickness, poverty, racism or suffering.
“We suffer these things because we don’t know we don’t have to,” he says. “We accept them as part of life. We don’t resist it; we expect it.”
That might be true in some churches, but not at Crenshaw Christian Center—not if Fred Price has any say in the matter.
Matthew Green is managing editor of Ministries Today. Read more...