In 1949, when John Robert Stevens was an ordained Pentecostal minister in the Assemblies of God, he began teaching his congregation about the restoration of the purity and power of the first-century apostolic Church described in the book of Acts. The essentials of this teaching emphasized the Lordship of Jesus Christ, and the return to the pattern of church government outlined in the New Testament.
While scripturally sound, this was a bold departure from established denominational doctrine at the time—so much so that the Assemblies of God removed him from his pastorate in March 1950. A number of congregants who shared his vision followed him to establish Grace Chapel of South Gate, California, in June 1951. It was the first church founded by John Robert Stevens. Two years later, in 1953, Stevens established Grace Chapel of Honolulu.
During an intensive seven-month period of waiting on the Lord in 1955, Stevens received many of the scriptural truths that would become the fellowship’s foundational teachings, as well as the scriptural basis for what was to unfold in God’s continuing restoration of His Church. This included the importance of the following: waiting on the Lord, personal and church stewardship, the gifts of the Holy Spirit as outlined in I Corinthians 12, the five-fold gift ministries identified in Ephesians 4:11, and the Christian celebration of the biblical feasts.
In the 1960s, John Robert Stevens began a ministry school at Grace Chapel of South Gate. Through interactive lessons, he imparted his knowledge of how to lead a church service and move in the gifts of the Holy Spirit. These lessons were ongoing for the next two decades. In May 1965, Stevens dedicated the Church of the Living Word in Sepulveda, California (now North Hills), a church born out of local home meetings in the San Fernando Valley. In 1968, Stevens established The Living Word, the fellowship’s publishing house now located in North Hollywood, California. By the end of the 1960s, there was an enormous influx of people into the fellowship.
Even though Stevens initially resisted naming the growing fellowship of churches, it became commonly known as "The Walk," or "This Walk," due to his emphasis that each Christian should have a personal walk with the Lord Jesus Christ. However, it was his biblically foundational messages which were so alive that gave rise to the name The Living Word Fellowship.
During the 1970s, a number of pastors around the world came to John Robert Stevens and asked to affiliate themselves with him and his teachings. Stevens received them as a spiritual father would. This resulted in an additional fifty churches and Bible studies that became freewill members of the fellowship across the United States and in twelve other countries. In 1973, Stevens established Church of His Holy Presence in Anaheim, California. In 1974, ground was broken for the Shiloh Conference Center in Kalona, Iowa. Stevens kept a full schedule during these years, conducting as many as eleven services per week. As the fellowship entered the 1980s, an entirely new generation of members came to know the Lord Jesus Christ through Stevens’ unique ministry style.
John Robert Stevens passed away on June 4, 1983. Prior to his death, he commissioned Marilyn Stevens to oversee the administration and spiritual direction of The Living Word Fellowship. Stevens also commissioned Gary Hargrave to carry on the fellowship’s teaching ministry of the Scriptures.
On June 9, 1984, at Church of the Living Word in North Hills, California, Gary
and Marilyn Hargrave were married. They have guided and ministered to the fellowship since then. In the mid-80s, the fellowship saw the establishment of a group of commissioned ministries and leaders to oversee the local churches, working closely with the Hargraves.
In the 1990s, many congregants of the smaller churches and home meetings chose to relocate in order to attend the churches originally founded by John Robert Stevens. Since the mid-90s, the fellowship has focused on developing church communities that create an environment for the maturing of each believer in Christ.
While many positive changes in the fellowship have taken place since Grace Chapel of South Gate was first founded in 1951, the continuing passion for the anointed apostolic teaching of the Scriptures is the thread that knits together these churches of The Living Word Fellowship.