1919 – 1983
Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you…. (Hebrews 13:7)
The above passage could easily have been addressed to The Living Word Fellowship concerning its founder, John Robert Stevens, who dedicated his life to speaking the Word of the Lord. Stevens was one of the most anointed, matured, and prolific ministries of his time. Like so many others who have been a part of the ongoing restoration of His Church, John Stevens’ revelation and teaching of the Scriptures was decades ahead of its time; it is only recently that the scriptural principles he illuminated and restored have been practiced in mainstream Christianity. But where did this extraordinary man of God come from?
He was born in Story County, Iowa on August 7, 1919, to Eva Katherine and William J. Stevens. John Robert Stevens read the Bible at a very young age. He said, "I started out when I was a kid just learning to read, hiding that Word in my heart." He had his first dramatic experience with God in the late ’20s when he was miraculously healed of a mastoid infection. Believing the Bible stories about Christ’s healings, he asked that hands be laid upon him by a visiting preacher and was immediately restored to health.
This event prompted his father to attend Bible school in Los Angeles at the famed Angelus Temple, founded by Aimee Semple McPherson; the Stevens family moved to California in 1929, during the Great Depression. John Stevens worked hard at a young age to help support the family, selling magazines and assisting his father in delivering ice and milk. His father completed his studies in the spring of 1933, at which time he moved the family back to Iowa and began the Christian Tabernacle church in the town of Washington. John Stevens, who had attended many of the Angelus Temple classes with his father, taught the children’s Bible study and helped prepare his father’s sermons.
Later in 1933, John Robert Stevens had his second extraordinary meeting with the Lord. During an all-night session of prayer, he received the Holy Spirit and saw himself—in a vision that lasted for several hours—speaking to many people in many languages and in many nations. In this experience, the Lord commissioned and anointed Stevens into his ministry of speaking the Word. Shortly after this, Stevens wrote out his deep commitment to Christ in "To Be a Christian," which continues to stir the spirits of readers today. He was only fourteen.
In 1935, Stevens started his first church in Gladwin, Iowa, while still attending Washington High School where he graduated second in his class in 1937. After high school, he not only worked hard in supporting the family as an assistant to a local attorney and as a chauffeur, but also traveled locally as an evangelist.
John Robert Stevens was ordained by A.W. Kortkamp at Full Gospel Temple, Assembly of God, in Moline, Illinois on September 9, 1937. He then continued his evangelistic quest, "town hopping" by rail throughout the Midwest and West Coast regions, where he started several churches that still stand today. Stevens was married in 1939; in the ensuing years he had two daughters and several grandchildren, although the marriage later ended in divorce.
In the early 1940s, Stevens enrolled at the University of Dayton, Ohio. While attending Dayton, he hosted a weekly radio broadcast and taught at the Dayton Missionary Bible Institute, where he served as an assistant dean. In 1942, he wrote his first of many Bible study outlines, titled "Wishing You Heaven’s Best."
Stevens made a permanent move to the Los Angeles area in 1946. After a few years of evangelistic work, he became the pastor of the Lynwood, California, Assembly of God church. In 1949, John Robert Stevens experienced another milestone revelation from the Lord which included a vision of the continuing restoration of the purity and power of the first-century apostolic Church as described in the book of Acts. To his surprise, this did not find denominational acceptance, and Stevens was dismissed from his pastorship in March 1950.
With the majority of his congregation following him, Stevens established Grace Chapel of South Gate, California, in June 1951. This was the first church in what would later become known as The Living Word Fellowship. In 1955, Stevens spent seven months in an intensive time of waiting on the Lord. It was during this period that he was given many instructions on how to pattern churches after New Testament Scripture—and also when he received many of the gifts of the Holy Spirit that he would impart to others during his ministry.
It was John Robert Stevens’ fourth dramatic experience with the Lord, in 1963, that truly thrust him into the realization of his divine calling. This appearing of the Lord established his ministry as an apostle—an apostle from whose innermost being would flow living water, supplying the multitudes who were, as Amos said, suffering from a famine "…for hearing the words of the Lord" (Amos 8:11).
The rest of his life was spent actively exercising this ministry of imparting and speaking a living Word. (For more information about this time frame, please see A Brief History of The Living Word Fellowship.) Stevens walked out daily I Peter 4:11 (KJV), If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God…. Through the late ’70s, he kept a regular schedule of up to eleven services a week preaching among three churches in Southern California. In September of 1980, Stevens married Marilyn Holbrook. The synergy of that relationship liberated him to teach people to apply the Word he had preached in the previous four decades to their daily lives. Together, they began to see the creation of living epistles by the Word the Lord had spoken.
By the time of John Robert Stevens’ passing, on June 4, 1983, he had authored more than 11,000 recorded sermons and hundreds of written messages. While he moved in many anointed gifts, the most common recollection of Stevens by those who knew him was the sense of the love of God that was imparted through his ministry. Stevens’ legacy includes not only the Word of God that he spoke, but the many good people of The Living Word Fellowship who continue to grow today in their relationship with the Lord through that foundational Word. Perhaps without knowing exactly what it would mean when he committed it to paper, John Robert Stevens foreshadowed his remarkable life and ministry when he wrote in "To Be a Christian": "I am sure He will not waste a fragment of my life if I let Him possess and direct it."