When you hear the term pastor what comes to mind? Do you envision a middle-aged man, stuffy suit, perfectly coiffed hair, with a knack for “spreading the good word,” or at least something along those lines?

By its definition, a pastor is an ordained leader of a Christian congregation. Sounds simple, right? But
anyone that has been or even known a pastor understands that there’s more to “leading a group of Christians” than throwing together a sermon once or twice a week. In fact, the term “pastor” is derived from the Latin word “pastor,” meaning shepherd. The term shepherd likely conjures much different images than that of a pastor. Shepherds are tasked with ensuring the safety and wellbeing of the entire flock. It’s gritty work, not suitable for the weak or faint of heart.

The dome shape of the main sanctuary helps create a cozy, intimate worship experience, while the circular lights on stage, which can change colors with the push of a button, helps with ambiance.

Pastors Phillip and Misty Price are shepherds. Their work is gritty, sometimes dirty and labor-intensive, but always rewarding. They take seriously the task of tending to their flock, also known as the congregants at Calvary Assembly. But their work extends beyond the flock at Calvary — it stretches across Carlsbad, the state of New Mexico, the United States and even the globe. 

When I was trying to find stories for this issue of Focus on Carlsbad I reached out to a friend of mine named Judy Autry. Judy always has great ideas and once again she did not disappoint. “Phillip and Misty Price have been such a blessing to the community,” she said. “They have changed that church into a community outreach and they truly help serve the broken.”

The heart of Calvary Assembly Church is in meeting the practical needs of the community. One way they do that is by offering free food once a month, such as produce, meat, dried and canned goods, to anyone in need. What started out as 2,400 pounds of food has grown to 24,000 pounds today, filling up an entire semi truck.

Judy told me about the work the Prices have helped with in revitalizing the 5th Street Park, the lives they’ve helped change by offering free food to the needy, and the hungry bellies they’ve helped feed with free weekly hot meals. I wanted to know more. What made them decide to devote so much time and energy to reaching the lost? Why did they choose the location they did? How do they do what they do and why? After all, there are dozens of churches in town, so what makes them different?

I sat down with Phillip and Misty one Friday afternoon at their office in a converted attic at Calvary Church. Why the attic? Phillip said it’s because they knew they needed an office space but didn’t want to take away any of the square footage in the building that could be used for the work they’re doing and the future work they have planned. It was already off to an interesting start.

The Prices moved to Carlsbad 12 years ago from El Paso to pastor a congregation of about 40 parishioners, mostly retirees or people in that age range. Originally located on Pate Street, about a half mile from their current location, the church was steadily declining in membership and funds. It was the perfect opportunity for the couple to put their life-mission to work and get busy doing the work they felt God was calling them to do. “Our goal is, and always has been, to meet their practical needs to get to their spiritual needs,” Pastor Phillip explained. “Fifth Street is the neediest part of town and we knew we wanted to make an impact here.”

Our goal is, and always has been, to meet their practical needs to get to their spiritual needs

They spent the first six months pitching their vision, explaining to anyone that would listen what they envisioned and why. They also spent plenty of time in prayer, and they took a hard look at the community to see what needs they could help meet. “Everyone says they want to reach the needy and help the poor until it’s time to get busy and actually do it,” he said. “We lost some people over it, but we felt like that’s what we were supposed to be doing so that’s what we set out to do.” 

Once the vision was established it was time to get to work. The Prices and their small congregation arranged to give away free food, such as produce, meat, canned goods and dry goods, to anyone that needed it. With the help of volunteers, they began distributing about 2,400 pounds of food to local families once a month. Word began to spread and long lines of recipients caught the attention of people passing by. Their goal of meeting the community’s practical needs to get to their spiritual needs was well underway.

Before long some of those curious passersby began to wonder if perhaps what was going on at Calvary was something worth getting involved in. Church attendance began to increase and eventually they outgrew their original facility. “When the opportunity came for us to buy this property it made sense because it was much bigger, and since it was only .55 miles away, it was the people we are serving anyway,” Phillip explained.

But it takes more than free food to grow a congregation from 40 people to their current membership of about 400. Misty says it comes down to being relatable. “Some of the buy-in has come from the understanding that we didn’t come from a church setting,” she said. “I think that makes us more relatable. People can come here and we will accept them and meet them right where they are.” Phillip agreed. “The day I gave my life over to Christ I was sitting on my porch, smoking a cigarette with a horrible hangover. We know these people because we are these people.”

“My goal is to reach the Phillip Prices of the world,” he laughed. “And we do that by helping meet practical needs because we want to get to their spiritual needs. We really do.” Misty added, “Everyone wants to belong; it’s human nature. So we are creating a church culture where they belong. Kids can be taught where and how they understand it, parents can worship in a place that accepts them and loves them…It’s a culture where they all belong.”

A motto that can often be heard coming from the pulpit is: No perfect people allowed. According to Pastor Phillip, it’s because they want to reach the people that other churches are not comfortable welcoming. Sometimes that comes with a price tag, like members that chose to leave Calvary for another church, but it’s a price they are willing to pay. Jesus, after all, reached out to the very same types of people. But Misty is quick to point out that not all of the congregation looks the same and has the same needs. “There are families of all socioeconomic backgrounds; people that just want to raise their kids right.” she said. “They want to be a part of something that’s genuine.” She said they try to remove as many barriers as possible for people in order to make attending Calvary Church comfortable and welcoming.

Since moving to their current facility about five years ago, the crime in the area has decreased and their membership numbers have increased. They have gone from giving away 2,400 pounds of food a month to more than 24,000 pounds (an entire semi-truck load). They also added weekly hot meals prepared by volunteers, again, free of charge to anyone in need. It’s all a good start, but if their mission continues to unfold the way they hope and pray it does, they’re far from finished. Phillip said their vision is not yet complete. One day they hope to open a food pantry and a thrift store, expand the hot meals to five nights a week, and eventually purchase the 5th Street Park for church expansion.

It’s a lofty goal, but with leadership like that of Phillip and Misty Price, it’s not only possible, it’s likely.

Calvary Assembly

Food Distribution

  • Every 3rd Saturday of the month at Calvary Assembly
  • More than 24,000 pounds of food distributed to the Carlsbad community
  • Each family receives approximately 70 pounds of food

Free Hot Meals

  • Every Monday at 6 p.m.
  • In the gym
  • A great team of volunteers are waiting to serve you!  All are invited!

The Zone (student ministry)

  • Wednesday evenings at 7 p.m
  • Boys and girls from Kindergarten through 12th Grade
  • Drop off starts at 6:45

Calvary Kids

  • Kids in kindergarten through 5th grade during our Sunday services @ 9:15 or 11 a.m.
  • (Nursery and pre-school provided)

Worship Times

Sundays at 9:15 a.m. and 11 a.m.

For more information visit carlsbadcalvary.com

Story originally published in Focus on Carlsbad 2019: Summer Edition.