What I Learned as a Disciple of Chuck Kopp

By GARY ALLEYJune 2016

Chuck Kopp, Chairman of Jerusalem Cornerstone Foundation, retired this past month from his position as Senior Pastor of Narkis St. Congregation in Jerusalem after 24 years.  Charles Martin Kopp was born in Barranquilla, Colombia on May 14, 1948, the same day that the State of Israel was birthed.  Chuck first came to Israel in 1959 on a six month ministry trip with his parents and sister.  At the age of 18, Chuck moved to Israel in 1966 and has lived here ever since, marrying Liz and together raising seven children.  Besides pastoring, Chuck has headed his family’s Cornerstone Ministries and helped lead the Evangelical Alliance of Israel (EAI) during the last three decades.


This is an abridgment of a sermon given by Gary Alley at Chuck Kopp’s retirement service on June 4, 2016.

In ancient Jewish tradition, you could have more than one father.  Yes, you had your birth father, the one who raised you, but if you followed a sage, a rabbi, a teacher, he also became your father.  He was the one who mentored you in ministry.  He discipled you over 2,000 years ago.  You left all and followed him.[1]

I consider Chuck Kopp to be my father, my mentor, here in Israel.  When I say that Chuck has been a spiritual father to me over the last 21 years, and when I say that I feel he has discipled me, to the human eye this might seem hard to understand, at best ambiguous.  Maybe, we could call Chuck the “Ambiguous Rabbi.”  There was never a ceremony.  I was never given a badge or swore an oath.  No course books were followed.  There were never marching orders or a great plan of attack.  In fact, it took me years to figure out that I was being discipled.

Often, my discipleship was sitting around and waiting.  It was carrying stones from one place to another place.  And then years later moving those same stones to another place.  It was moving boxes and boxes of books.  Or gathering and chopping wood wherever you found a fallen tree in Jerusalem.  In between one of the stones you would lift, or a piece of wood you would chop, Chuck might give a word of wisdom, but he wouldn’t tell you to pay attention or listen up.  It would just happen.  So you had to be ready to receive the wisdom in the midst of the mundane.  It was like being the Karate Kid, “wax on, wax off”—“how many more stones do I have to carry?”  “Don’t you have enough wood to burn in your stove for winter?”  “Why do we need all of these books, anyway?”  It was washing the dishes and picking up trash in the church parking lot when no one was watching, and no one cared.  It was burying the dead.  And the dead can’t repay you.

I think this type of dirty discipleship is summed up by Pirkei Avot, or the “Sayings of the Fathers” which is found in the Mishna.

"May your house be a meeting house for Sages, become dirty in the dust of their feet and drink their words thirstily."[2]

In the ancient Jewish practice of discipleship, whoever sat at the feet of a rabbi was their disciple.  Sitting at someone’s feet is not glamorous, but rather it’s quite humbling.  It can be dirty and smelly.  But only at the feet of a teacher is where you can truly learn, where you can collect wisdom in between each stone lifted, between every piece of wood chopped, and between every box carried.  Sitting at the feet is a persistence of effort and an ongoing work.  When you sit at the feet, it’s easy to get burned out and sometimes you might even feel like you’re being stepped on.  But Chuck led by example, he never asked you to do something that he wouldn’t do.  He was always on the front line, laying his life down so others could step on him.

In summary of Chuck’s life, work, and discipleship, I offer Jeremiah 9:23-24.

This is what the Lord says: “Let not the wise boast of their wisdom  Let not the strong boast of their strength  Let not the rich boast of their riches,  but let the one who boasts boast about this:  that they know and understand me,  that I, the Lord, act out of faithfulness, justice and righteousness on the earth,  for in these I delight,” declares the Lord.

Pirkei Avot 4:1 offers insight on these verses from Jeremiah:

Who is the wise one? He who learns from all men, as it says, "I have acquired understanding from all my teachers" (Psalms 119:99).

Who is the mighty one? He who conquers his impulse, as it says, "slowness to anger is better than a mighty person and the ruler of his spirit than the conqueror of a city." (Proverbs 16:32).

Who is the rich one? He who is happy with his lot, as it says, "When you eat [from] the work of your hands, you will be happy, and it will be well with you" (Psalms 128:2). "You will be happy" in this world, and "it will be well with you" in the world to come.

Who is honored? He who honors the created beings, as it says, "For those who honor Me, I will honor; and those who despise Me will be held in little esteem" (I Samuel 2:30).”[3]

God’s perspective on success is radically different than the world’s understanding.  Pirkei Avot interprets Jeremiah's words as:

  • The wise are those who say, “I need to keep learning from others.”
  • The mighty are those who control the power of their temper.
  • The rich are those who are content with their life.
  • The honored are those who love and serve everyone.

In the case of Chuck, I would say:

  • Chuck is wise because he is open to others.
  • Chuck is mighty because he is humble.
  • Chuck is rich because he is content.
  • Chuck is honored because he loves and serves everyone.

“Chuck is wise because he is open to others.”

This reminds me again of Pirkei Avot:

"May your home be open wide, may the poor be members of your household…”[4]

One of the greatest gifts that Chuck and Liz Kopp have bequeathed to Narkis Street Congregation is their legacy of liberty and generosity to people from all walks of life.  The Kopps’ openness to others is contagious and a hallmark of their love.  With regard to discipleship, openness is essential. Availability is a crucial requirement of being a rabbi.  A mentor can’t be holed up in an ivory tower.  They have to be among the people.  They have to be open and that includes their front door.  An open door policy is so important.

Another part of Chuck’s legacy has been an open pulpit.  Chuck rarely gave sermons, but instead he invited many to share and teach from the pulpit.  Whether all of us agreed with each speaker did not matter.  Chuck challenged us, the listeners, to find something good from every message.  I think this type of open pulpit pushed each one of us to spiritually mature by listening to things we wouldn’t always like and learn how to deal with them in a healthy way.

Chuck also had an open leadership where he took chances on a mix of people from diverse backgrounds.  It was important for him to connect people with various experiences, divergent political persuasions, and wide-ranging opinions.  Because Chuck was open to hearing others’ thoughts, opinions, and input, he created opportunities for gaining wisdom.

“Chuck is mighty because he is humble.”

Chuck would tell you he didn’t have all the answers.  Admitting that is humbling for a leader but empowering for his followers.  Chuck’s natural character was not loud or charismatic as many have come to prefer in popular pastors.  Instead, Chuck preferred to quietly lead, never attracting attention to himself.  Even though he worked largely behind the scenes, Chuck always had a strategy that controlled his decisions and actions.

Especially regarding conflict or disagreement, Chuck’s approach was often to seemingly do nothing.  That’s how it would often appear.  But now looking back, it seems his greater plan was to wait….wait….and then wait some more.  After time, he might reevaluate the situation and see if anything had changed and then reconfigure his strategy toward the problem.  Rather than instantly react to a problem, Chuck waited for the opportune time to act.  Chuck’s patient humility was not an erupting volcano spewing burning lava everywhere but a dripping stalactite that slowly strengthened in trying times.

Humility is a slow spiritual gift birthed from experiencing failure and acknowledging brokenness.  Chuck has called our congregation an “emergency room” where people who are sick and in need of help can come and find hope and healing. Chuck’s slowness to anger and humble attitude helped create this accepting environment for others.

“Chuck is rich because he is content.”

As mentioned earlier, Chuck’s ambiguous discipleship was especially built on finding contentment in being faithful in the mundane and laborious task.  Initially, this type of discipleship can be more frustrating than satisfying—“What is going on?  What am I doing here?  I’m spinning my wheels going nowhere, while there are mountains to climb and cities to conquer!”

In our society of success, lack of accomplishment, is not a popular path to take; it’s slow going and not filled with instant gratification. Yet, satisfaction is ultimately more powerful than success.  As Mother Teresa said, “God does not require that we be successful only that we be faithful.”  As believers, knowing that we have followed and obeyed God should be our ultimate goal and reward. If we truly follow the Lord, we will find satisfaction both in the great and little things.  Even now, Chuck’s peace in the face of adversity has enriched and strengthened those who follow his example.

“Chuck is honored because he loves and serves everyone.”

Love of others has encapsulated Chuck’s entire ministry.  His desire to serve others has come from his love of the Lord.  He has honored others by serving them in many ways.  I think Chuck’s service is truly symbolized by his past VW vans that moved so many different people, boxes, homes, clothes, and supplies over the years.  If you added up how many tons of stuff and people those vans moved, they probably literally moved a mountain.

Perhaps one of the most important of Chuck’s ministries has been his service to the local Evangelical community which is sorely represented in the Israeli political arena.  He has been an active leader in the Evangelical Alliance of Israel (EAI)[5] and has traveled throughout the world to speak for religious liberty and to raise awareness of Evangelical issues in Israel. Chuck’s service of helping obtain hundreds of visas for assorted Christian workers in the Land has allowed many to serve.

God’s ways are not our ways.  His ways can be ambiguous.  The path of discipleship is not always obvious, whether for the student or for the mentor.  Likewise, following the Lord can be different for each of us.  But if we truly follow the Lord, he will hone us, making us more and more in His image, stone by stone, wood by wood, and box by box.  We can’t understand everything that happens—why and what purpose it happened for.  But we know that God is in control.  We know that God is good, and we can trust him.  This was Jeremiah 9:24’s charge, “let the one who boasts boast about this: that they know and understand me.”

The Apostle Paul also grappled with Jer 9:23-24’s words on what it meant to know God and His calling on one's life.  I believe, Chuck Kopp’s calling and ministry could be accurately summed up by Paul’s following proclamation to the Corinthian Church.

“Think about the circumstances of your call, brothers and sisters. Not many were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were born to a privileged position.

But God chose what the world thinks foolish to shame the wise, and God chose what the world thinks weak to shame the strong. God chose what is low and despised in the world, what is regarded as nothing, to set aside what is regarded as something, so that no one can boast in His presence.

He is the reason you have a relationship with Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” 

When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come with superior eloquence or wisdom as I proclaimed the testimony of God.  For I decided to be concerned about nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.  And I was with you in weakness and in fear and with much trembling.  My conversation and my preaching were not with persuasive words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not be based on human wisdom but on the power of God.”

(1 Cor 1:26-2:5)

[1] One of the greatest biblical examples is Elijah and Elisha’s relationship.  In 1 Kings 19:19-21, “Elijah went from there and found Elisha son of Shaphat. He was plowing…Elijah passed by him and threw his robe over him.  He left the oxen, ran after Elijah, and said, “Please let me kiss my father and mother goodbye, then I will follow you.”…Then he got up and followed Elijah and became his assistant.”  This father-son relationship is emphasized in 2 Kings 2:12 when Elijah was taken up to heaven  as Elisha cried out, “My father, my father! The chariot and horsemen of Israel!”

[2] Avot 1:4b

[3] Robert Travers Herford’s 1925 commentary on Avot 4:1: “He who learns from every man is wise because he has an open mind, ready to acquire knowledge, and has also the sympathy and humility which are not restrained by pride from seeking knowledge wherever it is to found.  He is truly strong who is master of himself; he is rich who find enough in what he has and is not craving for more.  He is deserving of honor who himself honors his fellows (pg. 96).”

[4] Avot 1:5

[5] Formerly known as the United Christian Council in Israel (UCCI).