Dr. Stephen Manley may very well be one of my all-time favorite people.
I first met him in the late 90s when he was preaching in my home town and I immediately fell in love with the Word and with Jesus in a way I never experienced previously.
I had an incredible opportunity to travel with him as an intern in the summer of 2005; which radically changed my life. Though I grew up in church and came from a wonderful family, everything I knew was turned on its head and my relationship with Jesus truly began.
There are a small handful of people who have had a major influence in my life, and Stephen Manley is toward the top. For more than a decade I have worked alongside Stephen and Cross Style Global Ministries, which has grown, deepened, and expanded everything Jesus has been doing in my life. I am more in love with Jesus than ever before, my understanding of the Word continues to be dark chocolate (sweet richness) in my life … and a lot of that has to do with Stephen’s influence in my life.
I wrote a biographical sketch of Stephen for the Winter/Spring 2012 edition of Perspective Magazine (a magazine for evangelists). And with their gracious permission, I want to share the life of Stephen Manley with you.
Stephen Manley is a Jesus Pusher. It sounds a bit odd perhaps; some people “push” drugs or alcohol, sex or entertainment, and I guess in our own ways we all have something we “push.” But I have met few individuals with such an intense focus on one thing. For Stephen Manley, his one thing, his only passion, his single desire is Jesus. In his own words:
I am a Jesus pusher!!!! I am an undaunted, courageous, stouthearted, bold, adventuresome, brave, fearless, gallant, heroic, lionhearted, unafraid, unflinching, valiant Jesus pusher. I cannot help myself. He is startling and He has overwhelmed me. I do not speak of ideas about Jesus or historical information concerning Him. I speak about Him. I am a Jesus pusher!!!! I am a mastered, possessed, addicted and obsessed Jesus pusher. There seems to be no way to quit. But who would want to?
And Stephen does everything he can to “push” Jesus on everyone. No, Stephen is not aggressive, mean, or harsh, but he is intense, focused, and dedicated. Perhaps that’s because of the foundation God laid in his life at a young age.
Stephen Manley, born July 18, 1942, grew up in the home of an Indiana Methodist pastor, which provided the basis for his early spiritual growth. Stephen received his call to ministry at the age of seven and began filling his father’s pulpit at the age of eleven. But as a young man entering high school, he was conflicted and torn with the reality of his spiritual life.
There must be something more.
During the lunch hour one afternoon, Stephen stole away from the high school and walked across the street to his dad’s church, hiding himself in a classroom to think and pray. There was no emotional surge, no lights in the sky, no booming voices, but Stephen left the church radically altered in heart and mind; Christianity is about intimacy with Jesus! Stephen concluded if the essence of Christianity is oneness with Jesus – the outside God getting to be inside, living and sourcing one’s life – then it is critical to keep one’s focus upon Jesus throughout the day, not merely a few minutes each morning in devotions and prayer.
As a way to develop such a habit of focus, Stephen decided every time the school bell rang he would pray: “Thank you Jesus for living inside of my life.” This became so much fun he decided every problem he had, he would bring to Jesus and allow Him to be a part of the solution. Soon, he involved Jesus in every good thing; desiring His involvement and activity moment-by-moment throughout the day.
During these formative high school years, Stephen devoured every book he could get his hands on about the depths of intimacy with Christ. It was then he discovered he did not invent the concept of “practicing God’s presence,” but found great encouragement by those who had written about such a life long before his own. This concept became a growing aspect in young Stephen’s life. He was constantly growing in intimacy and oneness with Jesus in an attitude of surrender and dependency.
None of his reading compared to his desire for the Word of God, which became the bedrock and platform for Stephen’s life. Stephen found that as he dove into the written Word (Bible) he was diving into the Living Word (Jesus). The Bible was not a dreary book to study in order to prepare sermons, it was an exciting avenue through which he could experience the living Person of Jesus, develop deep intimacy with Him, and be continuously pressed and transformed by Truth (Jesus). As he is so fond of saying, “We do not handle the Word of God; it handles us.” Even now, some fifty years later, the Word continues to become more precious and important in his life.
At age seventeen, now attending Taylor University and pastoring a local Methodist church, Stephen met, and two years later, married Delphine Oliver. For the next five years, Stephen and Delphine ministered in the pastorate of both the Methodist and United Missionary Church Denominations.
While in the pastorate, the Manleys adopted their first child, Stephen Christopher Manley, in March 1967. The following year, July 1968, they adopted their second child, Evangeline Faith Manley (Vangie). The expansion of the Manley family came at a critical time in Stephen and Delphine’s call to ministry. After pastoring for seven years, Stephen, now twenty-four, made the leap into full-time itinerant evangelism, which became his call for the next forty-one years.
For his first four years in evangelism, Stephen travelled alone. In 1971 he moved his ministry under the umbrella of the Church of the Nazarene; and in 1972, Stephen brought his wife and children onto the road, where they ministering together for the next ten years.
Again in 1982, Stephen found himself traveling alone as the two children, now in their high school years, stayed at home with Delphine. As young Steve and Vangie attended high school, Delphine established and administered the office for Stephen Manley Evangelistic Association (SMEA), based out of their home in Upland, Indiana. It was only after Steve joined the army and Vangie graduated high school that Delphine joined Stephen back on the road.
The international arm of SMEA began in February 1985, continuing for the next fifteen years. Stephen and Delphine dedicated nearly three months of every year to international evangelism, traveling throughout Africa, Central and South America, and Europe. In 1989 they spent six months within nine different countries in Africa. These trips often consisted of pastoral training during the day and evangelistic meetings in the evenings.
In addition, the Manley’s began an evangelist intern program, taking young men and women on the road with them during the summer months. The emphasis of the intern program was on practical ministry as well as Biblical training and transformation. The interns would minister to the children and teens at the summer camps and church meetings Stephen preached, while attending a daily one-hour training with Stephen that included sessions on: theology, evangelism, saturation Bible study, practical ministry, and sermon preparation. For the next twenty years over 65 interns experienced life on the road with Stephen and Delphine Manley – seeing holiness, a servant-hearted lifestyle, and evangelism lived out in day-to-day living. Since the program’s inception in 1987, Stephen had a desire to begin a one-year school of practical ministry that would invest, train, and mentor a new generation of people called to ministry. His desire was to give individuals an opportunity to learn how to study the Word, experience growth and transformation, and provide practical ministry training within a needy community. However, the desire for the school would have to percolate for a few years.
In 1986, Nazarene Bible College invited the Manleys to teach at the school, even with their busy preaching schedule. During winter semesters, Stephen and Delphine would live in their RV in Colorado Springs so Stephen could teach Monday night through Wednesday morning and then catch a flight to preach at a revival meeting Wednesday night through Sunday. Delphine was also an adjunct professor teaching under Verla Lambert in the Women’s Study Series during several of those NBC years between 1986 and 1992.
The Lord soon pointed Stephen and Delphine toward Tennessee. In December of 1998, they responded to the Lord’s leading and moved SMEA’s ministry headquarters from Upland, Indiana to Lebanon, Tennessee; not realizing at the time that this would become the location of the practical ministry school Stephen had long felt a divine stirring over.
After 41 years in itinerant evangelism, the Manleys felt a clear call from God to come off the road for the purpose of starting the Cross Style School of Practical Ministry. The basis for this school required a church body to partner in the lives of the students and in the ministry training. In September 2009, twenty-two years after the dream began, Cross Style Church was established in Lebanon, Tennessee with Stephen as the lead pastor.
Over the last several years, Cross Style Church has aggressively ministered within the community. Whereas some churches are inward focused, Stephen has wanted from the beginning for the pastoral staff, the congregation, and ministry students to be outward focused. The church now runs an emergency-housing program for the homeless and needy, provides food boxes and serves a daily free hot buffet dinner to the community. Cross Style is invested in nursing homes, the community little league, the local Kiwanis Club, and has recently started a transformation program (The Lazarus Project) for those with addictions and people coming out of prison or jail. The ministry opportunities have been expanding and opening up in ways that can only be ascribed to Jesus.
Now that a ministry foundation has been laid in the community, Stephen and the Cross Style team have officially launched the Cross Style School of Practical Ministry in September 2013. The outflow and ministry potential as well as the practical investment in the lives of these students cannot be overstated. It is the hope that within the next couple years, international students from Africa, India, and Central and South America will spend a year at the school and will not only be grounded in the Word of God but will also take practical ministry experience back to their countries. It is the passion of everyone in Cross Style, especially Stephen, to have the opportunity to invest in and train up the next generation of leaders, pastors, evangelists, missionaries, and ministers.
As such, the Cross Style School of Practical Ministry is focused on three types of individuals: high school graduates who want to spend a summer, semester, or year grounding themselves in the Word to have a Biblical filter before entering college; individuals called to ministry and want practical ministry training; and laymen who want to take their depth and intimacy with Jesus and their Biblical understanding to another level. Summer internships, much like the original evangelist intern program Stephen began, are still available for those who desire to spend a summer immersing themselves in the Word of God and learning servant-hearted ministry through practical hands-on experience.
Stephen, now 71, has joked that he has been doing things backwards. Often pastors retire into evangelism but he has been slowly moving out of evangelism to become a full time pastor. Stephen still travels in evangelism, averaging one meeting a month and several camps throughout the summer, but his focus has become the church, school, and community within Lebanon, Tennessee. If you were to ask him when he might consider retiring for good, he would respond with a smirk and tell you it will never happen. And after a lifetime of full time ministry, you might think burnout might become an issue, but long ago Stephen found the solution for burnout: getting into the Word of God. As he says, you never hear a pastor or leader express how exhausted he/she is, and follow that with “let me tell you of the riches I’ve been discovering in the Word, how Jesus has been transforming my life, and the intimacy I’ve been experiencing with Him.” Burnout is impossible when one’s life is built upon the foundation of the Word and intimacy with Jesus.
For Stephen, his life is wrapped up in a total saturation of Jesus and the Word of God. Time in the Word is more than an activity or duty to schedule in his day. It is the delight of his heart and the focus throughout his day because it draws him deeper into intimacy with Jesus Christ. He wants his “moment-by-moments” saturated with the Person of Jesus and the Word. He longs for Jesus to ever increase and expand in and through His life.
Stephen’s life, testimony, and preaching has been used throughout the last six decades to touch, influence, and transform the lives of countless people around the world. But in honest humility, Stephen downplays himself in order to lift up and “push” Jesus. His life is not his own; it is the stage upon which Christ acts, the glove Jesus wears, the voice through which Jesus proclaims Himself to the world, the hands Jesus uses to touch, minister, and love a hurting and needy world. Stephen is a Jesus pusher. He has no other focus than Christ.
“Jesus is present in every situation of my life. There is no conversation in which I do not feel His presence. He participates in all my recreation. He is everywhere I go. Who would want to be without Him? He is the protection for my life. He is the fragrance I constantly smell. He is the flow of my spiritual blood giving me life. He is my constant nutrition making me healthy. I cannot survive without Him. I am a Jesus pusher!!!!
I want to push Him on you. I want you to join me in this obsession. You do not have to work at it; it is not a discipline. It is as natural as breathing. Please let Him pull you to His heart.”
If you would like more information about Stephen or would like to sign up for his weekly Jesus Pusher email, visit: Cross Style Global Ministries
Stephen has found through the saturation of the Word the message of the cross. It is beyond an event; it is a style. Thus, the cross is not a piece of wood or an emblem, but it is the heart of the person of Christ. Cross style is the Christ style. He must be central. As an international evangelist, he has taken this message to the world. Expositional preaching is cross-cultural and meets the need on every level.