He attended and graduated from Dallas Baptist University where he met his first wife, Melva. He completed his graduate work at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth. Larry and Melva married in 1972, and together they have 3 children. He became the youth pastor of Beverly Hills Baptist Church in Dallas, where the youth department shot up from 40 to 1,000. While pastoring Church on the Rock in Rockwall, Texas, He also served as Dean of Theological and Spiritual Affairs at Oral Roberts University.
Church on the Rock
Following a stint as an itinerant preacher in the late 1970s, Lea was invited to pastor Church on the Rock in 1980 with 12 people in Rockwall, Texas, a suburb of Dallas. Within 5 years, the congregation had increased to over 5,000. In 1986, Lea began to travel again, holding what he called "Prayer Clinics" and later, "Prayer Rallies" or "Prayer Breakthroughs". Also, that year marked the beginning of Lea's television program, called Change Your Life. Also, that year, Lea released his first book, the best-seller Could You Not Tarry One Hour?, which was his teaching on The Lord's Prayer. He also began a partnership group where his partners were referred to as "Prayer Warriors".
In June 1990, Lea stepped aside as pastor to oversee Church on the Rock, which was a group of churches that was called a "virtual denomination" according to Christianity Today. (The successor of this organization, still named COTRI, is led by former Church on the Rock assistant pastor Dr. Lawrence Kennedy. Under Lea COTRI had 45 churches nationwide; now the number includes over 350 in the U.S. and thousands worldwide.)
Lea found himself in some controversy later that year, when Lea and several ministers met at the Civic Auditorium in San Francisco. Lea's ministry was heavily criticized by an assortment of gay-rights activists, pro-choice activists, and Wiccans led by Eric Pryor (who later converted to Christianity). On Halloween (the first night of the crusade), there was a massive protest leading to many who came to the Civic Auditorium having to come through a very hostile crowd outside.
A year later, ABC's PrimeTime Live aired an exposé involving Lea and fellow Dallas-area televangelists W.V. Grant and Robert Tilton. The incident involving Lea came as a result of his fundraising appeals, questions as to how much money was going to mentioned projects (specifically a program involving helping start churches in Poland), and accusations that Lea implied a fire at one of his homes left his family almost destitute even though they still had the home in the Dallas area.
Lea's organization had grown so quickly, he made the decision to allow the National Religious Broadcasters financial integrity arm, EFICOM (Ethics and Financial Integrity Commission), to audit his ministry to look into the charges. While EFICOM would determine he had been delinquent in sending his financial information, the group determined that Lea had not misused the funds for the Poland project. The EFICOM committee also accused ABC News of misleading Lea about the interview's purpose and ignoring "significant facts"; such as signed affidavits from Polish church officials that would have confirmed Lea's claims. By May 1992 (after ending his Change Your Life broadcasts the previous December after the expose), Lea would make a return to the airwaves with a show titled America, Let's Pray.
His credibility and prominence in the charismatic community evaporated (though not as quickly as Tilton's), as he traveled with Morris Cerullo at the latter's crusades in the mid-1990s. Lea also claimed that he suffered a relapse of bipolar disorder. In 1994, he took a position as a pastor in San Diego. This lasted until 1997.
After 27 years of marriage, Larry filed for divorce in April 1999. During the divorce, his wife attended Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Lea's son John started the Life Church in Rockwall, Texas in the same Dallas suburb where Larry and his ex-wife began Church on the Rock in 1980. Lea has since remarried and has returned to the Rockwall area.
The Church on the Rock main campus was later sold to Lake Pointe Baptist Church, a Southern Baptist megachurch in the Rockwall area which relocated to the site and renamed itself Lake Pointe Church; while the church itself moved to the nearby Rowlett area and was renamed Church in the City in January 2007.
- Randall Herbert Balmer, Encyclopedia of Evangelicalism, p. 333
- "Judgment A Journey Toward Healing". Charisma magazine. 2002. Retrieved 2007-01-18.
- Kim lawton, "Broadcasters face ethics questions - again," Christianity Today, January 13, 1992
- "San Francisco Chronicle, 1 November 1990: 6,500 Christians Attend S.F. 'Exorcism'". Toobeautiful.org. 1990-11-01. Retrieved 2010-08-17.
- Bark, Ed (November 21, 1991). "Judgment Day on `Prime Time Live'". Dallas Morning News. Retrieved 2007-01-18.
- Susan Lockamy, "Ethics Panel Exonerates Lea," Charisma, July 1992