Update: Watch Dr. Paul Risser’s memorial service, which was recorded at Angelus Temple in Los Angeles on Jan. 4, 2018. Click here to watch.
Former Foursquare President Paul Risser went to be with the Lord today, Dec. 15, 2017. He was 80 years old. In addition to leading The Foursquare Church from 1998 to 2004, he served on the Foursquare cabinet for many years after stepping down from the presidency.
An ordained Foursquare minister, Paul also served on the denomination’s board of directors for 20 years, at one time chaired the missions council, and was a member of the board of trustees for Life Pacific College (LPC, also called LIFE Bible College).
His legacy will continue far into the future through the Paul and Marilee Risser Endowment for Pastoral Leadership, created in 2009 through the Foursquare Foundation. The endowment later launched the National Residency Program, which provides young leaders with mentors and hands-on experience before they assume the duties of a fulltime pastorate.
“First and foremost, Paul was a pastor and remained so until his last breath,” affirms Glenn Burris Jr., current president of The Foursquare Church. “Like every good pastor, he cared about people. He studied how to partner with people and care for them. His presidential legacy is particularly marked by his establishment of a retirement program for pastors. That was a major step forward for the Foursquare family.”
Paul embraced the idea that everyone has a role to play in the kingdom of God. He gave evidence of that during Foursquare Connection 2015 when he talked about LPC having received accreditation during his presidency.
“Dr. [Vaneda] Courtney always said LPC was a preacher factory,” Paul said to the convention body. “I believe in preachers and pastors. I love ’em. Now, with LPC, Foursquare will have wonderful laymen all over the place. … I believe there ought to be 200 great laypeople for every great pastor. Wouldn’t that be a blessing to our churches?”
Born on Oct. 5, 1937, in Chattanooga, Tenn., Paul was the son of Foursquare ministers Otto and Martha Risser, who started their pastoral career in nearby Dayton after leading a revival there. Paul spent the first 10 years of his life in Dayton, still known nationwide as the scene of the infamous 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial and home to Bryan College. Founded in the aftermath of the trial, the school teaches a Christian worldview to thousands of students.
The Rissers then moved to Muncie, Ind., where Paul attended junior high. His father then planted a Foursquare church in Battle Creek, Mich., where Paul attended high school and played on a state championship football team.
After high school, he enrolled in LPC, where he met his wife, Marilee, the daughter of longtime Foursquare supervisors Dr. and Mrs. Craig Bigg. Marilee would become Paul’s lifelong partner both at home and in the ministry. Paul and Marilee had three sons and seven grandchildren.
After graduation, Paul was appointed minister of youth at Lynwood Foursquare Church in Lynwood, Calif., before moving to Texas in 1962 to pastor Brownfield Foursquare Church. The church experienced dramatic growth during his decade there, a pattern duplicated in his final pastoral position at Florence Avenue Foursquare Church in Santa Fe Springs, Calif.
Paul’s tenure there lasted for 26 years. Growing from 200 to 2,000 people by the time he left in 1998, the church became one of the denomination’s strongest.
His youngest son, Terry, replaced him in the pulpit, while Marilee continued to teach a Sunday school class there. Known for its ministry to world missions, many Foursquare missionaries call Florence Avenue their “home church,” and many leaders look to it for direction and encouragement.
The church’s missions emphasis reflects the missions consciousness Paul learned while growing up, when his parents hosted numerous missionaries and itinerant evangelists. He later would travel to 65 nations and preach in most of the major Foursquare mission fields. Some of the moving stories Paul heard as a youngster and on his travels found their way into his book, An Eye for Miracles, which Foursquare Media published in 2010.
A memorial service to celebrate Paul’s life will be held on Thursday, Jan. 4, 2018, at 10:30 a.m. at Angelus Temple in Los Angeles. In lieu of flowers, the Risser family invites others to make a donation to Foursquare Missions International or Foursquare Missions Press.