"More than nine out of ten people go to counseling because they do not have a close meaningful relationship in church. Many people will go their entire life and struggle to find a good friend. It is hard to find people who get to know our ugly side and still accept us and love us," Pastor Art Murillo said in his sermon entitled, "The Blessing of Friendship."
Murillo's sermon continued a five-week series -- "Enjoying God's Blessings."
"The Bible has a lot to say about blessings," remarked Murillo. "We see God's blessing in creation, his priestly blessing, a blessing on the congregation, and the blessing of friendship."
Pastor Murillo's sermon examined Jonathan and David's relationship in the Old Testament book of 1 Samuel. The sermon offered suggestions such as: to be a friend requires a personal investment; a friend speaks well of their friend; a friend is willing to risk. Murillo encouraged his congregation to "learn the value of developing deep friendships. If you cannot trust a friend, you are flying solo. It will be a matter of time before you fail."
The Way Christian Church is located at Southwestern College in Chula Vista. A dozen illustrated sandwich boards guide visitors to find parking and the church building. The church meets in half of the cafeteria, split by a sliding partition wall. The older children meet in nearby classrooms, and the infants play in an adjoining room.
In the cafeteria/sanctuary, walls are beige, the carpets of utility quality, and the seating, interlocked steel-frame chairs. On the front stage, a Plexiglas pulpit was backed by a curtain that hid the wall behind. On stage were faux trees, speakers, and musical instruments.
Max greeted me as I entered the building. Max and several people serving as greeters wore shirts and ties. Most of the congregation wore jeans and casual attire. As I entered farther into the building, several congregants welcomed me to their church. One greeter, Brett Burner, filled out a nametag for me to wear. Prior to service, people socialized as a worship CD played on a nearby CD player. Several worshippers sat with their heads bowed, reading the Bible.
Service started with worship. Pastor Murillo led worship on keyboard, accompanied by drums, electric guitar, bass, and background vocals sung by two women. We sang "Your Love Is Amazing," "Better Is One Day," and "This Is My Desire." No lyrics were provided on paper to the songs. Instead, Pastor Murillo spoke the verse prior to singing it or repeated the verse several times. As I looked around the room, everyone seemed to know the lyrics already. The congregation clapped their hands, and some raised their hands as they sang. Max bent down on his knees, hands outstretched and his head bowed. After 45 minutes, Pastor Murillo ended the singing with a prayer.
Pastor Art Murillo leads worship and preaches each Sunday. "I like being in the music ministry. I am not just the shepherd in teaching the Bible but also lead worship." Murillo characterizes the worship as "lively, upbeat, and contemporary. We like to turn it up, get funky, and have fun."
Prior to starting The Way Christian Church, Murillo served for seven years as worship pastor at Mission Valley Christian Fellowship (MVCF). "I came aboard when MVCF was one-and-a-half years old. After I joined, we saw substantial growth in numbers." I asked Murillo why he left MVCF. "It wasn't my decision to leave. God put a thought in my mind and I waited until it was the right time."
After service, people gathered around coffee and donuts. The donuts cost 50 cents. I asked Brett Burner why he was attracted to this church. "Art can preach to the most seasoned Christian as well as the newcomer. The trend I've seen in San Diego is a watered-down message." Burner and his family followed Pastor Murillo from MVCF. Burner estimated that over 100 people from the congregation came from MVCF. "A lot of people come from MVCF to look and see what we are doing. Many stay at The Way but some end up returning to MVCF."
Murillo spoke to me about The Way's distinctiveness. "We have an emphasis on doing less church activity. I know for a fact, working with other ministries, there is a tremendous emphasis on people being at church seven days a week. This often adds up to being busier, and people become fatigued. Being busy is not necessarily healthy." Pastor Murillo said his desire was for the church to go out and live the Christian life rather than attend Bible studies each night. Murillo decided that small groups should meet once a month. "Everyone breathed a sigh of relief when we announced this," said Murillo. "We want people to invite others over for dinner, to meet for coffee, and be the church during the week."
I asked Murillo the question I ask every week. What happens to someone after they die? "After we die, we all give an account for our lives. If we've received forgiveness through Jesus Christ, we enter into glory with our Lord. For those who have not believed in Jesus, they will go into judgment [Hell]."
Founded locally: July 2003
Senior pastor: Pastor Art Murillo
Congregation size: 250--300
Staff size: 1
Sunday school enrollment: 45
Annual budget: didn't have information
Weekly giving: didn't have information
Singles program: no
Diversity: Hispanic, white
Sunday worship: 9:30 a.m.
Length of reviewed service: 2 hours