"People thought [my becoming a pastor] was bogus," said Pastor Stan Miller. "They said, 'He's lost his marbles' and 'He's flipped out.' It angered the media. They vilified me. Most of this came from my former colleagues at KUSI. It's because I'm the only pastor and news anchor in the country," said Miller. Pastor Miller took over Sonrise's Unite service one-and-a-half months ago. "I was assigned this position. The guy who was doing it left for full-time mission work." Unite is Sonrise's "postmodern" evening service for young adults. I asked Miller what a postmodern service was. "I don't know what the heck postmodern means. I tried to ask the old Unite pastor to explain it, but I still don't get it completely. Your guess is as good as mine," replied Miller. Miller concluded that it is a service geared toward younger people. "If you don't reach kids by junior high, you've probably lost them by college. A lot of professors who are atheist preach a message against Christianity daily in their pulpits of the classroom. They can sway these kids and I don't want to lose them. Kids are very much open-minded and receive [what the professors say], which is heresy."
Three 15-foot video screens projected a timer countdown: 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, 0. As the counter hit zero, the band emerged from backstage to lead worship. Noah Balcombe, the worship leader, yelled, "I'm excited to be here!" Balcombe bounced around and jumped as he led the worship. A pianist, drummer, bass player, two guitarists, and vocalists led the congregation in popular songs such as, "Here I Am to Worship," "In the Secret," and "Consuming Fire."
"You seem a little bit down tonight. We're going to have to rock. Let's rock!" shouted Pastor Miller to the crowd of 61 people. Miller, age 50, preached to the crowd of teens and 20-somethings. Pastor Miller has silver-grey hair, orange-tanned skin, and wore a black Harley Davidson shirt with jeans. After Miller gave the announcements, the worship band played another song. Before Miller walked forward to preach, a ten-minute video told the crowd that "God believes in us, that we can be the people He created us to be. Jesus has faith that you can be like Him." The video encouraged the crowd to follow Jesus.
"I'd follow you, but I want to be a model," said Miller in a girlish voice as he pretended to model. "I'd follow you, but I want to be Mr. Olympia." Miller flexed his muscles and posed. Pastor Miller paced the stage as he spoke through a wireless headset. Miller told the crowd that unless they memorize scripture, obey God, and leave their stuff, they were not following God's call. "I used to be a news anchor at KUSI, but I left everything to become a preacher," said Miller. Pastor Miller told the congregation about his career choices and his recent, well-paid, part-time position at Channel 8.
Pastor Miller's text for the sermon was John 4:5--9, a story about an adulterous woman he met at a well. "Jesus is at the well for you right now. The problem is, we are so tuned-out today, yet we think we are tuned-in. We have so much communication but we don't say a word," said Miller. "I can talk about myself for hours." Miller told a story about a recent dinner he and his wife had with guests. "My wife had to hit me in the ribs five times to remind me that I was talking about myself too much." Much of Miller's sermon focused on stories of his life. Miller included a story about a 16mm film when he was five years old with a plastic lawn mower. The story was used to illustrate Jesus' love for God the Father. Pastor Miller concluded his sermon, "[The world] lives in the me generation. We live in the He generation." As Miller began to pray, a piano quietly played in the background. Pastor Miller led the congregation in the Sinner's Prayer where he requested that they accept Jesus as their savior.
After service, people gathered in a nearby room called the Basement. People sat around tables while they ate pizza and drank soda and water. Several teenagers played the three Xbox video games in the room. "This is called a postmodern worship. It's what they call services that are more fit for young adults," said Rusti Lang. "It's more directed to students," added Jake Fishell. "There isn't a limit to who can attend. We've had gothic people here," said Walter Luthye. "Our service is not just a message. We also incorporate videos and dancing," said Noah Balcombe, the worship leader. "We also don't sing old school hymns. Most of our music is postmodern and upbeat."
I asked Pastor Miller what he believes happens after a person dies. "I believe exactly what the Bible says," replied Miller. "You can accept Jesus as Lord and Savior and enter into his presence forever. Or, you reject Jesus and go to a literal place called hell."
8805 North Magnolia Avenue, Santee
Founded locally: April 1981
Senior pastor: Dr. Tony Foglio
Congregation size: 2000
Staff size: 27
Sunday school enrollment: 115
Annual budget: We don't operate on a budget
Weekly giving: $60,000
Singles program: yes
Worship times: Saturday, 6:00 p.m.; Sunday, 9:00 a.m., 10:30 a.m., 7:00 p.m.
Length of reviewed service: 1 hour