"NEXT Church," read the painted sign running along one wall of the converted industrial space: poured concrete floors, concrete-block walls painted in muted red and yellow, a canopied stage in one corner, and a '60s-era rumpus room set up in another, complete with fish tank, console TV, and purple-felt pool table. A coffee bar offered refreshments; jazzed-up religious art offered edification. A pair of gray prayer pillars, covered in writing, flanked the entrance: "Thank you Lord for a new life." "I pray for the families who have fathers, brothers, sons in the war with Iraq." "Thanks for my mom, my family, my good-lookingness, my education, for heaven, for God." Pictures of church members were wired into a mattress spring mounted on one wall. Among other songs, the band played Matt Redman's ubiquitous "Blessed Be Your Name," slowing it down and adding jangle-twang guitar-work reminiscent of early REM: "You give and take away/You give and take away/My heart will choose to say/Blessed be your name." Vocalist Catherine read from Romans 8: "Can anything ever separate us from Christ's love?" Worship leader Justin ruminated on the love creation ought to bear its creator.
Pastor Hensley announced that "Next Sunday night at 7:00 is our Lifepoint Café," where "we bring in local artists. This month, we have a fellow coming down from L.A. who used to play in San Diego quite a bit: Tom Brosseau. He's good friends and plays a lot with Gregory Page and Steve Poltz of the Rugburns. One of the many reasons we do this is we want to support the local arts and be a church that is artist-friendly -- also for those who are outside of our church community. Just have a place where the arts are celebrated; build a bridge for the artists that exist in our community. It's always free, and Tina brings her coffee cart and fires up some espresso."
Hensley's opening prayer expressed his desire to "join with the chorus that exists around the world and throughout history, of those men and women whose hearts have been given to you.... We trust, Father, that your presence is here, that your Holy Spirit is here, that Jesus is here, and Father, we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses...."
The band played again, and Hensley gave his pre-communion talk. He had recently read a book entitled Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters and found a story about a teenage girl who, after being sexually forced by a longtime friend, told her father about what had happened. "The father's response was, 'Boys will be boys.' And he went and played golf." The girl went through 18 months of counseling to recover from "the impact of that afternoon. If the father's response had been different, perhaps it might have shortened that period -- maybe changed it altogether. We rub off on each other, whether we like it or not. The good rubs off, and the bad rubs off." He talked about the good that had rubbed off on some newer members of the church: "God had gotten into their life through the influence of other people, and they find themselves doing things that would have been out of character 12 months ago."
Communion meant getting up and partaking from a candlelit table holding trays of what looked like matzoh shards and tiny plastic cups of grape juice. Here as well, Hensley reminded us that "as we share in communion, it reminds us that we have a common union.... Father, you pulled us into the kingdom, into community."
The theme persisted through the lesson on "ways we can improve the relationships in our life that are important to us." Hensley argued that the strongest relationships are those that "have God in common," and noted that Paul, in his letter to the Philippians, pleaded with two quarreling women to "agree with each other in the Lord." "The Holy Spirit of God is inspiring Paul to write to these churches, and the Holy Spirit felt like it was important enough to lead Paul to write this. 'Focus on what you have in common -- your relationship with God.' When you have two people who have Jesus in their life, there is a unity there, regardless of what you do.... The Bible calls it 'the unity of the Spirit.' The Holy Spirit is not a stranger to itself." To help foster and maintain such unity, he exhorted the people to "live Godly values" in their own lives, pray together, and serve together. "One of the best ways of discovering God is to start doing what God does, and that's serve."
What happens when we die?
"I believe that if a person has a personal relationship with Jesus, then they go to heaven and spend eternity with Him," says Hensley. "If not, they spend eternity separated from Him."
4698 Alvarado Canyon, Mission Valley
Founded locally: 2005
Senior pastor: Ken Hensley
Congregation size: 68
Staff size: 1 full-time, 1 part-time
Sunday school enrollment: none
Annual budget: n/a
Weekly giving: n/a
Singles program: young adult Bible study
Dress: casual -- shorts, jeans, dressy T-shirts, a few button-downs
Diversity: mostly Caucasian, a few African American and Hispanic
Sunday worship: 10:30 a.m.
Length of reviewed service: 1 hour, 15 minutes