"It isn't often that you find a pastor who has been in prison and been divorced but has a real heart for people. He isn't judgmental at all. If you are struggling with sin, this is a great church to attend because you won't be judged," said Blaine Morgan, a church volunteer, about Pastor Barry Minkow. "We don't condone sin here, but we value the process of forgiveness and change."
"There are many people who serve here who are ex-convicts," added Fumi Tanaka, a congregant. "This really is a great place for people who need to be restored." Tanaka said several of the church staff served prison time, including small-groups director Frank Wooters, David, the men's ministry leader, and senior pastor Barry Minkow. Frank Wooters's biography on the church website states, "By my 20s I was running in the wrong direction with the wrong crowd, in and out of jail. I was running in a world of violence and self-destruction."
Barry Minkow's criminal past and subsequent life change has received national press. Minkow, who was the youngest person ever to take a company public at 20 years old, was convicted of fraud in 1987. Minkow served seven years in federal prison and was ordered to pay back $26 million to investors. In prison, Minkow changed his life and says he felt God's call to enter the ministry. Minkow was hired as senior pastor of Community Bible Church in 1997. In addition to his role as senior pastor, Minkow assists the FBI in busting fraud scams. In January, Minkow released a book about his life, Cleaning Up: One Man's Redemptive Journey Through the Seductive World of Corporate Crime.
Hawaiian shirts, jeans, and shorts reflect the casual attire of the 200-plus congregants who attended the Saturday-evening service. Community Bible Church meets in a converted office building in Kearny Mesa. The black industrial pipes and low ceiling serve as a reminder of the building's past. In the front of the sanctuary, a large wooden cross is flanked by two 10-foot projection screens. An 11-piece band led the congregation in "modern, contemporary worship" as described by worship pastor Leroy Patton. "A lot of our songs are guitar-driven pop-rock songs. I only pick songs that are easy for people to sing. We don't play things that are difficult for people to catch on to," explained Pastor Patton after the service. Common praise songs such as "Be Glorified" and "You Are Holy" were led by Patton as he played a cajon, a wooden-box percussion instrument with South American roots.
Pastor Barry Minkow's sermon began with a movie clip from Flight of the Phoenix . In the clip, Liddle (Scott Campbell) encourages Frank Towns (Dennis Quaid) to continue to help rebuild a crashed airplane even if it meant the crash survivors would die. "I think a man only needs one thing in life," said Liddle. "He just needs someone to love. If you can't give him that, then give him something to hope for. And if you can't give him that, just give him something to do." Pastor Minkow connected the film clip with John 3:16.
"The world only offers people pseudo-love," said Minkow. "They offer us something so that we will be happy. They give us happy hour because they know we are miserable at work until 4 p.m. and will be miserable when we go home." Minkow preached that only Jesus can offer people everlasting happiness because of his love for us. "God created people so that he could express his love to us." Pastor Minkow ended his message with a prayer for people to accept Jesus. A piano played softly as Minkow explained the steps for someone to become a Christian.
As Pastor Minkow delivered his message, he roamed half-way down the center aisle and side-to-side in the front of the sanctuary. Minkow's sermon included frequent stories and humor. Pastor Minkow mentioned several people by name in his message, he put his hand on people's shoulders as he preached, and he invited a woman to stand and recite John 3:16 and kissed her on the cheek when she finished.
After service, Pastor Minkow greeted people as they left the building. People gathered around booths set up for different church ministries and a snack table with Krispy Kreme donuts, juice, and coffee.
In Minkow's sermon, he spoke about what happens to people after they die. "The Bible tells us that [Christians] will not perish. Buddha and Muhammad both died and did not resurrect. Only Jesus died and rose from the dead, so I'm going to believe in the words of Jesus," said Minkow. "It is the people who fear death who are the ones who aren't prepared." Minkow believes non-Christians will go to hell. "People say, 'My god would never send anyone to hell.' Well, you are worshipping the god in your own image and not the God of the Bible."
9770 Carroll Center Road, San Diego
Founded locally: 1984
Senior pastor: Barry Minkow
Congregation size: 1300
Staff size: 17
Sunday school enrollment: 300
Annual budget: 2.4 million
Weekly giving: $30,000--40,000
Singles program: yes
Worship times: Saturday, 5:15 p.m.; Sunday, 8:15, 9:45, and 11:15 a.m.
Length of reviewed service: 11/2 hours