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“I met my wife in a bar in New York City,” said Barabbas Road pastor Matt Smith. “I was a rower, training for the Olympics, and I hated religion. I knew she was the girl I wanted to marry, and I found out when we exchanged numbers that she was a virgin, which was totally not in my plans because I wanted to sleep with her and all that. So, I decided, in my arrogance, to disprove Christianity so that she would sleep with me.” And what happened? “I retired from rowing, I got saved, we got married, and I now have a church that’s trying to reach out to intellectual skeptics. I’m finding that there are no good answers other than the Christian answers. I do a lot of debating.”

Also, a lot of physical training. “We have something like nine personal trainers at our church,” said Smith’s wife Rebecca. “That’s our biggest outreach. Every Sunday at noon over at Kate Sessions Park, we have two trainers that do free training for whoever wants it. And there are always two different sports to play as well — things like volleyball or soccer.”

“It’s an area where we can give,” adds Smith. “And it’s a great first-touch ministry — something to invite people to.” That way, he says, “the service can be very simple, very much an emphasis on learning the Bible. We don’t even have a lot of announcements. If there’s a big service project, the small groups will have it or it will be discussed on the website forum.”

Smith’s hair was artfully tousled and crept over the collar of his white button-down shirt, its sleeves rolled up above his elbows. He wore pinstripe suit pants but no socks — and no tie because he was not preaching that day. Today we would hear from Paul Rochford, Smith’s classmate at Southern California Seminary (which is connected to El Cajon’s Shadow Mountain Community Church). Rochford did wear a tie — and a dark, narrow suit, which set him apart from the rest of the congregation (three of the band members didn’t even bother with shoes).

The service, held in the airy confines of the Soledad Club, was indeed stripped-down — the biggest frill after the warm-fuzzy rock band were the tray-tables in front of each seat, so that congregants had a place to rest their Bibles and take notes. (There was a reason for this — Rochford ranged far and wide through Scripture in his sermon, and the crinkly flipping of hundreds of onionskin Bible pages was a regular prelude to his extended quotations from Holy Writ.)

Before the sermon, there were brief prayers — “We thank You that You are here and that You love us” — and a slew of songs, some of them with lyrics more theologically daring than the standard “Blessed Be the Name of the Lord.” (Viz: “Let praises echo from the towers of cathedrals to the faithful gathered underground.”)

“Paul is going to preach today, which is a very big privilege,” said Smith in his introduction. “I pray, God, that You make it obvious with Paul, and with all of us, that You are here. Paul is a peer of mine...he’s smarter than me and better looking, so that’s why he’s going to preach today.” Rochford also asked that “we would be reminded of Your presence, of Your reality” before snapping his Bible open and saying that his “single purpose” here was “to take His word and give to the people of God, infused by the power of God, for the glory of God.”

He began with “an imperative command from the word of God” that we “have this attitude in ourselves which is also in Christ Jesus.” What attitude? “‘With humility of mind, regard one another as more important than yourself.’ The reason for this humility of service is: if it was up to me or you to be the greatest, and we worked our way up, when we got to heaven, God would say, ‘You guys are awesome.’ This way, if our greatness was in serving, all we’d say is, ‘Wow, God, I manifested You in the world....’ And then God is able to receive all the glory, not you.” Jesus was a model for this, said Rochford. Though He knew about His passion before it came — everything it would entail, everything He could do to avoid it, and every way it was beneath Him — He chose to serve. “This is our love test: Jesus said, ‘I give you a new commandment. Don’t just love one another the way you love yourself. Love one another as I have loved you.’ Service is just love in action.”

What happens when we die?

“We either go to heaven or hell,” said Smith. — Matthew Lickona

Denomination: Southern Baptist
Address: services at the Soledad Club, 5050 Soledad Road, La Jolla
Founded locally: February 2008
Senior pastor: Matt Smith
Congregation size: 90
Staff size: 2
Sunday school enrollment: 9
Annual budget: n/a
Weekly giving: n/a
Singles program: “the whole church”
Dress: mostly casual, some dresses
Diversity: mostly Caucasian
Length of reviewed service: 1 hour, 30 minutes
Website: whoisbarabbas.com

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