“Begin County Maintained Road,” read the sign as I headed out Bernardo Center Drive away from the center of Rancho Bernardo. A right on Dove took me into the depths of 4S Ranch, a development that dodged the cookie-cutter complaint by lavishing its home fronts with a panoply of styles: Red-brick, Spanish, Italianate, even Colonial. And out at the end of 4S Ranch Parkway, in the auditorium of Stone Ranch Elementary School, Cloudbreak Church sought to minister to the community.
Cloudbreak is named after the famous surf spot in Fiji; you get your first hint from the logo projected against the auditorium wall, which depicts a massive wave curling over a cross. So it came as no surprise to see Jeff Langley, a Southern Baptist pastor, presiding in flip-flops. (Actually, “presiding” might be the wrong word. “Don’t come expecting to go through rituals,” admonished the program, “because that is not what we are focused on.... We are here to talk about the unique and incredible life Jesus has planned for each person who follows Him.”)
The announcements projected on the screen aimed at building fellowship. Family Game Night at the Marcums’; a barbecue and swim at the Rolfsons’; Padre Fellowship Night at Petco on August 21. “After the [game and the] fireworks, we are invited to attend a special fellowship program with several of the Padres and Cardinals, giving their personal testimonies.”
The worship band featured a guest on keyboards (from East Texas), but singer Bri Bartlett dominated the stage as she belted out, “Did you feel the darkness tremble/ When all the saints join in one song... Dancers who dance upon injustice.” People sang along, but it was hard to compete with The Voice — its volume and richness and range. Applause after each hymn served to acknowledge that this was not so much something to move with as it was something to be moved by. The one great exception came when Bartlett slowed things down for the old-time-y “Nothing but the Blood.” Then the congregation made itself heard, boldly proclaiming a theology of total dependence on the divine and the worthlessness of works: “Nothing can for sin atone...naught of good that I have done/ Nothing but the blood of Jesus.”
“We celebrate Your faithfulness, God,” proclaimed Bartlett over the mellow notes of the keyboard, “and Your love for Your people. I pray...that we would be challenged and inspired.”
But the chief challenge offered by Langley’s sermon was, in some way, directed at God. “What did you expect this morning when you got up to come to church?” he asked his congregation as he strode across the floor. “Why did you come to Cloudbreak today? Are you expecting God to change your life? Because you should be.” Often, he said, we put God in a box, attempting to limit both His involvement in our lives and our own hopes for what He might do for us.
Langley grasped the metal podium and rocked it toward himself. “God has put it on my heart that we will be a church that expects Him to move, that is looking for Him to move. Take the time to ask Jesus to do whatever it is because I promise you that every single one of you needs Him to show up somewhere. So I challenge you to do that — raise your expectations.... If we’re expecting God to do nothing...there’s a good chance that He probably isn’t going to do anything in our lives; at least, not what He had planned. But if we are looking for something extraordinary — I’ve just seen it over and over again — God shows up.” As he spoke, Bartlett, now seated in the front row, followed along in her Bible and took careful notes in a pale green journal.
“Be like Bart,” concluded Langley, referring to the blind beggar Bartimaeus, who begged Jesus for healing despite the crowd’s insistence that he shut up, then followed Jesus after receiving the healing he longed for.
But Langley added a couple of caveats, perhaps not so much to temper expectations as to prevent bitterness in times of want: “You need to understand that He has blessed you tremendously.... During life, there’s a lot of uncertainty, but that’s by design...that’s when our faith grows.... God is longing to have a relationship with you such that even when you’re going through tough circumstances, you know that God is blessing things in your life. You can sense it because you have a relationship with Jesus Christ.”
What happens when we die?
“God is going to say, ‘What did you do with Jesus Christ?’” said Langley. “‘Did you choose Jesus, or did you not?’ That’s going to be the question. It’s not about how great you are. It’s about your faith.”
10960 Via Frontera, San Diego
Denomination: Southern Baptist
Founded locally: 2006
Senior pastor: Jeff Langley
Congregation size: 100
Staff size: 1 full-time, 4 part-time
Sunday school enrollment: 35
Annual budget: n/a
Weekly giving: n/a
Singles program: small groups
Dress: casual to semiformal, some dresses
Sunday worship: 10 a.m.
Length of reviewed service: 1 hour, 30 minutes