We are unique in this role, because we are both Pastor’s Kids (PKs). It is unusual for two individuals raised in a parsonage environment to come together as a couple and actually follow in their parents’ footsteps. Furthermore, both of us are products of fundamentalist churches with hyper-strict upbringings. Though we have wrestled and even rebelled against some of the militant legalism of our early lives, we didn’t follow the example of so many young people of escaping from that kind of religion into unbelief as soon as the doorway of freedom and personal choice opened. We’ve thrown out the forms but retained the underlying truth.
I graduated from Bethany College in Santa Cruz. On July 30, 1994, during my junior year I married Kyah. She had been a music major at the school. Following graduation, Kyah’s dad invited me to be the youth pastor in his South Whittier, California church. It was a good experience for me. I was determined to build into a thriving ministry a youth program that had almost no members when I took over. I wanted to have a “boots on the ground” kind of relationship with the kids so appealed to teachers and administrators in the local high schools, begging them to let me get involved. “I’ll do whatever you want me to do,” I told them. “I’ll sweep floors and clean chalkboards.” I was able to get next to some of the kids and to start the first campus clubs. I became a licensed pastor after my first year and ordained into the ministry the next year.
Kyah and I are both gifted musicians. Kyah had been singing in church since she was 15 months old. She says she can actually remember the event because she was annoyed that people laughed at her. Of course, they were laughing because they had never before witnessed a toddler belting out a melody like she was doing. Too bad it was before YouTube or she probably could have become an instant Internet star. When she was still only three years old Kyah became lead singer of the congregation’s large Spanish Church choir. Kyah has the kind of voice that might have secured for her the kind of national attention given to Madonna and Mariah Carey, and for years that was her aim until she became my wife and chose to go into ministry with me.
“If you are called to ministry,” my dad told me, “then don’t stoop to being a king.” I guess the analogy in Kyah’s case would have been to choose ministry over stooping to become a famous diva.
Kyah and I both grew through our early ministry years. Kyah brought an awesome quality of musical performance to meetings. Even though Kyah’s mom is an accomplished organist, Kyah never discovered the full range of her musical gifts until doing so became necessary.
When we got to the church the youth had no musical program so I appointed Kyah to be the music director. We always had a few back-up musicians on the platform as part of a praise team, and I would play one or another of the instruments, as needed. I could perform childhood in my father’s church to perform a studio-musician type role by performing whatever piece was being played on whatever instrument was needed at the time.
I got Kyah started on the keyboard and piano by showing her the basic chords that enabled her to play most songs, as long as they were in the Key of C. Kyah turned out to be musically adept and was soon playing the piano as though she had taken lessons. When the necessity arose, I told her “You’re going to play the drums,” and she began lick’n with the sticks like she knew what she was doing. Before long she added guitar and bass to the list of instruments that she could fill-in with, as the need arose.
Eight years later, while we were ministering at Christ Church of the Hills in Chino Hills, Kyah underwent a profound personal transformation. She discovered a genuine gift for leading worship. Now, of course, worship leaders are front-and-center in most churches — the top tier are rock stars with lucrative contracts in the
Christian Music industry. However, back then there were no role models; the worship in most churches was usually lead by the choir director who stood in front of the people conducting the congregational singing with hand gestures. Kyah and I didn’t know what a worship leader was, but she discovered that she could go far beyond merely conducting music to actually leading people in worship as she herself worshipped. Furthermore, she was able to bring praise songs to the congregation and to present traditional music in a modern style, fusing pop music and
Christian culture in grand syntheses that would often get people up on their feet dancing, clapping, and worshipping. Kyah realized that she was using, for the glory of God, the talents that she had thought to market to secular audiences.
The Church of the Hills also proved to be transformative in my own life and ministry. One of the church leaders, Ed Moreno, was a church planter. I had never heard of such a thing and became fascinated by the idea of planting a church. Ed mentored me and I developed a desire to create a church where none had existed before. Part of the attraction is that Kyah and I are free spirits. We have always resisted structural guidelines and chafed at the tendency to bring politics into the administration of large organized religious institutions. Obviously, if you are leading a brand new church you are free to be yourself — to say what you want about controversial topics and to engage in patterns of worship that some establishment-people might find objectionable.
In 2006, we began serving in my fathers’ Lighthouse Church in Pittsburg. He retired two years later and we began holding meetings in Brentwood — that we called gatherings — reaching out to people and establishing the beginning of a worship community. When attendees at the gatherings reached 50 people, we decided to organize as a congregation. We instituted Access Church independent of any denomination. Our first service was October 2012. Our initial meetings were at a Harvest Park commercial facility that was too warm in the summer and freezing in the winter. People attended faithfully through the heat and cold because they were compelled by the music, the message, and by the changes that were taking place in their lives. We moved to the Brentwood Community Center two years ago.
Some congregants come to us because of the quality of our music program. Kyah has assembled a group of talented and experienced musicians and sound technicians who are able to create concertquality music. They take worship and praise outside the walls of the church and perform at Farmer’s Markets and other public venues. On Sunday mornings, Kyah and her NOV Worship Band sounds like something from K-LOVE. We seek to provide quality musical performance, but our goal is not to entertain. People come because the services begin with good times, but they tend to remain as things start to become different in their lives.
At the beginning, I was preaching in the manner that followed the style of pastors that I had heard until a pastor told me that he thought my pulpit style was diminishing the effectiveness of my preaching.
“When you and I hang out” he said, “you’re hilarious. I enjoy being with you.” He went on to tell me that I become personally distant in my preaching and used words and concepts that went sailing over most people’s heads. His words connected me with the truth that while information might hold people, emotion will move them. After all, what’s the point of knowing anything if the knowledge doesn’t move you to some positive action, whether it’s making a necessary change in your own life or in the way you reach out to other people. From that point I began to change the way I preached, and tried to bring the message home to the people by moving them to laughter or to tears and sometimes stunning them with a truth or story that smashed into pieces some complacent attitude or belief they had been living under.
Our ministry has been drawing in people who were de-churched and unchurched through the failure of some pastor or congregation to actually move in on their needs. Some are carrying wounds that were opened by the insensitivity and, in some cases, the cruelty of people who put rules, regulations, dogma, and pride ahead of the need to reach out to needy and hurting people with sensitivity and love.
My intention is to stir people up; move them to make changes that will cause their lives to become more joyful and productive. I don’t use religious jargon but, following the example of Jesus, I speak in the language of the street — using some words in covering some topics that would raise eyebrows in a church that was geared for safer and more comfortable forms of communication.
We aren’t trying to create shock value, but are reaching out to people with a message that speaks clearly and directly to their often chaotic and messy lives. We focus on harvesting truth from the Bible, which was written for us but not to us, in order to find fundamental principles and guidelines that we can apply to everyday life.
People come with their personal narratives often filled with incidents of betrayal, abuse, and illness. They are trying to cope with abandonment, dysfunctional family relationships, and compulsive behavioral disorders. We aren’t afraid to address such things in a context of honesty and healing, which means we speak freely about the topics that people are wrestling with, such as same sex marriage, substance abuse, depression, and sex. Healing finally becomes interactive. As a community we find healing for spirits, bodies, and relationships.
Rather than grow Access into some kind of super-church, Kyah and I would to love train people to emulate our style and approach and then send them out, with my church-planting passion, to launch other churches.
We love the East County communities and feel that we are doing what we are called to do among the people whom we are called to reach. Jesus said we were to be “fishers of men,” which 2,000 years later probably remains an apt analogy for our Delta Communities.
Modern culture isn’t friendly to organized religion. Social media, movies, and TV shows love to present Christians as weirdos. Unfortunately, they don’t have to look far to find what seems to be good evidence. Someone pointed out that the best argument against Christianity is Christians.
On the other hand, someone else counterargued that some Christians are the best argument for Christianity. We are becoming part of that “on the other hand” group because Kyah and I are helping people to discover that the walk of faith leads to the best life a person can live — filled with love, joy, and peace.
We minister to broken people with the attitude, “It’s okay to be not okay, as long as you don’t stay there forever.”