“Service puts into practice what we learn when discipleship is integrated into worship.”
When Bayview Church in San Diego was closed because of the pandemic, attendance tripled. When asked how such a reality was possible, Pastor Terry W. Brooks replied honestly, if not a shade cryptically: “I have no clue. All we did is what we do.”
Embedded in this mystery are clues, first and foremost the sovereignty of God. Before COVID-19, the church had created a food pantry, a mental health clinic and sophisticated online services. When the pandemic hit, those free services accelerated in ways the church could have never imagined. Last year, volunteers served 107,753 meals and distributed groceries to 6,897 families in the community. More than 70 people received free counseling for COVID-19-related issues, which nearly equaled all previous counseling numbers since the ministry’s inception in 2018.
Another clue to the increased attendance can be found in the mindset of Brooks himself, a former football player who thrives in times of adversity and the son of a community-focused pastor. As challenging as last year was, Brooks found himself energized. Outreach magazine sat down with him to talk about how service is in his DNA, the way it translates into life at Bayview and his views on the problems of race in the United States.
As the son of a pastor, how was it for you growing up?
It was great growing up as a pastor’s kid. My dad modeled for me what ministry should be like—a pastor who was people-oriented first. He knew that serving people was a gateway to being able to introduce them to salvation. My dad taught in the court system to help people commute their sentences. He taught in rehab centers for those who were addicted to drugs or alcohol. He taught in shelters. He was just a community pastor, who always had a knack for reaching people where they were. He got down on their level to pick them back up.
Did you want to be a pastor like your dad?
No, I was very focused on sports. I grew up in the church, but Dad never tried to force ministry on me. He allowed me to be an athlete and do other things I wanted to do as a young man. I played football in high school in Gary, Indiana, and went to college on a football scholarship at Texas Southern University. I loved every minute of it.
“Jesus doesn’t want just touch points in your life; he wants your whole life.”
So, how did you get into ministry?
I went straight from the football field to the pulpit as a 21-year-old. Literally. I was in Texas playing football and someone from the Indiana Southern Baptist Convention called my dad and said there was a senior pastor who was elderly and looking for a young man to replace him. I left in my junior year to start pastoring in Indianapolis. It was terrifying because the only training I had was being around my dad. I left Texas Southern and started going to Baptist Bible College, and that helped a lot. My chuch was a small congregation; it gave me the chance to give people individual attention. I stayed there almost five years.
Why did you leave?
I moved back to my dad’s church with the shared expectation I would be his successor. But in 2005, I felt the Lord calling me to Bayview Church in San Diego, and here I am.
Dad was not disappointed; he just didn’t understand. At the installation service for me, that’s what he said. He didn’t see why. The calling made no sense to me either at the time, but I felt God leading me; I can’t explain it. It only became clear after I was here for a while.
What was Bayview like when you arrived?
It was a very traditional church—much different than what I was accustomed to. When I took over, we had about 1,500 people. The focus was on discipleship; it was class-heavy and study-heavy. The first thing I worked to do was to change the mindset. Instead of having all these categories—worship, discipleship, evangelism, outreach, fellowship—we decided to create seamless worship. Jesus doesn’t want just touch points in your life; he wants your whole life.
“Every member is a minister, and every member has a mission.”
When we started our small groups, which we call impact groups, they were no longer elective. In other words, worship didn’t end on Sunday. Instead of just studying, these groups also had action steps. Service puts into practice what we learn when discipleship is integrated into worship. By refusing to compartmentalize, outreach became our driving focus. Every member is a minister, and every member has a mission. Our job is to get out of the four walls of the church. Again, that was my dad’s influence; he taught me how to be a teacher with a shepherd’s heart. He modeled a ministry that was very community oriented.
How intentional are you about developing diversity?
It’s not something we intentionally do. We are who we are. I’m a Black man. I grew up in a Black church. That’s all I know how to be. But how we serve, how we love, how we worship, how we teach—all sorts of people are drawn to those experiences. I don’t try to be anybody else. I don’t force them to assimilate to our culture. If you’re drawn to it, you’re welcome here. But we are going to be who we’re going to be.
“Service puts into practice what we learn when discipleship is integrated into worship.”
The majority of residents in this community are Hispanic, but historically, we are a Black community. I would say that about 80% of the church is Black, but we also have Hispanics, Filipinos, Samoan Americans and whites. This is probably one of the poorest communities in San Diego. This is the inner city.
How did the mindset of serving your community transform into being the hands and feet of Jesus?
We pushed service by creating resources to do so: education, opportunities and making sure people are plugged-in to their communities. In addition to meeting face to face, we had been a virtual church long before the pandemic. So, the emphasis has been on helping our people serve where they live. We recreate ourselves; there are little bits of Bayview all over the world.
How did you begin to apply your father’s lifelong lessons into Bayview?
It was another mentor, Rick Warren (pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California), who challenged me to make sure that serving God was as important as worshiping God. Serving outside the sanctuary (SOS) became an initiative where we shut down church one Sunday a year and went out to serve the unsheltered people in downtown San Diego. We gave them food, clothes, toiletries and other necessities. We still do this every year. I tell the congregation, “You have heard enough sermons. Now let’s go be a sermon.”
What are some other ways your church serves the community?
I Choose Life was a program that I wrote when I was in a ministry called Passing the Mantle at USC with Pastor Chip Murray. I Choose Life became a youth program for high school kids. It is a two-week program where they could choose something they would like to learn about, like, I choose culinary. And they learned how to cook in a professional kitchen. They learned how to operate a restaurant. And I choose culinary would cook lunch and dinner for the students because they would be there all day.
“I tell the congregation, ‘You have heard enough sermons. Now let’s go be a sermon.’”
They could choose whatever interested them—music, dance, photography, videography, graphic design, sound engineering, yoga, whatever—and learn about those things from a professional who works in that field. Then in the evening, they would have peer counselors and mentors interact with them.
“We start by understanding what the community needs and build ministry around meeting those needs.”
We partner with a nonprofit called Paving Great Futures, a community organization started by three young men who lived on the streets of a southeast San Diego community, which has a reputation of being the rough part of the city. They turned their lives around and founded this nonprofit to help shape young lives by teaching them life skills.
So mentoring is vital to your church?
I prefer the word modeling. We show what life can be like in front of these young people so they can see it and experience it. The people in our church volunteer to teach these skills because we are built on the idea of service. You kind of stick out at Bayview if you don’t serve somewhere.
What are some other ways people serve?
We have the Daily Bread Marketplace. That’s where we built the grocery store. We have a boutique, a clothing store. We have a counseling center that does free Christian counseling and mental health support groups. The counseling ranges from divorce, grief, premarital, family, whatever, and is taught through a Christian perspective. We have a sensory room we call The Winner’s Circle for children who are on the spectrum for autism. We have a ministry for creatives to teach purpose-driven information technology. We have a studio for those who are musically inclined. We have a three-acre garden for people who like to garden or want to learn. We have a weekly drive-through food giveaway, plus COVID-19 testing and vaccination sites on our property. Instead of building our own ministries, expecting people to come, we start by understanding what the community needs and build ministry around meeting those needs.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of our interview with Terry W. Brooks where he discusses how Bayview incorporates creativity into every ministry, supports the mental health of its community, addresses racism and faces adversity head-on.