Terry W. Brooks: Creativity and Community—Part 2

creativity and community

“We want to prepare people to live a better life, the life that Jesus described as abundant.”

Don’t miss Part 1 of our interview, where Terry W. Brooks talks about his path to ministry from being a pastor’s kid to an athlete to becoming the pastor of Bayview Church, and talks about the many ways the church serves its community.

Your church seems to be creative when it comes to service.

In many churches, creativity isn’t valued because creatives are wired differently. They are not designed for programs. When people function in a way they are not gifted to do, they become frustrated or depressed or feel as if something is wrong with them. At Bayview, we try to incubate and nurture creatives. Our worship pastor, DeWayne Woods, is an award-winning singer/songwriter/producer. He’s got one song on YouTube that has over 30 million views. We promote creatives and give them outlets. My sermon might not be the hook that brings someone to Christ. It’s not my voice that matters, but God’s voice, and God’s voice is inherently creative and takes thousands of forms. We also place a heavy emphasis on developing entrepreneurs, who help us start ministries that engage a wide range of people and gifts. 

If you could tell just one story that captures the heart of outreach at your church, whose would you tell?

LaMont Walltower. We reached out to him when he was homeless. He had lost his family and his job because of addictions. He’s an educated man with college degrees. Life got him and depression got him. In his own words, he was at a point where he was ready to end his life. But God wasn’t done with him yet. And he showed up here and we gave him food and clothes, so he could come worship. We loved on him; he made connections. We went to pick him up every Sunday to bring him to church along with other guys from the shelter. He got clean; he got on his feet; he got his life back on track. He started volunteering here at the same place that fed him. Now he’s on our staff and helps manage our Daily Bread Marketplace.

Bayview’s online attendance nearly tripled during the pandemic. How is that possible? 

I don’t have a clue. All we did is what we do. We had already been recording and streaming our services before the pandemic started. We were already high technology. As a matter fact, we were doing a small capital campaign to upgrade cameras, lighting and video the same week COVID-19 hit. When the lockdown came, the only thing we did differently was prerecord. We positioned the cameras so that everything was in your face. We made people personable by everyone talking or singing directly to the cameras. The people onstage became the focal points, and we interacted with people around the world. Even though it was online, it was very warm and inviting.

Tell me about RE3, your free mental health ministry.

The three Rs stand for revealing Christ, relieving suffering, restoring lives. It’s a Christian counseling ministry that is led by my wife, Monique, with about 15 to 20 volunteers. We started that ministry a couple of years before the pandemic, but we have been dealing with issues of mental health for a long time, even before RE3, starting with Celebrate Recovery and our church staff. We had several staff members who struggled with depression or anxiety. We knew we had to come to grips with things that we just kept tucked in our shirts to keep going. 

Did you lead the way by dealing with your own issues?

Yes. I lived on the edge of If I don’t take this risk, I’m going to be depressed. And, If I fail, I’m going to be depressed. It was a constant state of tension. I’m 5-foot-9 and I weighed 250 pounds, had anger management issues and threatened a stroke every Sunday. I had to deal with those issues and realize it’s OK not to be OK. And I had to bounce back. And so 40 pounds and six suit sizes later, life is great, because I gave myself permission to be human. By doing so, I also gave our staff permission to have those struggles, which permitted them the freedom to manage it by recognizing triggers and symptoms. That’s what led us to start RE3.

“It’s not my voice that matters, but God’s voice, and God’s voice is inherently creative.”

There is such a stigma about mental health, especially in the Black community. We wanted to normalize not being OK. We wanted people to know everyone has mental struggles of some kind—phobias, anxiety, sadness, fears. Just before starting the ministry, I did a sermon series designed to debunk the stereotypes around mental health issues. It made a huge impact. So many people were struggling in silence, and that’s just not fair. We’re better together. 

I’m guessing the ministry got a lot of use during the pandemic.

Absolutely, because everything was magnified. Because everybody was stuck and couldn’t get out. The anxiety, depression and fear just kind of shot through the roof. And it’s just amazing to me that we already had that ministry in place so we could deal with that as a symptom of the pandemic. It was a lifeline for several people, not only in the church, but the community as well. 

We had a single mom with an autistic son, who was finding it hard to cope with the additional stress brought on by the pandemic. Having suffered a mild stroke in February, she was working a job, performing military responsibilities and desperately trying to care for her son. She appreciated how she was paired with a counselor who understood some of the things she was going through and that the sessions always opened with prayer, and that built a rapport with her. She shared how she was in a dark place, burned out and feeling alone. Instead of trying to provide answers, the counselor asked questions to further understand the space she was in. The counselor helped her get to the core of her issues by providing resources to parent her autistic son through websites and direct points of contact. 

In addition to the weekly sessions, the counselor made assignments that gave this mom the opportunity to use those tools on a daily basis. The assignments, called Hopework, were then discussed with the counselor. Through the counseling process, she was able to step outside her comfort zone and finally do those things she desired to do but didn’t exactly know how—things like forgive, trust and, most importantly, heal. She was then able to build a tribe or community to help her with her son. Through that terrible time, her relationship with Christ grew daily. 

It sounds like COVID-19 created an opening for the gospel.

Absolutely. You’re more open to the gospel in times of loss, fear and transition. COVID-19 was one big fear/loss transition. In a weird way, it created an opportunity for the church.

“We masked up, gloved up, face shielded-up and put the pedal to the metal.”

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The best way to deal with fear and anxiety is to embrace it, not deny it, and get help. We were able to serve people in that way at no cost to them. Another way is to serve other people. You get a sense of fulfillment that you can’t get from anything else, especially when you serve people who hurt like you hurt, who struggle like you struggle. Did COVID-19 change the way we do church? It really did. During the lockdown, we opened up even more doors to serve.

We masked up, gloved up, face shielded-up and put the pedal to the metal. That’s when our drive-through food giveaways started. People could call in, pull up and we delivered and put food into their trunk. It never stopped.

In the middle of the pandemic, the Black Lives Matter movement came to the forefront. As a predominantly Black church, how did you deal with that?

As far as the movement goes, some things I agree with and some things I don’t, but the statement Black lives matter is totally necessary. All you have to do is look at it statistically—at how not only Black but brown people are treated at the hands of law enforcement, and how they are murdered by the police. The narrative switches when it’s a Black life. When everybody else goes to jail, we go to the cemetery. In our church, we don’t try to sugarcoat it. It is what it is. So yes, we protested, rallied, marched and spoke out with a loud voice. We needed to be heard. It wasn’t revenge we wanted; it wasn’t an eye for an eye. It was justice we wanted then and what we want now. It’s absurd we still have to fight for our rights. If Black lives matter to others, you wouldn’t have to have a movement to say it. 

Is there any hope for racial reconciliation?

That’s a question I really don’t have an answer for right now because it’s hard to imagine what we are up against. What would have happened to a group of Black and brown people if they stormed the Capitol? Yet the people who did this despicable violence are sitting at home, while they kill a Black man for a counterfeit $20 bill. 

One of the things I say is that racism is not a Black problem that can be fixed by Black people. It’s a white problem that needs to be fixed by white people. That’s my story, and I stick to it. Unfortunately, I don’t have the answers because I’m not the one causing the problems. 

How have you personally experienced racism?

How much time do you got? I played football where they burned crosses behind the field we were playing on. Here in San Diego, I’m stopped repeatedly and asked where I’m going and what I’m doing and why I’m here and if I have drugs and guns in the car. I am followed by the police; it happens all the time. Who I am is a threat to a lot of people. It’s the same reality most Black people experience every day.

“Racism is not a Black problem that can be fixed by Black people. It’s a white problem that needs to be fixed by white people.”

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What do you see your role is as a pastor in fighting against racism?

It’s not just about what I do, but what I don’t do. If I spend my time trying to have conversations with people who deny their racism, then I’m risking another Black man or Black woman killed at the hands of the police. You can’t fix a problem by enrolling people who don’t believe the problem exists. My role in the church has been to have conversations with our people, to educate them on laws, policy, procedures and rights. I talk about how to interact with the police, what to say and what not to say, what to do and what not to do, how to move or not move, how to get a lawyer, how to survive. That’s where my heart and passion is.

Can the church play a role in racial reconciliation?

There can be no reconciliation without repentance. But because the church won’t repent, I don’t see reconciliation happening. Unfortunately, Christians are often the ones denying and excusing the brutality and injustice against Blacks. The funny thing is, they don’t realize that Jesus would have been considered a person of color. How ironic is that? So, if these are the people who hold the keys to racial reconciliation, I have no hope. Eventually I think the church will play a role, but not now. It’s heartbreaking and sad, but it just makes me do what I do with more passion. I can really, really get angry, or I can really, really get active. I choose to get active.

“We want to prepare people to live a better life, the life that Jesus described as abundant.”

 

It’s the athlete in you, right? The love of a challenge in the face of adversity.

I’m wired to never let things defeat me. During the pandemic and Black Lives Matter, I never had an ounce of fear because I thrive when the pressure increases. I didn’t see crises, but opportunities to create something new and do something that has never been done. Anxious energy? Yes. Never fear. I didn’t have the time or notion to be afraid because I had to act. I had a staff who depended on me, and their families depended on me. And I had a church and a community that was looking to me to provide leadership. In a strange way, these times have energized me. The only thing that has drained me is I didn’t get a chance to touch people, hug them like I used to. It’s great to begin to get back to being among the people.

What is your vision for Bayview?

There are so many things we are preparing to do. We are turning outdoor spaces into pavilions, outdoor sanctuaries that are family friendly, lawnchair friendly, blanket friendly and pet friendly. We’re getting ready to build homes and condominiums to promote home ownership in our community. We are teaching people to garden and understand that in the food desert, the best way to make sure you have what you need is to grow it. We’re teaching those with ideas how to become entrepreneurs. We now have money-management tracks for all kinds of situations: elementary school, middle school, high school, entering college, leaving college, dealing with student loans, entering the military and premarital. We want to prepare people to live a better life, the life that Jesus described as abundant. 

We start with a basic question: What are the things that plague our community? We want to be the answers. Rick Warren told me that if you make yourself the solution to people’s problems, they’ll find your church. And if they find the church, my prayer is that they’ll find Jesus.