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Bible study forging its own Way

Bible study forging its own Way

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Lubbock Avalanche-Journal

LUBBOCK -- If someone came up to 23-year-old Brandon Gould and told him The Way wasn't a real church, he'd tell them they don't know what goes on inside the church's graffiti-smothered walls.

Once, twice, or maybe even three or four times a month, the lonely little Alamo-esque building in the industrial land right off I-27 Exit 3A explodes with hardcore punk music and heavy metal: growls, screams, sludgy power chords, karate disguised as dancing -- all of it sober, some of it spiritual.

But that's not what Gould is talking about.

He's talking about the Bible study.

Every Sunday night, the rock 'n' roll, testosterone and hipster posturing take a back seat to prayer, fellowship and the fruits of the spirit.

Right now they're reading the book of Acts.

"Without this place, I wouldn't have the relationship with God that I have," Gould says.

That, says pastor Steven Byrne, is the whole idea.

Byrne, 35, a recovering alcoholic, a certified Assembly of God pastor and a longtime fan of hardcore music who collects tattoos like baseball cards, started The Way in December 2005 with an evangelistic vision that had once been built around prison ministry.

"I started going to First Assembly of God in Plainview and originally wanted to serve in a prison chapel," says Byrne. He eventually moved to Lubbock to run the ministry and also works at McClane's Food Service Distribution Center. "But more and more, I realized the greater need for prison ministry was out in the free world -- to give those guys somewhere to go and feel comfortable when they're out. I just heard God's voice telling me to start some type of church in the free world. I prayed about it and looked for a place."

One day, two years later, there it was. Byrne was driving around and saw some old pews sitting outside 1616 Ave. B. He saw a flier on the door advertising the building for rent from the Palo Duro Presbytery. He called the number to ask if he could have a pew. A few days later, he had a building.

Getting people to fill it took a little longer.

"The first service was Dec. 6, 2005," he says. "The heater broke. It was freezing cold. It was pretty much all my friends from Plainview and a few friends from here."

In the days leading up to the service, Burns plastered 300 fliers for the Bible study across downtown Lubbock. They were designed by a tattoo artist, a friend of Byrne's, in a style similar to fliers for punk shows. On the day of the service, the city posted a notice on the door -- take down the fliers.

It wasn't until February, when Byrne began passing the fliers out at Lubbock punk shows, that he managed to generate interest in the church among the crowd he was trying to reach, but in a way he had never intended.

"I met a couple of kids who were in a band, and told them I had a place if they ever wanted to do a local concert," Byrne says. "I said, 'You're welcome to it as long as you help clean up.' I figured they'd have a show or two and it'd kind of fall apart from that point forward, but we ended up started having these nonalcoholic shows for those kids, and a lot of people started coming."

First for the music, and then, slowly but surely, for the gospel.

While many churches will offer their sanctuaries as tour stops for popular Top-40-styled worship bands that build altar calls into their set lists, The Way doesn't filter bands by creed but by attitude -- no jerks, drugs or alcohol allowed, but many of the bands that play aren't Christian.

That's because Byrne never intended The Way, which is supported jointly by First Assembly of God Plainview and First Assembly of God Lubbock, to double as a venue for bands, local or touring, Christian or otherwise. He simply had the space, offered it and the kids came. They stayed out of the bars. They brought spray paint (at his request). They had fun. And a few of them brought their Bibles the next day.

Randy Santiago, Plainview First Assembly of God pastor, says neither he nor his congregation has ever expressed reservations about Byrne's approach.

"They all knew he was a different cat when he started coming, but we're trying to minister to different people," Santiago says.

"That's what this church is all about -- not just ministering to church people. The day he walked into our church with all those tattoos and everything, he said he was going to wear a long shirt. We told him, no, wear a muscle shirt. Our people have embraced him. We take care of the utilities on the building, and we know it's just a different deal."

And though some members of the local punk scene shun the place for its Christian affiliations and some parents have shunned it for its punk affiliations, the end result is a stark, come-as-you-are clubhouse of a church with eight regular members. Despite the occasional loud music and garish decor, Byrne feels his "different deal" comes promisingly close to New Testament Christianity.

"That's how Christianity began," Byrne says. "It wasn't about a building."

"I really don't like church, but I do like The Way,"

28-year old Chris Cox says. "I like how it's seriously come-as-you-are. I haven't felt judged since I've been there like I do in a lot of places."

Cox has been attending The Way's Sunday night Bible study since seeing North Carolina-based Christian band My Epic play there this year.

"I like the fact that it's small," he said. "And I like the fact that I'm not the most tattooed person there."

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