It is about 1:30 on Sunday afternoon in Redondo Beach, California, and already they’re showing up in the parking lot. Some drive older-model cars, a few come roaring in on Harleys, and one or two arrive on foot. As the crowd grows, it is obvious that the most popular colors are black and blue. Well-worn denim is the leading fabric, with leather and spandex not far behind.

A small, tinkling sound gathers force. It is not wind chimes, but the sound of earrings, dangling from hundreds of ears—women’s and men’s. The earrings are only partially concealed by flowing hairdos, including a couple of manes colored brilliant blue or orange.

If Joe Average Churchgoer were to get lost in this scene after taking a wrong turn on the way home from Sunday dinner at Denny’s Restaurant, he might think he had landed in a tribe of hardcore heavy-metal music fans, especially after hearing the booming bass sounds coming from the nearby building. But the building happens to be a church, and the booming comes from the worship band, which is led by Jim LaVerde, guitarist for the Christian heavy-metal band Barren Cross. The band features two electric guitars, drums, bass, and organ, all accompanying a group of four singers who are belting out these lines: “Lift him up, give him praise. He will give me power and strength to face each day.”

Over on the piano—sporting hip-length curly hair, a plain black shirt, blue jeans, and snakeskin boots—is Bob Beeman, the 39-year-old man the 400 or so members of this singing, swaying crowd lovingly refer to as Pastor Bob.

After a few more songs, Pastor Bob rises from the piano, approaches the podium, opens his thick, black Bible, and preaches a meaty, biblical sermon on resisting temptation that wouldpass muster in any Southern Baptist church.

Welcome to Sanctuary, a thriving congregation near Los Angeles, which serves as the mother church for a growing and influential movement that embraces kids who were so scruffy or independent that other churches wouldn’t touch them, a church that calls itself “The Rock and Roll Refuge.”

Drawing The Line

Although Sanctuary is unknown to most Christians, it is notorious among a small group of vociferous critics who condemn it to hell. And it is praised to the high heavens by thousands of young people who credit it with helping them open their lives to Christ.

There are only a handful of Sanctuary churches—a few scattered across Southern California, with others in Seattle, Spokane, Oklahoma City, and Denver. Most kids learn of Sanctuary through their stereos and Christian heavy-metal bands, such as Deliverance, Guardian, Sacred Warrior, and Tourniquet, who call the church their home. Like their secular counterparts, these groups’ music is characterized bypounding rhythm, electric guitar, and booming decibels. The groups all have popular albums that explore the darkness and nihilism of the modern world, proclaim the light of the gospel, and feature a greeting from Pastor Bob along with an invitation to call the church’s toll-free 800 phone line.

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More than 8,000 kids accept the invitation every month, calling about how to become a Christian, how to bring their friends to the Lord, how to recover from sexual or emotional abuse, or how to stay away from the omnipresent temptations of sex, drugs, and alcohol.

But those who call hoping that Pastor Bob will persuade their parents to let them grow their hair long or listen to Christian metal end up disappointed.

“We tell the kids they need to listen to their parents,” says Beeman. “And we tell them they ought to be thankful for being raised in a Christian home. Most of the people in our congregation come from broken homes.”

Beeman, a grandson of ministers, comes from a family full of pastors and missionaries. He became a Christian at five and heard God’s call to be a pastor at six. He is a virgin whose commitment to celibacy fits his 16-hour work days. He has never done drugs, and the only time he tasted alcohol “was one time during Communion in a Lutheran church.”

“I’m one of those goody-goody Christians who never went through a lot of rebellion,” he says, “and I’m glad I’ve never gone through a lot of the things a majority of my congregation has gone through.” When he talks, Beeman’s demeanor is quiet and calm. He often breaks into big, toothy smiles that seem to arise out of deep joy.

His office has many things in common with other pastors’ offices: books (theology titles, Bible-reference works, and volumes by Charles Swindoll and John MacArthur), a couch with a nearby Kleenex box, and a desk. But it is different, too: It features a stereo system with a CD player, and posters and album covers featuring Sanctuary-related bands cover the walls and part of the ceiling.

He admits he does not like most of the music that the bands he works with play. “It’s not my taste at all. To be real honest with you, the kind of music I enjoy the most is Glenn Miller and big-band music from the thirties and forties.” When it comes to worship music, he would rather sing “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” But Beeman has learned that taste is not the only issue.

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“Everybody has to draw a line somewhere,” he says. “And when most people do, they usually draw it somewhere short of where we’re at. But my experience is that most people draw the line where their personal tastes are. I draw lines in my mind and redraw them on my knees.”

Discipleship Between Gigs

Music has always been important to Beeman, who grew up listening to pop music on the radio in Broadview, Montana, where his dad is a farmer.

In the midseventies he promoted Jesus-music concerts in Montana, Wyoming, North and South Dakota, Idaho, and Nebraska. He worked as an intinerant evangelist in the early eighties, speaking out against the evils of secular rock and encouraging young people to consume Christian alternatives.

In late 1984 he was serving as an interim pastor at Palm View Assemblies of God church in Whittier, California, when he received a visit from some young people who were affiliated with the road crew and fan club of Stryper, one of the earliest and most popular Christian metal bands.

The kids presented Beeman with a problem: Hundreds had come to know Christ through the Christian bands, but many of them had problems fitting into local churches and wound up following the bands from gig to gig.

“They said they don’t know what to do with these kids. And they asked me to help them.”

After checking with the church elders, Beeman invited the band members and the kids who followed them to the church for a meeting in early 1985 that was to be the birth of Sanctuary.

“I said, let’s open up the church on Sunday afternoons. Let’s provide them with a place to hang out. Let’s answer their questions. Let’s start from the beginning.”

As the kids came and began to talk, Beeman came to a shocking conclusion. “I was appalled to find out that most of the band members had no relationship with a church and had hardly any knowledge of the Word of God at all. And these were the leaders.”

Sanctuary had its first formal meeting in early 1986, with Stryper vocalist Michael Sweet leading worship. And Beeman began with his two-pronged metal mission: “First was following up the bands, bringing some accountability and giving them some knowledge of the Word. Second was following up the people who were following them.”

From those simple beginnings has grown a complex ministry that includes “Boot Camp” Bible studies for new believers, “RAD (Radical Active Discipleship) Studies” (a correspondence course for kids who call the 24-hour 800 telephone line), counseling classes for volunteers who answer the calls, programs for families and home schoolers, and “Warriorz,” a 12-step program for recovering homosexuals.

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Despite the criticism from some that his ministry goes “too far,” Beeman is undaunted. “The average church person does not know that the people we reach even exist. They may want to throw up their hands and say what we’re doing is disgusting. But what do we as Christians do with all those kids? How do we reach them?”

By Steve Rabey, religion writer for the Gazette Telegraph of Colorado Springs.

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