You know, that term “ghosted” is used quite a bit in relationships, mostly the casual ones, and it describes how one person just disappears from the relationship without so much as a goodbye, a reason, or a motive. Many times it’s commonly known what it was that happened or transpired, but remains unsaid. Sadly things don’t seem to be much different in Christianity, unfortunately this hits home, especially as it pertains to my beloved Reformed tradition.
What am I talking about? Well, if you know our story and have been following me or our church, you might know what I’m referring to. However, if this is the first time you’re hearing about this, let me put you up on game, in other words, allow me to bring you up to speed.
In January of this year, 2022, we made an official announcement that RCLA had left the Reformed Church in America and was endeavoring to transfer into another Reformed denomination/ federation. That didn’t work out and actually got super contentious with 2 specific churches and their leaders, then at the end of March I shared that we would instead seek to build our own table, one where churches like ours, with leaders who looked like us or ministered in contexts like ours, would be welcomed, encouraged, loved on, supported, and held accountable. Then in June I shared more specifics on our new denomination in hopes of getting the word out to others that might find themselves in similar situations or circumstances.
But getting back to being “ghosted,” you know… it’s not a good feeling. It’s not a good feeling in a casual romantic relationship when it involves unbelievers, and it’s an even worse feeling when it happens amongst believers whom you thought were for you, and proclaim the name of the same and only Savior, Jesus Christ, but also, when we share the same historic tradition and theological background. But what can we say or do? We keep it pushin’… why? Because the hood still needs the Gospel, the hood is still plagued by prosperity pushing pimps… the hood is a part of God’s remnant, and we will do our share to be used by God to reach His people. Amen?
For a while, it seemed like we were a hot item, folks couldn’t understand or get their heads wrapped around how there is a Latino led, confessionally Reformed, multicultural church plant, raising up other Latino church planters that will be focusing on the hood. And then from one day to the next… poof! Just like that… ghosted!
Obviously, we weren’t ghosted by everyone… but many who said were for us, are no longer for us. Many who’d promised us the moon and the stars just fell off. Folks had promised us that we needn’t worry about finances, or encouragement and accountability, which was a big deal for us because in leaving our previous denomination we walked away from financial support. So it wasn’t so much the lack of money we were promised, it was more of a huge let down in that some of the people we’d so looked up to, admired and respected so much, ended up showing their true colors, and it was sad. I felt like we were being courted and sought out for how different we could make an organization look, but they weren’t up for challenge to make things work. It was easier to try to discredit us than learn from us.
You see, although we’re covenantal, creedal, and confessionally Reformed, we don’t look like a typical Reformed church. We don’t dress the way most Reformed ministers do, our worship style is different than most Reformed churches, and our preaching is a bit different than most Reformed churches. Please hear this though, the elements of our worship at RCLA are the same as most Reformed churches, but our context is different than most Reformed churches, so the way it plays out looks differently, yet remains the same.
I say all this because God always comes through! He will never “ghost” us… He will never leave us nor forsake us! And Philippians 4:19 promises us that He will provide for all of our needs according to His glory in Christ Jesus! So as we’ve been ghosted by some folks, God’s providence has graciously brought others into our lives, or strengthened us with the type of support we need. Some of it is financial, much of it is fraternal… the love of brotherhood… the encouragement of a friend that truly cares… and believers who are not scared of speaking truth into our lives, despite feathers being potentially ruffled.
God has gifted us with new relationships and strengthened existing relationships! These relationships help support our church by keeping me healthy, with men who take my calls when I need advice, men who encourage me, pray for me, and hear me out when my heart is heavy. Men with whom I can have deep theological conversations and wrestle with what that looks like practically in pastoral ministry. Men who are not too proud to learn from us because they think they know it all.
I’m thankful that our Lord in His sovereignty always provides for our needs, I’m grateful for men who are doing ministry in the trenches and not just having theological conversations in ivory towers.
Next time you think of a pastor, please take a moment to pray for him. Next time you think of a church planter, please take a moment to not just pray for him but also reach out and encourage him. The struggles of church planting are extremely heavy. We struggle with our own competitive spirits, trying hard not to judge our failures by others successes. There are expectations of reaching certain markers within certain time frames. Some of us are bi-vocational and STILL have to fundraise… so for someone to “ghost” me, it’s hard not to take it personal or be hurt by it.
As some people walk out of our lives, many others are walking in… it’s hard though to emotionally detach from some folks because you’ve grown to love them. But the Lord doth giveth and the Lord doth taketh away, and the Lord doth strengthen us when we’re weak. And above all, the Lord will persevere us unto the end, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have feelings, that doesn’t mean we don’t get lonely… that doesn’t mean we got it all together.
An encouragement I give to you is this, “Don’t ghost folks!” Have grown and respectful conversations especially as it pertains to other believers.
Romans 15:7 says, “Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” Can we truly say we’re followers of Jesus and yet not even extend the right hand of fellowship to other believers? It’s hard to think so, right? One thing that God has definitely shown me in the midst of this is my need to focus on those men I’m discipling, to make sure they never feel like they’ve been “ghosted” that they know they’re loved, and that they matter! To those folks that are high maintenance, they need love too.
Thanks for following our story, thanks for caring, and thanks for reading this and not pulling a “ghost”!
Long post and super transparent that is not related to church planting, but my health.
Most of my church family and close friends knew that I would be going in for surgery yesterday (July 11th, 2022) for bariatric surgery, as the surgeon removed approximately ¾ of my stomach. The procedure was done as prevention for my health, you see, I’ve struggled with obesity my entire life. As far back as I can remember, food was something I loved, enjoyed to a fault, and was always a big part of my life. I can remember being really young and on certain weekends I’d go to my Tia Naya’s (RIP) or my Tia Tile’s house and both would always make sure that we ate to the full. Seriously! My Tia Sarita (RIP) would also make sure enough food was always made for 2nds and 3rds. My dad (RIP) during his time being part of a cartel opened up a mariscos restaurant in East L.A. and we ate whatever we wanted, as often as we wanted, as much as we wanted.
Every Friday evening mom and my siblings would go out for dinner or order pizza in to watch TV and weekends were always about having breakfast out at some of our favorite spots. I can’t remember ever having ordered from the Kid’s Menu always adult full menu plates or combos and would even take down what my kid brother and sisters would leave on their plates. Food has always been a big part of my life and I’ve always been obese, weight would come off and then back on, the times I was the fittest and in really good shape were the many years I’d served time both in juvenile and adult correctional facilities and I’m not really tryna go back to jail in order to get in shape.
I’ve been reflecting a lot lately, I’ve hosted funerals for homies I grew up with, heard about homies doing life that are now in prison medical wards dying from poor health and as I’m getting ready to turn 50 years old, I knew I had to do something so that I wouldn’t get diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol or a host of other sicknesses that accompany obesity. I’ve always had to have hard boundaries to keep me in check, and I can’t think of any other hard boundary in order to keep me from eating more than I should. You see if I can be transparent, I eat when I’m hungry, I eat when I’m bored, I eat when I’m emotional, etc.
It seems like the more I try to work off the weight, ministry is just always full of food potlucks, dinners, and lunch meetings, or coffee meetings that usually include pastries, you following?
For the last 9 months or so I’ve taken educational classes, done full blood panels, heart stress tests, done some psychological tests too, to see if I could qualify as a candidate for this procedure. I found out I had H Pylori, a bacteria in my stomach ,that required medication and retesting before surgery. I also found out my calcium was super low, so I had to take vitamin D and calcium supplements and then retest, I found out I had to stop smoking cigars for a bit and then had to determine which procedure it was I wanted: Gastric sleeve where approximately ¾ of my stomach would be taken out, or the Gastric bypass in which the entire stomach and parts of my intestines would be circumvented.
So, if I’m really about that Jesus life, I had to admit my wrongs, strengths and weaknesses, receive correction and rebuke as needed, that I might better serve my King Jesus and in order to do that for many more years, I felt I had to take drastic measure. I went on a strict lifestyle change for a couple of months and lost about 20 lbs, but then gained it all back and some. I got tired of living like that, my weight has changed my personality to some degree, lost tons of self-confidence, and really changed me many ways. Not bad… but changes none-the-less and I can see the difference, not wanting to dance with my wife at parties, and if I can be super transparent, the weight can affect physical intimacy too.
So yesterday I had the gastric sleeve, and I’ll attach a super short video to demonstrate what happened in my surgery. I write this long post because I know there are many others out there, friends of mine, that struggle as I have too. I’m in pain right now, super sore, and bloated as heck, but I’ve got the best people caring for me, my family. So I know I’ll be ok, but for now, I’m looking to heal well, drop this weight and get back into the gym and running as I used before my knees and back could no longer support the weight. At my heaviest I’ve been at is 325 lbs. I’m hoping to get down to somewhere between 235-250 lbs. but solid. As of today, I weighed in at 308 lbs. Please pray for my continued healing and that I’d rest during this time.
Not long ago my co-pastor and BFF, Rev. Chris Márquez, said in a sermon that something that isn’t growing is dead. He said this in reference to Christians that are not growing can often times be spiritually dead. I think the same can be said of churches. Before you push back and think that I’m getting ready to come down on small churches, chill… it’s not that kinda’ party! Where I’m actually going with this is a whole different path. Ya’ll know that we’ve recently had some denominational challenges, and that experience has challenged me to be more thorough and strategic in how we go forward.
It’s sad, as I’ve come to realize that many Reformed/ Presbyterian churches can be extremely territorial. For instance, there is a friend of ours, Peter Bell, who is planting Santa Ana Reformed in Orange County, CA. and as he was soliciting support and encouragement from other Reformed/ Presbyterian churches, I recall the story being told to me about how they hosted a meeting of interest in which they opened themselves up to meeting with folks who might be interested in this work that would begin in Santa Ana. At these types of meetings, there are usually snacks and the vision and mission of the church plant is explained, there’s a Q&A session for folks who have specific questions about the plant, etc.
I recall ours in 2017 and within the first 2 minutes we were getting asked hot topic questions about roles, gender, leadership, theology, denominational affiliations, etc. Well, at this meeting that Peter and his wife hosted to try and gather support for a launch team that would commit to helping get this church plant going, there were people that showed up from another Reformed church, but instead of being there to support, the attitude was more of a “you don’t need to plant in Orange County, we’ve got it covered”. And I believe those might’ve actually been the words used, verbatim. I wish I were kidding, but I’m not. And that’s kinda’ where I want to go with this blog post… as Reformed folk, we talk A LOT about having the right theology, a lot about solid doctrine, and we talk a lot about those who have a whack theology, but when it’s time for the rubber to meet the road and help reach lost souls… you’ll hear one of three things:
Go for it, we gotchu… and then crickets.
Or don’t plant here, we’ve got it under control.
You see, the funny part is that this church, was being represented not by the pastor or elders, but by an elder’s wife. There’s so much more that I could say but won’t, but I will say this, that church represented by these folks at that meeting was the very one insinuating that RCLA was egalitarian, crazy right? But that’s another story for another time. Why is it that many Reformed folk talk a lot about reaching the world and are quick to quote Matthew 28 and Acts 1 but won’t make an effort to reach their neighbors. Why is it that so many Reformed folk are quick to throw money at overseas missionaries but won’t throw some conversation to their neighbor to get to know them and share Christ? Seriously, why not?
I recently had a conversation with another brother, a Presbyterian dude, and he said that’s not how it works, he said that somehow God would sovereignly place these lights in the darkness in order to draw His people in, and I’m like, “Yeah bro! Those lights are the church!!!” Jesus didn’t wait on folks to walk into the synagogue before He ministered to them, nah man… He pounded the pavement (not literally, right? But the dirt!) and walked the hoods of Jerusalem seeking to meet the needs of the broken and lost.
He healed the sick, He fed the hungry, He called sinners to repentance, He met with the powerful as well as the lowly, and all this He did as He went out to the people. If Jesus did this, why are so many Christians then so comfortable with not doing the same? Why are so many churches inward focused alone and feel good about just sending a check to missionaries overseas but not willing to cross to the other side of the tracks (the hood) and get to know their neighbors there, share the Gospel, see what needs they have (as Jesus did) and help meet them? And please, I am not talking about helping meet their needs and leaving the Gospel out, no, quite the contrary. We should do all these things to build up rapport and trust so that these folks would know that we actually care. There’s a saying around these parts that says, “People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care!”
So what do we call churches that won’t support church plants, who are inwardly focused, commute to church because they don’t reside in nor connect with their community, and some of these types of churches don’t even have a pastor…. yep, you read that right. We call them “Unhealthy!” That’s what we call these types of churches, unhealthy! It matters not the church’s solid doctrine, it matters not their dope theology, or even their beloved Reformed confessions… those things are irrelevant, I believe, when our faith lived out goes against the teachings of Jesus.
Seriously! How can a church that makes no effort to reach the lost, isn’t known by it’s community, makes visitors feel uncomfortable, looks down their theological nose at others who hold to different views or practices, how can a church that has no lead pastor, unable to find a pastor, who not only fails to support Reformed churches in their region or county, and even hinders the work by trying to intimidate and spread untruths about other churches who in fact are doing the hard work of ministry… how can that type of church be considered healthy? It can’t, right?
I strongly believe that is one of the major downfalls of my beloved Reformed/ Presbyterian culture… we’re not aware of our theological arrogance and can even jokingly boast about it and attempt to play it off as jest… but there ain’t nothing funny about hindering the work of God. I know that these types of churches don’t think they’re hindering the work of God but what else could it be? We’ve recently been having some not so pleasant conversations with our church landlords. They’re a great group of saints, but utterly disconnected from the reality of what ministry is like in 2022. They’ve got 5-6 seniors that worship regularly on Sundays and that’s it. I so admire their desire to grow the church, I admire their dreams and aspirations to try to bring the church back to life, but it’s justs not gonna happen, at least not the way they think or hope.
I remember reading an article from Exponential that caught my attention. It was, “Dying to Restart: Churches Choosing a Strategic Death for a Multiplying Life” and many churches deny their death, refusal to enter ministerial hospice, and they won’t accept that fact that their church is dead… I get it that we can feel like we failed Jesus but the reality is that it is not failure. I wonder how many churches are still going from the 1st century, not many right? I believe that all churches (not the Church” have an expiration date. And if a church, like any other living thing is not growing, then it is in fact is dead, and the church can do one of two things:
Acknowledge that their time is over and discern how to best use their remaining resources to continue or best support Gospel ministry.
Remain in denial and hinder other Gospel ministry work.
I think this is the case for many Reformed, Presbyterian, and Lutheran churches. In fact, one of my best friends is a Lutheran pastor who recently went through a similar situation, the difference is that he knew the reality of the dire situation of their church and chose to do the right thing, honor God with their resources, see how to use what they had to impact the community in the name of Christ, and to best steward it all for the purpose of exalting Jesus. How I wish that others would have the same grasp of reality and be willing to say, “Hey, our time is over… how can we bless the next generation of Kingdom work being done in the name of Christ?” But there’s a major hindrance to that… it’s called idolatry.
You see, one of the things that I’ve observed is that at some point these churches were doing extremely well. I say extremely well in the sense that you could look at them and see the church as it would appear to be thriving (only God knows how many of those there were truly saved when thriving) and flourishing. One church comes to mind who had a very active presence on the radio, and from what I’ve heard that seemed to be their draw. It was as if they were known for the pastoral personality and the other theological bigwigs connected to them by way of said programming. That’s a really good thing, especially as a ministry like that can impact so many people far and wide, right? But what happens when that’s over? What happens when the program dies? When there was never true discipleship, and when the pastor retires or moves on there is no one left to fill that void? What happens when a church like that can’t seem to find the right pastor to fit their culture? Maybe there’s nothing wrong with the endless candidates who just don’t fit their mold, but instead maybe something is wrong with that culture?
Most Reformed folk all agree on what a true church looks like, and we look at 3 things:
The pure preaching of the Gospel.
The proper administration of the Sacraments.
The exercise of church discipline.
I would agree with all these and many true churches have these marks but have failed in the area of discipleship, outreach, and establishing a leadership pipeline. Practically speaking, the way many Reformed churches plant and call ministers just isn’t working anymore, and if I’m 100% sincere, I don’t think it’s ever worked longer than a few generations. Our past church planting strategies have been not so much to plant new churches, but instead start new services in areas where there may already be a group of “Reformed” families living. So, what would happen is a young minister finishing up seminary would be called to intern or do some type of residency and see if he’d be willing to relocate to said area, mother or sending church would send 50-100 people and voila! A Reformed/ Presbyterian church would be planted… but the truth is that’s NOT a church plant. It’s a church “transplant” or a new service or extended service, in a new area from an existing church.
To plant a new church is so much more different than that. It’s planting seeds, its watering, it’s seeing new folks come to faith, seeing baptism after baptism, folks growing in their knowledge and love of Christ. It’s folks understanding biblical truths for the first time and seeing them on fire for Jesus… it’s seeing new churches truly make an impact in their communities as they seek to see the lost saved. In my humble opinion, I think that if churches aren’t reaching their communities, if they aren’t seeing conversions and baptisms (not just babies but adults), if they aren’t known in their city, if they have no new leaders being trained and prepped for the next generation, if they can’t seem to fill vacancies because no one is the right “fit” then maybe, just maybe that church has an expiration date on it and needs to figure out how to best move forward instead of trying to relive the past. That’s where idolatry comes in, the constant desire and fight to have things the way they used to be.
The truth is that times change, and either the church adapts to continue to preach and teach the same message, without adding to it, changing it, nor diluting it… but doing so in a way that keeps the church in the know of what’s happening culturally, that they might best meet the needs of their community in the name of Christ, or not. And, if churches refuse to stay up to date with what’s going on… well, eventually they will die, or might in fact be dead already and unwilling to admit that. I pray that my church family would always be cognizant of our need to remain open handed and know that whatever we have, it’s because God has called us to steward it. Whether they be finances, property, relationships, and opportunities… they all come from God and we will be held accountable and responsible for how we handle it all. I pray that Reformed Church L.A. can be a place that continues to have a consistent flow in our leadership pipeline, that we’d continue to plant churches in hard places, and that we’d always be aware of what God is telling us to do. We never want to waste what God has given us for the sake of theological arrogance and memories of the past.
If you’re a pastor reading this, please check your heart (as I check mine) and see where we might be doing more to help others outside our own churches. If you’re an elder or deacon, talk about this at your Consistory/ Session/ Council meetings. If you’re a church member not in leadership, talk to your leaders and ask questions. May all we say and do be for the glory of God, for the preparation and good stewardship of what He’s given us for the sake of reaching the lost that they too might be saved, and that we’d be healthy churches for generation after generation. And this can’t and won’t happen if my beloved Reformed friends and their churches have territorial issues, competitive spirits amongst each other, and in the process focus more on the past than being relevant for Christ in the future.
Friends, they’re not our churches, they belong to the Triune God and how dare us challenge His work being done by fellow brothers and ministers because we think we’re all that and a bag of chips. RCLA is also planting a church in the same exact city as our friends at Santa Ana Reformed, and there is ZERO rivalry, we’re all on the same team. We even went to their initial public launch last week. Why? Because we love them and will support them even if we’re not in the same denomination, they’re our homies, but even more importantly, they are brothers in Christ working hard for Jesus, why would any real believer not support each other’s work and ministry. The truth is that one day we will have to give an account for every careless word and deed. I pray that I am more of a blessing to folks than a hindrance. Please pray for church planters all over, it’s not an easy job, we’re not supported in many ways or even at all at times. Consider joining a church plant, supporting a plant, or giving to meet its financial needs, it’s our duty and privilege.
It’s been a few months since I’ve last blogged, I thought I’d take the time to update ya’ll (for anyone who’s been following us, praying for us, checking in on us, and genuinely concerned for us) as to what’s been happening since then. It would appear that my last blog post certainly shook things up a bit. I’d like to think that it shook things up in a good way, but I’ve gotten word and received follow up calls from folks informing me that some folks were more concerned with how my blog might’ve made them look, than how we were doing. I gotta be 100% honest, that really hurt… but I’m a big boy, put my big boy britches on and kept it pushing.
We’ve taken some time to talk amongst our fellow elders and planters to talk about next steps, preparations, potential ecumenical and financial partners, as well as a temporary advisory board for encouragement and accountability. We’ve had friends in the OPC, PCA, as well as the RCUS reach out to offer prayer, and even some conversations as to what it would look like to join their denominations. All three of those are great organizations and we think that they’re doing great work; we’re just not sure if we’d fit in and since we’re already dealing with some denominational PTSD and not looking for anymore disagreements, arguments, or tension amongst friends we’re likely to pass. I think the latter being the most significant, no matter what anyone says, I know for a fact some of our friendships in this process have been damaged, not severed, but definitely damaged. It would’ve been impossible after all that happened for relationships to have remained unscathed.
So what now?! Well, for the time being we continue… we push forward and we push on! The Gospel MUST be preached and churches MUST be planted! None of the recent drama has kept us from doing what we’ve been called by God to do, none of it has derailed us, if anything it’s made us dig our heels deeper into the sand as we continue to reach our community with the Gospel, as we continue to train up the people of God and make disciples. Last month we ordained and installed 4 elders to our church. 2 of them (Sam Montes and David Cabrera) were sent to serve our San Bernardino church plant (Reformed Church of the Inland Empire – San Bernardino; RCIE), the other two elders (Martin Velazquez and Justin Corona) will remain at RCLA Lynwood to be trained and prepared to launch another plant in Orange County at which time they’ll be sent out with a team to plant Reformed Church of Orange County – Santa Ana; RCOC.
It seems like recently we’ve had an influx of some pretty amazing young men and women who had been connected to charismatic churches but were hungering for a much deeper understanding of God through His Word, so we’re helping to teach them the beauty and richness of Reformed Theology to know God deeper, love Him more intensely, and serve Him more passionately. Our church seems to be widening its reach as we’ve got theological studies going through the book of Romans in Long Beach for our Wilmington campus, our women are going through the Heidelberg Catechism, as are some of our men at a local barbershop run by a couple of brothers from Compton, we’ve got men breaking bread over tacos and studying the Westminster Confession of Faith whose minds are being blown with the simplicity yet depth of these historic teachings.
Our little church has opened up a small coffee/ tea parlor on the Lynwood/ Compton border in an effort to help create jobs, create a consistent stream of revenue for the ministry, as well as dig deeper roots into our community. And as our roots dig deeper, folks know us more, know our motives, and they trust us. I’m so humbled and honored that our city has embraced us and is always looking for ways in which we can partner together. Just a couple weeks ago, our beloved city of Lynwood hosted its annual event to celebrate our Special Needs kids and I was honored to have been asked to pray for them all. We’re now planning a full week of summer camp with water slides, rock climbing walls, and a whole lotta Jesus!
So going back towards the original question, what’s next? It must first be preceded with the logical question as to what have we lost denominationally, nothing really… not because it didn’t work out with the folks we were trying to join, but because we haven’t really had much denominational support since we launched, but were hoping to do so. In the meantime, there are other great things happening, so much so that I know if I go down the list, I promise it’s gonna sound like a brag-amony, but it’s all God’s grace and absolutely all for His glory. We have had some issues come up within the church too, what church doesn’t have issues. We’ve had disciplinary issues that resulted in excommunication, but our leadership remains strong! I can look back now and see how some of our earlier struggles helped make our team more cohesive, and as we’ve brought new elders onboard (even if for a season, because eventually they’ll be sent out to plant), they’ve adapted well and bring godly insight too.
Allow me to now answer the original question posed: “What now?” Well, that’s what we’ve been working on. After much prayer, after much conversation, Holy Spirit seeking, and Spidey sense (totally just kidding), but weighing all things out… considering that we have no money, considering that we’ll be alone for the most part… we’ve decided to go forward with building our own table, our own denomination that will allow us to have oversight, accountability, and protection for both the church and the pastor. I recently read an article on The Gospel Coalition addressing how denominations have a unified voice, unified mission, and come together under a unified confession, in our case the Three Forms of Unity.
Many people have said to us that denominations are no longer a good thing, that they’re outdated, and that they’re old school… well pardon me, but I wanna be as old school as possible, such as when the church didn’t compromise, a time when the church really cared about people, old school like Jesus walking the hoods of Jerusalem, old school like the patristics who were gangsta’ with it. We know that belonging to a denomination also brings theological precision, removing the blurred and skewed lines that would define and establish boundaries as to what we believe and practice.
We want to help build something new that doesn’t just connect us and our churches theologically but also pragmatically and socially. Meaning, I want to be able to meet up with my fellow brother pastors to talk, hang out, interact with our families socially too to talk about ministry, struggles, and open up for accountability, encouragement, but especially for social interaction. I’ve seen how many, if not most, denominations bring their ministers together only for Presbytery or Classis meetings, not much else going on outside of that. We want to start a new thing based on old school ideas that worked until something was lost. For instance, I recall speaking to a brother in a certain denomination, who told me that they didn’t know who they were, that they’d never really established their identity outside of being the conservatives who’d left their previous denomination. They just seemed angry as they were adamant about what they were against, and not doing much in the way of reaching the lost.
We don’t want to be just known for what we’re not or what we’re against. We want to be known for who we are, what we’re for, where we are, what we teach, who we represent, and that folks from all over would be able to connect with us. We want folks to know and feel that no matter what their background is, they’ve got a home with us… not just in word, but in deed as well. That they would truly feel welcomed and able to fit in. I know that lots of churches aren’t really very welcoming, and that’s not who we want to be. Yes, we want theological precision and to be known for that, but we want to do it in such a way that seems natural and not forced. We want to be known for our humility and hospitality… theological arrogance is NOT a fruit of the Spirit, and that’s not who we want to be. So friends… allow me to share with you that Reformed Church of Los Angeles, in Lynwood and Wilmington will be partnering with our future church plants to establish “Orthodox Missional Reformed Church”.
Why OMRC? Because we believe that every church should be missional, something many Reformed/ Presbyterian churches are not doing. Because we believe that many Reformed/ Presbyterian churches that are being missional have abandoned orthodoxy. So how can we be missional while remaining orthodox and Reformed? That’s what we’re doing (although some may disagree because what we do doesn’t look like what they’re doing) as we are being Reformed, orthodox, and missional… just as Jesus would want. We want to reach the hoods and barrios, that all saints, sinners, and skeptics would all truly be welcomed in. We want homies, hynas, seminary educated and those without even a G.E.D. to fellowship comfortably and admit they can learn from each other and do so.
What good does it do us to have an amazing theology yet never do anything with it other than minister to our people yet not disciple our people? What good does it do us to theologically train our people yet never do anything with it outside the 4 walls of the church. I mean, after all, Jesus didn’t wait in the synagogues and wait for folks to come in, right? He went to the streets and shared His message to everyone not just seminary trained, theologically astute folks, and middle-class people who front like they’ve got their lives together and confess to sins like pride and anger but deny lust, racism, gluttony, and envy. Christ came to die for the hoodrats, the gangsters, the tweakers, and the winos too… we can’t just wait for them to walk into churches whose only focus is theological astuteness and hope they’d fit in, I know for a fact they won’t feel comfortable nor accepted… that’s just truth! As it pertains to folks from my cultural demographic, there are extremely few folks that I know of who’ve actually walked into ultra conservative Reformed churches and felt welcomed, because most often than not, they are highly encouraged to assimilate to the church and encouraged to lose their own culture. We want to be not just one church, but a group of churches that these types of folks can walk into whether it’s Lynwood in South Los Angeles, Wilmington in the Harbor Area, Santa Ana in the OC, Maryvale in the Phoenix desert, San Bernardino in the Inland Empire, and maybe even Chi-town. Yep, that’s right… maybe even the Chi!
So friends, would you please pray for us. Would you please consider donating to us? Would you please consider joining us? We know there are lots of people like us, looking for a church like ours, with a vision/ mission like ours, and we want to create that space to minister to those folks that most Reformed/ Presbyterian churches won’t look twice at unless they walk into their church… and we know that even then, it’s not likely that they can connect with them, much less empathize. In advance, thanks for the love, prayers, and encouragement and remember “Soli Deo Gloria”!!!
As we prepare to embark on the celebration of our 4-year anniversary, I thought RCLA would’ve found a home by now… a table where we’d be welcomed with open arms, given both a voice and a vote, and received with a warm embrace, but that’s not the case. Where do I even begin? Sometimes things don’t appear to be what they seem. Last I blogged, I’d made an announcement that RCLA was endeavoring to transfer into the URCNA, however, that was short lived. So, in regards to our denominational status, you could say we’re homeless and will use this means to update our relationship status to, “It’s Complicated”. I’ll address the subject while not mentioning names, so as to not cast doubt upon the motives of those individuals and churches who adamantly opposed us being received into the URCNA.
Approximately 3 -4 years ago, we began to build a relationship with our brother Rev. Danny Hyde of Oceanside URC and explore options for RCLA if things didn’t work out in the RCA. We remained faithful to the fight in the RCA only to be disappointed that things would remain without any definite resolution and things further postponed, it was then that we began to seriously explore potential future denominational homes for RCLA, and the small movement of churches the Lord was beginning to call us to prepare for planting in areas such as Wilmington, Orange County, San Bernardino, and Phoenix.
As mentioned in my previous blog, “A New Denominational Home for RCLA” we’d considered our friends in the PCA, OPC, and URCNA as a potential new home for us. We’d been to OPC Presbytery meetings as well as multiple URCNA Classis meetings in hopes of getting a chance to know the brothers, as well as be known by them. We knew that because of the major cultural and contextual differences, there’d definitely be questions, so we’d hoped that time would be taken to get to know us, for folks to ask questions about any particular differences and make our transition as smooth as possible. And things seemed to be heading in that direction and on a smooth course, until just a couple of weeks before our scheduled Colloquium Doctum (fancy word for exams). As my partner in crime, Rev. Chris Márquez and I were getting together to meet with URCNA brothers for some help with exam prep, we got blindsided by one of them with a myriad of questions that felt more like accusations. At first, I thought that this brother was bringing up these issues as role play, trying to really insult or agitate us as preparation for difficult exam questions on the Classis floor. But I was having a hard time believing that because we’re already ordained Ministers of Word & Sacrament, and this was a brother, a friend who we thought wanted to help guide us and bring us oversight. I had to ask the question with a straight face, “Are you serious?” And he affirmed that he was in fact serious and then it got contentious and ugly really quick.
It’s like this wasn’t making any sense. We were literally supposed to spend an hour and a half to two hours to prepare for our exams, and next thing I know, my brother Rev. Chris Márquez and I are forced to defend ourselves from ludicrous insinuations that we’re egalitarian, that we’re not familiar with the RPW (Regulative Principle of Worship), and that we’re not Reformed. It went from being helped by a close brother and friend to having to defend ourselves from an enemy within… that’s what it felt like. Rev. Danny Hyde, who was present, explained that he was not in agreement with what was being said of us, he tried to diffuse the situation and advocate for us, but it got to the point where I had to guard my heart, my mind, and my witness of Christ and ended our time together. I didn’t want to sin any more than I already had in my thoughts and in my heart against this individual. I guess it was super hurtful because we thought we knew this dude well. We’d collaborated in numerous events together with our churches, I’d even led one at his church when he came down ill at the very last moment. I thought we had more respect for each other than that, and he could’ve scheduled a private meeting and talked to us and not waste precious time set aside to prepare for our exams. And then I thought, maybe he didn’t want us to pass… maybe he didn’t want us in… why else wait until the 11th hour before bringing this up?
That led to backroom discussions about us overnight, in which I had another URCNA minister accuse me of posting on social media about the brother we had the sharp disagreement with the previous day. I reached out to this other guy on the phone immediately to see what he was referring to, to make sure text threads weren’t misinterpreted. Long story short, there was gossip, he apologized, asked forgiveness, but now there was even more of a mess that needed to be cleaned up. I called the brother from the day before to clear things up with him, that had only been made worse and in the end, it all resulted with both of those men’s churches sending official letters to the Classis with concerns about us, and that we should not be examined nor allowed to transfer in at that time. This was literally all less than 2 weeks prior to our scheduled exams. Many others in the Classis told us not to worry about it, that we’d be ok, that they just wanted to get to know us, it could all be worked out. It didn’t make sense because we’d been hanging around the URCNA for more than 2 years and no real effort had been made to get to know us, except for a handful of men. Things didn’t get better, instead they got worse.
Suspicion had already been drawn to us, we were described in such a way that would lead others to believe that we were egalitarian, that we were for CRT, and not Reformed, therefore, didn’t fit the “ethos” of their Classis. Now, if any of ya’ll reading this know us, you know that we are complementarian, not woke (whatever the heck that even means), and Dutch Reformed. Not to toot our own horn, but even our elder candidates exposit the Canons of Dort every Lord’s Day, and are more Reformed than many Reformed churches. But we were starting to read between the lines. Everything that was being raised was a flat out lie, there’s no way anyone could accuse us with a straight face of being egalitarian, evangelical at most, and proponents of Critical Race Theory. It was obvious these dudes just didn’t want us in, and would even make stuff up to muddy the waters before we even had a chance to take our exams. That didn’t seem like us having a fair shot at all. We met with many of the brothers who had offered to continue to fight to get us in, and to prepare the way for going down that road… but the truth is this: we’d just left a relationship that was contaminated with fighting, fighting, and more fighting. We’re a church plant, for crying out loud, coming with a complete posture of humility wanting to submit to oversight. But that wasn’t enough.
After some of these things got partially worked out, at least with the brothers who showed obvious support and willing to help us make the move, things then got shifted to procedure. It was said that we weren’t a church plant, but instead an actual church and should be brought in as a church, instead of a plant. But this didn’t really make sense, because one would think that those opposed to us would want to ensure we’ve got direct oversight and supervision. We had decided that we would not attend a Classis meeting until we knew what the general consensus was, either folks wanted us in, or not. It turns out that the Classis was not all on the same page, what should have been a simple process became a complicated mess about procedural issues in which nobody really knew how to go about it. The church order continued to be brought up, but from where we stood, and how we read it, it was perfectly clear that there was freedom for certain things to have unity around but not uniformity. And here is where I remembered the term “eisegesis” because it would appear that meaning was being inserted into the Church Order that clearly wasn’t there. Nothing we could do about that, if someone says that “x” is actually “x+y” when it isn’t written that way, then it is what it is, we’re on the outside looking in and unaware that the “spirit of the Church Order” had more meaning than what was actually in writing.
After Classis, a brother who was there told me that a delegate from one of the churches opposing our entry made a comment about how they’d continue to bring things up to keep us from coming in. We knew then that this definitely wasn’t going to work out in a good and God honoring way. We weren’t just concerned for ourselves, being already ordained, but more so for the men we were discipling, training, and preparing to plant in the near future. What would it look like for them? We were torn, heart-broken, and felt like we’d been kicked while we were down, licking our wounds, and asking for help. One of the brothers, who is for us, said at our final meeting that our “suffering could be used for their sanctification” and it sounded super profound at the moment. But as I processed it, talked to our brothers about it, it dawned on me, why do I, as a man of color, who is different than the majority of a homogenous Classis have to suffer for something we hadn’t done wrong? The more I thought about it, I was beginning to get upset as to why the minority ethnicity had to suffer yet again for the sake of the majority. I think my people have gone through enough already.
I talked to my brothers, we reasoned, prayed, read Scripture, and sought the Lord for counsel and it came in various forms, at which time we came to the conclusion that it wouldn’t be wise to fight this hard just to get a seat at the table. So what we’ll have to do instead is build our own table. One where other men like us can be welcomed, embraced, and included. One where men who look like us, have a vision to reach the lost like us, those venturing to enter the hardest places like us for the purpose of reaching the last, the least, and the lost are welcomed at our table. There were many things brought up against us by those 2 churches that opposed us entering the URCNA, but they never affirmed any of the things we were “doing right” they never addressed the potential good that can come from us joining them, the opportunity to learn from us, only the concerns of not fitting in, the concerns of our “worship style” and the many other issues raised, without merit.
We sought counsel from trusted brothers whom we respect, admire, and know they love us and have our best interests at heart. They couldn’t understand why we were subjecting ourselves to this type of treatment, “That’s not how you’re supposed to treat fellow believers” we were told over and over. You know, I’d mentioned to some of the men we’d met with a story of mine. I explained to them that when I was just 13 years old, I wanted to be a part of my gang so bad, that I willingly subjected myself to get “jumped in” which consists of a vicious physical assault in which three older and much more seasoned gang members proceeded to beat me up for 60 seconds. Although only 1 minute, it felt like an eternity being balled up on the floor, covering my face and head as best I could. But it was ok, I wanted to be a part of the gang so bad that I joyfully accepted that beat down. Things have changed since then though, I’m now 49 years old and refuse to subject myself to an emotional, mental, and spiritual beat down for the sake of joining a theological gang… I refuse! I refused to subject the men we’re training up for that kind of treatment, this was already causing great confusion and distress for them as they were witnessing their pastors being treated with such suspicion and disregard.
So where does this leave us? It puts us back where we started a few years ago, in a relationship status that reads “IT’S COMPLICATED” but we’re working on getting that taken care of. We don’t have any money, but we have tons of connections, tons of folks that want the best for us, so we’ve reached out to some of them to ask for help. You see, because we’re Reformed, we know that we can’t remain independent, even though that’s practically how we’ve been functioning since we began, because of the many problems in our previous denomination. We’ve asked some friends in the PCA, OPC, and URC to help us form an interim/ temporary “Advisory Board” for guidance, until we can plant our other churches and formally establish our own Classis/ Presbytery for accountability and encouragement.
We’re not trying to fight, we just want to honor King Jesus with all we have, with all we’ve got, and with all our hearts… because He deserves nothing less than our best. We need to establish positive support, true accountability, and oversight to help stay the course. Since we were not welcomed and fiercely opposed from sitting at one table, we’ll just have to build our own. It’s a good thing that Latinos are great construction workers. We know that there are many others out there that feel like us, struggle like we have, are in difficult situations like us, and wanting fellowship where they can just be themselves and not be under the auspice of suspicion because of their cultural or ethnic differences, whether it’s worship style, dress, or vocabulary, so long as God is at the center, Jesus is exalted and not self, the roles and offices of the church are adhered to biblically, sound theology and doctrine taught AND practiced… we’d love to make room for them at our table too. We know that we will be a denomination of Reformed Churches that are not just orthodox and confessional, but missional and with a vision to plant confessionally Reformed churches in the hoods across America.
Would you please pray for us? Consider partnering with us? And let others know what we’re doing, they too just might be interested in what God is doing here. We might not wear robes, nor clerical collars, or even a coat and tie when we preach, but that doesn’t mean we’re not Reformed. Our worship arts director is a Compton raised Samoan, she’s discipled her daughter and mine for the last 4 years… so we might sing the hymns and Psalms a bit differently, but that doesn’t make us less Reformed. When we sing, we raise our hands, we shout at the top of our lungs, and get emotional… that’s just our culture, our Pentecostal roots and doesn’t mean we’re less Reformed. During service we pass the “peace of Christ” with firm handshakes, and loving hugs, because Christ said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you.” and that doesn’t make us any less Reformed. The Lord’s Supper is a HUGE deal for us, so we partake of it every Lord’s Day, and that doesn’t make us any less Reformed. We exposit the 3 Forms of Unity every Sunday through one of the Confessions, and have multiple studies going through the Heidelberg Catechism… but we’re not Reformed enough.
Our Lord’s Day worship services consist of the preaching of the Word having the central place, the confession of sins being made, praise and thanksgiving in song and prayer are given, and gifts of gratitude are offered. The Psalms have a central place, our hymns and other songs which faithfully and fully reflect the teaching of the Scripture as expressed in the Three Forms of Unity are also sung, but we’re not Reformed enough. Our covenant children are baptized and brought into God’s visible Christ confessing covenant community, but we’re not Reformed enough. If you’re wondering like us, what it must mean to be Reformed, then I don’t know either.
I want to make sure though, that as I draw this update to a close, this blog is not about bashing the URCNA, but simply bringing to light that two churches and their office bearers, were adamantly opposed to Reformed Church L.A. coming into their federation. Many brothers, almost all others, have expressed support, love, and extended their hand in fellowship to us… but procedure is procedure, and is being used against us as if we were the plague or a new COVID variant to keep us out. We know where we’re not wanted, it’s sad because we were really looking forward to growing alongside so many other amazing brothers whom we’ve got love and respect for. I want to use this blog to publicly thank the many who were for us and hopeful to see us join them, those that prayed for us, stood up for us, and expressed countless affirmations of support for the kingdom work being done by RCLA. Thank you to our brothers:
Rev. Danny Hyde of Oceanside URC (soon to be Rev. Dr. Hyde)
Rev. Taylor Kern of Ontario URC
Rev. Chris Gordon of Escondido URC
Rev. Adam Kaloostian of Ventura Reformed
Rev. Michael Spotts of Phoenix URC
Rev. Bill Godfrey of Christ URC in Santee
Rev. Movses Janbazian of Pasadena URC
Please know this isn’t the end, but just the beginning. Keep your eyes peeled for what’s to come, that God would be glorified, and many of the names listed above will help us get there. To God be the glory in all we say and do, because Christ is worth it.
In the last few days, I’ve been inundated with friends reaching out to share an article that was just posted in Religion News on January 7, 2022 titled, “Reformed Church in America splits as conservative churches form new denomination.” I’ve read it, heard feedback from both conservative and progressive ends of the Reformed Church in America and it hasn’t all been honest nor loving, and I’ve seen implied condescension from both sides regarding the other.
I saw a post on social media yesterday that someone re-tweeted, now I’m not a fan of the original author but I couldn’t agree more with what was stated. The Tweet was addressed to Christian leaders in their 20’s & 30’s encouraging folks to be merciful in word AND in deed and to be very slow to publicly condemn and cancel folks. I feel, though, that it is especially relevant to Christian leaders older than that, especially within my own beloved Reformed camp. We’ve been known to be harsh… and what I’ve observed regarding the above referenced article proves this.
We, Reformed Church of Los Angeles, have been probably one of the most conservative churches in the RCA since we planted, but they were always good to us and always let us be. The RCA is egalitarian, but we’re complementarian. The RCA has made accommodations for Baptists, but we’re Reformed. The RCA is confessional and holds to the Three Forms of Unity, but RCA churches were no longer unified under our beloved confessions. We’ve (RCLA) been questioned many times regarding our specific beliefs and practices and asked point blank if we’re aligned with the RCA’s practices. I say practice because on paper, the RCA remains orthodox as it pertains to sexuality, marriage, and gender, but in practice things are very different from Classis to Classis and that’s what folks are really getting at when asking.
Whereas some Classis are known for being very conservative, others are known for being extremely progressive. Whereas some in the RCA take pride (the good kind) in the “reformed identity,” others would stake their flag in the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith instead of the Belgic Confession, Canons of Dort, or the Heidelberg Catechism. All this to say that the time came in which we came to the realization that there was nothing really keeping us in alignment with the Reformed Church in America. Let me say this now, very clearly, so that there is no doubt, that Reformed Church of Los Angeles (RCLA) is no longer a part of the Reformed Church in America (RCA). Our decision to part ways was extremely, extremely painful as we’ve got relationships with some amazing folks that will remain… one of the greatest pains is because of Eddy Aleman, the General Secretary, who is also my spiritual father. The RCA, through him, discipled me and gave me many opportunities, for which I am so grateful. But it was simply our time to leave and serve Christ as He has called us to our specific ministry, in our context, and with our understanding of the Bible.
Back in 2010, fresh out of prison as a new Christian and stepping into the RCA, I had no idea of the vast hermeneutical differences within until I started serving at the denominational level. I didn’t know that there were so many different perspectives on a myriad of issues. I thought everyone baptized babies. I thought everyone stood upon our beloved Heidelberg Catechism of 1563. I thought everyone was complementarian. I thought everyone was about church planting. I’m not gonna lie, my heart broke when I came to the awareness that we weren’t all on the same page, but that’s where God had placed me, that’s where God raised me, discipled me, and also challenged me on my own beliefs as well. I’m all about unity, about peace… but purity is imperative, and I feel that with so many different perspectives the RCA had lost that. I mean, there simply can’t be that many different understandings of Scripture and all be right at the same time… someone has got to have it wrong. So, can there be unity and peace at the cost of purity? We came to the conclusion that there simply could not, especially as it involves a hermeneutic that we’d say deviates from Scripture and leads to and affirms sin.
Now, please don’t read or hear what I’m not saying. I am not saying that those who remain in the RCA are wrong, that they’re all liberal or progressive. I know that there are many faithful churches who wish to maintain unity, to preserve the almost 400-year history and fight to make it work, God bless them and I pray things work out the way they hope. I pray that the unadulterated Gospel is proclaimed, that the Jesus of the Bible is preached, taught, and used to disciple. But we don’t want to be in ecclesial partnerships with the ELCA, UCC, PCUSA, and other progressive mainline denominations. We’d rather realign ourselves with more conservative folks, Reformed and confessional folks, folks with a heart for church planting.
For us, however, at Reformed Church LA, a confessional church plant in the hood, who is trying to plant other confessionally Reformed churches in hard places, it was actually counter-productive to remain in the RCA. This wasn’t a quick and painless decision, as I’ve already referenced, but it was a long process, it was one saturated in prayer, with much hard work. There is and was a lot of talk, posting, gossip, accusations, and slander towards the Vision 2020 Team who’d been tasked to work together to help recommend the best way forward for the RCA. I was a part of this team, I don’t think I agreed with most of the perspectives that were represented in that group of just 12 people. But we loved each other, we met almost every other month for over 2 years, taking time away from our ministries and families in order to meet, talk, pray, and work through differences in order to be faithful to our calling and offer the best way forward for the RCA. I gave it my all, I tried over and over, but realized it just wouldn’t work. So, whether I agree with the outcome or not, I won’t throw a grenade on my way out (I hope this isn’t interpreted as throwing a grenade).
I fought alongside others, to help make sure that what happened in other denominational splits, such as the PCUSA, did not happen in the RCA. For those that aren’t familiar with that story, when the Presbyterian Church USA split over the same things many years ago, those churches that didn’t agree with the direction the PCUSA was taking, regarding sexuality/ gender, etc. were forced to buy back, yes, to repurchase their own buildings. I wanted to make sure that if a conservative church in a progressive Classis wanted to exit, that they could do so and keep their assets. In the same way, if a progressive church was in a conservative Classis, that they too could leave, keep their assets, and not be kept hostage. All this to say that as a church plant, RCLA has got more to lose than gain as it pertains to material or financial issues in leaving the RCA. We don’t own a building, we don’t have much money, most of our support was coming from the RCA, or RCA churches and RCA relationships, but in the end we will NOT compromise our convictions for the sake of financial support.
That left us with the million-dollar question, where to now? By God’s grace and providence, He’d already connected us to friends in the OPC (Orthodox Presbyterian Church), the PCA (Presbyterian Church in America), and the URCNA (United Reformed Churches in North America). We’ve got great connections with them all, and we even hosted a joint Evangelism Conference a couple years ago spearheaded by a Black PCA guy, a Korean OPC guy, and a Mexican Dutch Reformed guy (me). We think those three are all viable choices, however, in the end after much prayer and discernment, we felt that God was calling us to partner with our brothers in the URCNA. We’ll now be a NAPARC church (North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council) and partnered with folks who we’ll be in alignment with theologically, confessionally, and practically.
Many folks told us to remain non-denominational, but we don’t believe one can be Reformed and not connected to a denomination. While we’re an A29 Church, and partnered missionally with them as we strive together to make a global impact for Christ in planting Gospel-Centered churches, A29 is not a denomination, so like many others within our A29 Network, we will be dual-affiliated. In case you’re wondering why remain with Acts 29 since we’ll now be denominationally connected? The simple answer is, you must not know about A29 and that we are church planting BEASTS!!! I’ve not seen any denomination ever do the work that they’ve done and are doing. These are the brothers that are in the church planting trenches with us, that know the struggles, that know the hardships that come with planting in hard places (AKA The Hood).
So what now? That’s a great question! Well, Reformed Church of Los Angeles has officially submitted paperwork to petition a colloquium doctum for myself and my brother Chris Márquez to be interviewed/ examined and then if by God’s grace we pass, we’ll be called by our brother Rev. Danny Hyde of Oceanside URC and logistically receive oversight and support as well from Rev. Dan Borvan of Grace URC in Torrance, and we have also had some great convos with my homie Rev. Chris Gordon of Escondido URC about partnering with them too. God is providing some dope connections, some amazing support, guidance, and wisdom from men like these. We’re excited and look forward to a bright future of what lay ahead for us all as we endeavor to transfer into the URCNA.
We wish our friends well, we pray for the RCA, and ask that you too would pray for them and us as we embark on the same journey, with new companions for the long road ahead as we preach Christ to the nations, but start in our own backyards. I saw an image that forever burned in my memory that says, “Reach the world, but touch the hood first!” and that’s exactly what we hope to do with the glorious Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. The same one who lived a perfect life we never could and died a death that was meant for us, that if we’d believe, we’d be saved from God’s wrath for having broken His Law. It is my prayer that you too, would trust in Christ, repent from your sins, and be saved. #HoodGrace
That’s a question I’ve been asking for quite some time now. I’ve been to churches that at one time bore the label reformed but have since moved away from it. I’ve been to churches that claim to be reformed but are only soteriologically Calvinistic, and I’ve been to churches that play Bethel, Hillsong, and a host of other worship style music made known by groups of people labeled as heretics. I’ve been to historic reformed churches that never mention Jesus in their music, and I’ve been to reformed churches that play hymns and psalms only, some with a piano, others with an organ, and others with no instruments at all whatsoever. All these have some form of “reformedness” in their name, history, or doctrine.
So what is reformed worship? That’s a great question and you’ll probably get different answers depending on who you talk to. There’ll be those that claim the RPW, or regulative principal of worship, and then even within that RPW circle, there are levels of how that’s played out. What separates Regulative Principal from Normative Principal. What do we go by? What the Bible explicitly commands or whatever the Bible does not explicitly forbid? Well, I’ve seen the way both sides do it and to be honest… I’m not sure I can identify with either extreme position. We find ourselves in that tension between the two. We can definitely see both sides, they both have merit, and can also both be dangerous. Dangerous to what? Well, I’d say as we endeavor to worship God in spirit and truth as instructed in John 4:24, “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”
Now before you try to jump me or call me out… we know that worship of God is much more than song, however, I am specifically addressing how we worship God with and through song. I’m sure for some of you reading this, like myself, have often asked, what exactly does it mean to worship God “in spirit and truth”? Being Latino, the biggest conclusion was to worship God with all that I am and how He made me. Because I’m Latino, I’m used to worshipping a certain way, in a way that truly exemplifies my culture. We lift holy hands, we sing at the top of our lungs, the music is loud, the singing passionate, tears frequently roll down cheeks, and smiles adorn our faces as we lift our voices to honor our Savior. We worship Him according to His truth, to His Word, and to exalt Him, not our selves.
But the truth is this, this type of worship is just not commonly found in most Reformed circles. For many people of color, it’s only natural for us to raise our voices and honor Him who saved us, it’s not enough to just sing theologically accurate songs, we need to sing them with all of our hearts, and we need to mean those words with all of our strength, that’s what we call worshipping God in spirit and truth. I think that for us to do so in any other way is to deny how He’s wired us and that would just be wrong.
There are many, if not most, Reformed churches that don’t have this style of worship, it’s most often very quiet, not much emotion or expressive passion, but doctrinally sound singing. (Disclaimer: I’ve heard this referred to as “white worship”, I don’t use nor approve of this term). This is a very real thing and important subject for people of color in Reformed circles, and they (we) don’t really care for that style of worship. Why is this even a thing for me? Well, as we endeavor to plant confessionally Reformed churches in hard places like Wilmington, San Bernardino, Santa Ana, and Phoenix, these places are all under resourced communities of color, referred to as “the hood” and to sing Psalms only, as some say is the only way to worship God, would be pretty awkward… not wrong, just awkward. Some churches welcome a piano, others much prefer the beloved organ, while others still prefer to sing without any instruments at all, but only “a capella,” these too would be awkward in the hood.
Some churches are okay with psalms and hymns, others prefer EP (exclusive psalmody) or psalms only, while others still stay away from both and focus mainly on contemporary style worship. And here’s the reason for this post altogether, our church isn’t your typical Reformed church, we’re an anomaly trying to figure out how to be true to what we believe in the Bible, true to how God has wired us as a multiethnic church of not just blacks or whites, but mainly Latinos, Samoans, and Asians! We want to bring the deep truths of God’s Word to a community in a language and style they can relate to and understand. You see, if they can understand, then the easier they can know the Lord, repent and turn to Him, fall in love with Him deeply, and serve Him passionately.
How can we honor God in spirit and truth? How can we do what we’ve clearly been called to as we, in all our “Reformedness,” seek to reach a community with the Gospel of Christ… that they’d know Christ came to save sinners like us? We sing psalms, hymns, contemporary music, as well as classic Spanish worship songs. To some Reformed folk, they probably think we’re not Reformed enough, to others they might think we’re smart and thinking outside the box, and to others still, they might even say we’re not Reformed at all because we don’t do things like them. What is my response to that? Well, let’s see how reformed we’re not. We’re Calvinists, Confessional, Creedal, Covenantal, and we baptize babies. We’re Heidelberg Catechism teaching, Belgic Confession affirming, Canons of Dort explaining, Westminster Confession of Faith pushing Reformers… but our worship doesn’t look like a lot of Reformed churches.
My family and I have visited many Reformed/ Presbyterian churches and though the theology and doctrine is on point, most times the sermons have been long and dry, worship sad with no one smiling or truly demonstrating joy as they sing to worship their Savior… it’s like the lyrics we’ve heard sung aren’t reflected on the faces singing them. The people have not always been friendly or very hospitable, the attitudes have not always been warm… at one church we needed to pole vault over the fence around the Lord’s Table… they’ve not always been great experiences. We don’t want to be a Reformed church that people walk away from questioning whether or not we really believe what we’re preaching and teaching.
Then there are Reformed churches that have taken steps to move away from their reformed roots, some even removing the label “Reformed” altogether from the church’s name and church signs. There are churches that have no real semblance to that of a Reformed church in their preaching, worship flow, and especially their song choices. Many song selections are frequently heard blasting their sanctuaries that can easily mislead the church in the doctrine they sing because it’s just feel good lyrics that exalt self and not the risen Christ, songs that are meant to secure one’s mind in knowing that God has a good plan for them, one to prosper them in career, health, and finances… but really make no reference to the Cross, repentance, or addressing sin. We don’t wanna be like that!
So what is Reformed worship? How can we gather a group of whites, blacks, Asians, Latinos, and Samoans that adhere 100% to Reformed Theology and worship the Triune God we profess in Spirit and in truth? How can our ethnicity, culture, and passion be expressed as we lift up our voices to worship in song the Living God whom we have placed all of our faith in? How can we do this and still be Reformed in our worship? I don’t think we have to do anything different than what we’re already doing… the music we sing to our Jesus exalts Him, it places Him at the center of our worship, and not ourselves.
Our worship Director, Rachel Fao, makes sure that the music we sing points us to the Cross, it calls us to repentance, it addresses our sin, it guides us towards the atoning work of Christ… our worship addresses God’s compassion, His mercy, His grace, as well as His wrath, and His anger when we sin against Him. I think that is “Reformed” worship… being truthful to who we are… repentant sinners… seeking to honor our King, music that aligns with Scripture… and not faking the funk, not being afraid to raise holy hands, sing at the top of our lungs and not being afraid or embarrassed when tears stream down our cheeks as we sing.
But the good thing is that we also have historical documents addressing what I’ve said here… and I think they would affirm what I’m saying. Some would argue that the Belgic Confession (1559) in Article 32 addresses a dogmatic view of the Regulative Principal of Worship as it points to the Order and Discipline of the Church… I think we’d agree completely and say that we are worshipping God in spirit and truth, to do so any other way would go against that Scriptural command. Take a look at a portion of Article 32 in the Belgic Confession:
“Therefore, we reject all human innovations and all laws imposed on us, in our worship of God, which bind and force our consciences in any way. So, we accept only what is proper to maintain harmony and unity and to keep all in obedience to God.”
How can any follower of Christ Jesus deny this? I think the problem is in how folks interpret this. There is no law nor human innovation being imposed on us (RCLA) for the worship of God, could instruments perhaps be included in that category of human innovation? If so, what is ok then? Piano? Organ? Neither… just a capella?
What does the Heidelberg Catechism (1563) say regarding this?
Lord’s Day 35
Q. 96 What is God’s will for us in the second commandment?
A. That we in no way make any image of God nor worship him in any other way than has been commanded in God’s Word.
John 4:23-24, “…the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”
And there it is again… God wants us to worship Him in Spirit and in truth! If God made me Mexican, passionate, with an abundant joy to sing to Him at the top of my lungs, to feel to the depths of my soul the words and lyrics I sing to Him, is that wrong? To be so entirely grateful to God for having saved me, and raise my hands during our gathered worship of God on the Lord’s Day, is that wrong? Or do any of the historical documents have a decibel meter for the volume of our worship? Does the Bible specify that we must contain ourselves during our singing? What if by doing so we we feel fake, like we’re holding back and not really worshipping Him in spirit and truth? What is the invisible line one cannot cross? Lifting hands? Singing loudly? Praise dance? You won’t see a praise dance at our church, but you will most definitely see that at predominantly black churches. Look at what the Second Helvetic Confession says:
Second Helvetic Confession (1536)
Chapter XXVII: Of Rites, Ceremonies and Things Indifferent
“If different rites are found in churches, no one should think for this reason the churches disagree.”
Are you picking up what I’m putting down? I end with the same question with which I started… what is “Reformed worship”? I wish I had a clearer answer, but I don’t… but I do hope and pray that this short blog post made you think about it and encourage you to sing songs that are aligned with Scripture, and that all we do be done in an organized fashion, and not hold back as we lift our voices to the Triune God who saved us. Amen?
“Man bro… that hits home!” is what a friend messaged me after seeing a post I shared on Instagram that mentioned how most bi-vocational pastors are of color. Peep the story!
I remember as we were getting ready to leave our previous church and under a time crunch to find a home to move into (I wrote about this in my last blog) that there was a child who was murdered on the block we were trying to rent a home as we moved into the Lynwood/ Compton area to plant Reformed Church of Los Angeles. As we were sitting at Café Canela in Lynwood trying to figure out what our next move was, I got a call from my homie Adam Cunningham telling us that a home had just popped up on the market, it was a townhome on the border of Compton and Lynwood that was available and ready to rent. We met there like 30 minutes later and my wife instantly knew that this house was “it.”
I wasn’t quite convinced for three reasons:
1. It was way more than what we wanted to pay, it was $2950 a month.
2. It was in a gated community.
3. It was way more than what we were able to pay, it was $2950 a month.
As we sat there and tried to crunch numbers, I was convinced more and more that we would not in fact be able to afford it. We were already making two car payments and we’d be on a super tight budget that I wasn’t comfortable with… if one of the cars messed up, or some big unexpected expenses came up, we’d be in a world of trouble. Edna said, “This is it! It’s got a security gate and cameras.” But I couldn’t share the same conclusion, I kept thinking to myself, “$3,000 a month is not sustainable on our income” but it’s as if she was reading my mind and replied, “God will provide Gordo!” (For the record, I don’t know why she refers to me as Gordo).
I looked at the homie Adam and said, “Make it happen brotha!” (Or something to that effect) and a couple weeks later we were moving in. We didn’t have enough money to last us more than a few months for the difference in rent we’d been paying. At my previous church I lived in a parsonage and paid almost a ¼ of what we’d be paying at our new place. So now you might ask, what does any of this have to do with how this blog was started about pastors of color being bi-vocational? It was just two months later that I was offered a job as a hospice chaplain for a company in Artesia. This is how God provided us with what we needed so that we could afford our new place.
This might not sound like a crazy thing, however, I’m not just bi-vocational, I’m co-vocational and also have to raise ½ of the church salary I receive, so it’s like, if I want to be a church planter, I have to designate myself a low enough salary that I’m able to raise ½ of it and at the same time work a separate job in order to help offset our living expenses all the while accruing student loans to be able to be a church planter in the Reformed tradition and become an Ordained Minister of Word and Sacrament… sound backwards? Heck yeah it is! But here’s the thing you see… Jesus is worth it!
Since then, I’ve resigned from the hospice chaplaincy (which was per Diem by the way) for a Full-Time position at Martin Luther King Jr. Community Hospital in Watts where I serve as chaplain. During the entire pandemic I was working both chaplaincy jobs but pulled away from hospice as things started opening up again. Helping lead a church, sermon prepping, discipleship, fundraising, networking, serving our city, coordinating community events, preparing future pastors/ church planters, all while having a full time job at a hospital, a per diem hospice chaplaincy, being a doctorate student, a husband, father, grandpa, and chaplain to the L.A. Dodgers has kept me quite busy, all the while our church was in the process of opening up a small coffee/ teahouse in order to help raise funds for our church plant(s).
I’ve got black, Latino, and Filipino friends who are all bi-vocational… these are men that have to work secular jobs in order to remain faithful to the pastorate that God has called them to. Why? Because we can’t seem to get the type of support that non-ethnic minority folks are more apt to receive. We don’t seem to have those types of connections for the type of support that others receive like full salary, benefits, housing, etc… it’s much harder for many of us, but that doesn’t stop us.
• No money? No problem, we’ll raise it.
• No building? No problem, we’ll find a place to meet corporately.
• No benefits? No problem, we’ll pray our families stay healthy.
• No people? No problem, we’ll hit the streets in our community and get to know them, their problems, pray for them, share Christ with them, and love on them as we grow the church.
Are you starting to pick up what I’m putting down? It’s not easy… but our hood motto is, “Can’t stop! Won’t stop! Will not be stopped!” because ultimately it’s not for us, but for God’s glory. But I bring it back to the original comment that inspired this post, “Man bro… that hits home!” I pray that by shedding light to these struggles that it would do more than just hit home emotionally, but that it would spur someone on towards love and good deeds by helping out church planters.
You know there’s a popular voice over on TikTok and Instagram with videos of people promoting themselves, their services, and products, etc. It says, “My friends be like how come you not famous yet? I be like you didn’t share my stuff! How come you ain’t shared it yet? That’s what I don’t understand. That’s why I’m not famous!” I think the same concept or theory can be applied to ministry, especially church planting. Now before you think otherwise, I am not in any way, shape, or form, saying I want to be famous, quite the contrary. I wanna do like Nikolaus Zinzendorf said, “Preach the Gospel, die and be forgotten.” But although I don’t wish to be famous, there could be many more people who say are for us, actually do something to help our cause… which really isn’t our cause, but Christ’s.
Why is it that folks won’t do more or even anything at all to support people like us? I’ve got a few observations that might rub some folks the wrong way, but I say if the shoe fits, then put that bad boy on, que no? Again, these are my observations:
1. Folks Are Uninformed. People may think they understand the difficulties of ministry, and perhaps they do, however church planting struggles are exponentially worse. And amongst church planters, it’s even harder for us in the hood who don’t have the same amount of support as others do, which means we require more.
2. Folks Can Be Lazy. Some people don’t want to give up the comfort of belonging to a large church that has a full staff, lots of financial resources, all sorts of programs, ministries, and tons of bells and whistles. They enjoy being at a church that caters to all of their needs, they require a full service church to meet their spiritual needs.
3. Folks Won’t Sit Under Ethnic Minority Leadership. This is an extremely hard pill to swallow, but nonetheless, a very real one. There are lots of people that say they’re rooting for you, however, they can’t bring themselves to sit under a Black or Latino pastor. This is especially hard when they are ethnic minorities that take this stance. Now to be clear, I’ve never heard anyone say this, but the fact that people will live equal distance away from large churches that offer everything, than smaller churches that need lots of help, 9 times out of 10, the larger church continues to grow in quantity, while the smaller church grows in quality.
“Man bro… that hits home!” I pray that this does more than just hit home emotionally, but that folks would really pray about joining a church plant, serving a church plant, supporting a church plant, and promoting the heck out of a church plant. I promise you in a church of thousands of people, 10-15 committed followers of Jesus won’t even be missed at one church, but they’d be able to help make a huge impact in the community of the smaller church, where their presence would be greatly appreciated.
If you really want to see Black and Latino pastors make it, go become a part of their church and support their Gospel efforts to help make Jesus’s Gospel message known in their communities. I know that Reformed/ Presbyterian folks have been known for being arrogant or “know-it-alls, but the truth is, they have, hands down, the best theology… and the hoods have been deprived of this for far too long, it’s time to go into the hoods and plant confessionally reformed churches that will in turn do the same. Would you consider helping by one of the following ways?
• Join a church plant.
• Support the church plant financially.
• Promote the church plant and their ministry.
During white flight, way too many solid churches left what now is the hood, and took good theology with them. They were missing something though. The theology was good knowledge… but it wasn’t practically lived out, otherwise they would’ve stayed, amen? The hood needs Jesus too! Not the one preached at the many prosperity pushin’ pimp churches that promise health and wealth. Not the one that offers a works based salvation but promotes idol worship in the Roman Catholic Church… the hood needs the real Jesus! The one we read about that promises us that we’re saved by grace alone, through Christ alone, for the glory of God alone, that we read about through the Scriptures alone.
Would you please seriously consider supporting a church plant in the hood to help them reach their community with the unadulterated Gospel of Christ, to teach them about how God gave His best for our worst, how Christ’s voluntary death on the Cross is the only thing that atones God’s wrath against us, how having faith in Him alone is what saves. The hood needs to hear this over and over. Would you consider giving up some comforts for the sake of the Gospel? Would you consider rerouting some of your dollars to a hood church plant? While mega churches have million dollar building funds, and take up offerings for new sound/ light/ fog machines, others just need to meet their basic operating budget.
Here are some church plants that are presently ministering or preparing to launch, would you consider getting behind or becoming a part of one:
• Reformed Church LA – Lynwood
• Reformed Church LA – Wilmington
• Reformed Church IE – San Bernardino
• Reformed Church OC – Santa Ana
• Reformed Church AZ – Maryvale (Phoenix)
“Man bro… that hits home!” should be a comment that is immediately followed up by, “How can we help?” If church planters in the hood could focus exclusively on ministering and not fundraising, working separate jobs to support family, having medical insurance for them and their families instead of just praying for continued health, imagine the bigger impact they could make? Thanks for reading, thanks for your consideration, and thanks for your time. You noticed I never once asked for prayer, that’s because it’s a given, we should always be praying for the pastors, churches, church plants, and their teams. #HoodGrace
I remember when we were preparing for transition to plant Reformed Church LA, I was encouraged to move into the city of Lynwood ASAP. I recall feeling a sense of betrayal, like I was getting kicked out of where I was, almost as if I was being punished for doing the right thing. It’s really hard to put such profound emotions into words, but that’s kind of what my family and I felt at the time. I knew that other church planters would parachute or move into their respective neighborhoods, and I wanted to follow suit, but I felt like we weren’t quite ready for such a huge step, but I was given approximately 90 days to do so. I can remember the heartache of not having any luck in finding a place, not the right place, but any place. We wanted a home big enough for our family, sufficient space to host gatherings, and in the middle of our target area. But no such luck!
I can recall my wife and I on our way to go see a home we’d finally been able to secure a viewing for. It was on the eastside of Compton, near the intersection of San Vicente and Lime Street and as we were a few blocks away, traffic started to build up off of Rosecrans and then it came to a complete halt. I was super worried because we would be late to finally have a chance at finding a place close to where we wanted to plant, it wasn’t Lynwood, but just next door in Compton. Our time was running out, we had less than 30 days to be out of our previous home, and now, my anxiety was starting to build up as we couldn’t get any closer to the home on Lime Street. And if things couldn’t get any worse, they did! We soon got close enough to see that the street was closed off with caution tape by the Compton Sheriff’s, we found out that a 7 year old child had been killed in a drive-by shooting.
Any hopes we had for this house were shot, no pun intended, but it was the truth. We drove to Plaza Mexico in Lynwood to have some café de olla at Café Canela and talk, process, see what our options were. And I remember so clearly telling my wife that we’d reschedule to go and see the house on Lime Street the following day after the cops had cleared the way. She looked at me like, “Are you dumb?” I sat there with a blank face like, “What?” no words… just facial expressions, it was an awkward silence as I was trying to understand what she meant… she finally spoke after an eternity of like 30-45 seconds and said, “Estás loco?Do you really think I’m going to move my teenage kids onto that street where a baby was just killed?” We continued to talk and she said she’d support the church plant but needed assurance that our kids would be safe.
This right here was the perfect opportunity to consider moving further away from Lynwood to a nicer area, forget about moving into Compton, and think of Cerritos instead, or maybe Lakewood, Bellflower, or even Downey. It was the perfect opportunity to come up with an excuse to no longer follow through with our plans to move into the community where we’d be planting a new church… but what would that say to the community we’d be serving? Would we really be invested in a community that we couldn’t bring ourselves to move into? How much did we really care about a neighborhood we could not bring ourselves to reside in? Would we be on mission, or “on the clock”? Meaning, would our church plant be set up around scheduled office hours and what days and times we’d be in Lynwood to “do ministry” or would we really be about that life and move in despite the obvious scares? As most of you know, we live here, have been living here, and have recently even bought a house here. Why? Because we know with all certainty that this is exactly where God wants us, and we’ll remain here until He says otherwise.
I share our story with you, because to us, there’s really no other way to be “all in” to plant a church in a community than to live in that community. To be involved with the community… day in and day out… not just during “office hours.” I mean no offense by this at all, because I’ve got great friends who do not live in the community they serve, as a matter of fact, I know pastors who’ve purchased homes more than an hour away from where their church is… I don’t judge… but for me, I can’t have it any other way. I want the same community that I’m trying to reach with the Gospel be the same community that I see when I go to the store, pump gas, walk our dogs, go to the gym (yes, I said go to the gym… leave me alone!) the same community we support all the mom and pop shops… the same community I ride my bike in, and go to the post office in.
Our desire was to plant a church in this community with the people of this community and for the people of this community. Now, I want to be clear, that’s not saying that everyone has to reside within the city boundaries of Lynwood, Compton, or Watts… but at the same time we don’t want to build a commuter church where the entire congregation drives 30-45 minutes just to come for Lord’s Day Services each weekend. We want to minister to our neighbors, their children, and their kids’ teachers. We want to invite the cashier at Superior Grocers, the barbers at Flawless Barbershop, we want to see our City Council members, and school district staff in our church. We want this community and surrounding areas to know that we care… we care enough to be completely invested here. We want them to know that we’re here with them… they’re not our “fixer upper” project… but real people with issues and hurts, real problems, and a real need for Jesus.
The Lord has drawn some amazing people to us, who don’t live in Lynwood, but they know our mission, they know our heart, and they know that this is where we’re called to serve, to reach our neighbors with the Gospel, and to do as much business as we possibly can here. So friends… if at all possible, find a local church. Find a church that you can connect with as close as possible to your home, or make an effort to move closer to your church community, and get to know everyone there… know their stories, pray for them and follow up. Please know that each church has a specific mission (at least it should) and do everything you can to help it get there. I can’t see the early church in Philippi going all the way to Ephesus because the worship there was dope… or because all their family lived there. If you can’t be at your church or in it’scommunity outside of Sundays because it’s too far, you might want to reconsider finding a church closer to home.
If you’re a pastor and don’t live in your community, you might want to reconsider and move closer. If you’re a church planter, move as close as you can to the church building or wherever you all meet. Missional communities are great, but they shouldn’t be geographic courtesies to make those that live far not desire to live closer. I know this can sound complicated… but it’s really not, and in the end, I promise you that you will by far have a better margin for knowing the community you serve, being known by the community you serve, and have built up trust by the community you serve, because after all, don’t we want their trust? Don’t we want them to believe the absolute best message ever? The one we have and want to share with them? The one that talks about Christ coming to save sinners like us? The one that calls us to repentance and turning to Him and Him alone for our salvation… amen? Amen!
Please follow us, visit us, stay up to date with us by downloading our church app or visiting us online at www.reformedchurch.la
I’ve always had problems fitting in… it’s actually a part of my testimony! I’ve never been able to fully fit in to a peer group on my own. Growing up in elementary school I was an oversized nerd that tried hella hard to be cool but wasn’t accepted. In Junior High School I’d made a promise to myself that I’d fit in somewhere, anywhere… it didn’t matter which peer group. There were stoners, there were cholos, and there were surfers, I didn’t wanna smoke weed, and I didn’t own a surfboard, so the cholos seemed the most interesting. Not only that, it was guaranteed protection from getting chased or beat up by others.
Before I knew it, I’d gotten jumped in by Big Pollo (RIP), Poison (RIP), T-Bone, and the homie Chueco. It was my official “court in” as they beat me, punched me, and kicked me for 60 seconds. I was a bloody mess, but I was instantly accepted, I was now a part of a family that would defend me to the death, care for me, feed me if needed, but most of all, offer me brotherhood and fellowship… I belonged. I had a small army of dudes that had my back, accepted me, and welcomed me in with open arms. I quicky began to build up this façade of who I wanted the world to believe I was. I immediately started getting arrested and doing time, in which I’d further build my reputation of someone to be feared and respected. Huntington Park, South Central, and Watts were my stomping grounds!
I would eventually go from juvenile hall, to probation camp, the California Youth Authority, LA County Jail, Department of Corrections, and finally on the run to Mexico as a wanted fugitive. Hiding out there I had an option to further carry out my criminal career by connecting deeper with the cartels, or reinvent myself to start over. I was tired of running, so I chose for an identity makeover. I went to Sinaloa and got fake ID’s, moved to Baja California, started from the bottom as a Night Auditor at a small motel, and worked my way up to General Manager of one of the finest Beach Resorts in all of Baja. But even holding that prestigious job, I never truly fit in to the community there, it’s like they knew that there was something fishy about me, so they kept their distance.
And when I came back years later, I was trying to figure out who I was after the many identity changes, getting reconnected with my homies, prison political associations (IYKYK), all while remaining under the radar so as to not alert the authorities I was back. Then while starting my last prison term, I had a true encounter with Christ, not quite as dramatic as Paul on the road to Damascus, but it was probably a close runner up. And while I was in prison, a place that’d been home for so many years, I now felt out of place because I was a Christian. Upon my release from prison almost 3 years later, going to my wife’s church in Compton, then to a Reformed church and growing there, I didn’t quite fit into either of those two churches.
And now, fast forward a bunch of years later and being 3 ½ years into planting the Reformed Church of Los Angeles, with 4 – 5 more plants in the works, leaving our denomination due to irreconcilable differences, and looking for a new denominational home, I am again reminded that I don’t fit in anywhere, nor does our church. There are places that will tolerate me, there are groups of people that would probably be happy to have us with them to make them look different, and there a couple of groups we’re having conversations with and though we’d be a good theological fit, the question is would we be a good cultural fit. What am I referring to? Being “Hood and Reformed”.
The Reformed/ Presbyterian world has some of thee smartest folks in theological circles. It is also a very homogenous environment within most circles we are connected to. There are very few, if any, Ministers of Word & Sacrament, who come from my type of background. There aren’t many Latino “Teaching Elders” let alone church planters, or even Ministers whom we could connect with that have experienced church planting in the hood. At times it seems like folks we’ve been connected to in our theological circles are too busy to give us wise counsel, or maybe wouldn’t understand some of our struggles, our context, or our need of them and their guidance.
We’re hood, we’re Reformed, we’re confessional, we’re creedal, we’re complementarian, and we’re focused on reaching the urban poor, the under resourced communities where prosperity pushing pimps thrive, fleecing the flock of what little they have. We are adamant about reaching our community with the Gospel, passionate about teaching folks solid theology that they might know God more intimately, love Him more profoundly, and serve Him more passionately. Because we’re in the hood we don’t have the resources that most Reformed/ Presbyterian churches do, so fundraising is another part of our scope of work, by God’s grace He’s provided every step of the way. So what do we do now? Where do we go from here?
We are currently praying, discerning a way forward that God would lead us to make the right affiliations to enhance our ministry… not just Lynwood, but Wilmington, San Bernardino, Santa Ana, Phoenix, and who knows maybe even Chicago and Las Vegas. There are many dope groups of folks with whom we can connect, but the question is which would benefit our lil #GuerillaChurchPlanting movement the best going forward. You see, we’ve got dudes who will be planting that only have a G.E.D. and will be going to seminary, these aren’t the normal paths to ordination, but that’s what we’re working with and that’s what we’re going to do. We’re in unchartered waters here… whereas most Reformed/ Presbyterian churches have moved to more suburban areas, or are in urban areas but not as actively involved with their community (no shade just facts) we want to plant confessionally Reformed churches in the hood by the hood and for the hood. But, unfortunately most of us weren’t raised in the church, we’ve got at least a couple felonies, no undergrad education, we’re bi-vocational, but have all the passion in the world to teach folks in our communities who Jesus really is.
One of the hardest things I’ve had to encounter in my Christian walk was to wait! Wait until I got back into school to finish my undergraduate, wait on seminary, finish seminary, get ordained, and somewhere in the middle of all that we planted a confessionally Reformed church. I’ve got such a huge respect and admiration for the Reformed tradition, its organization, it’s profoundly sound doctrine, rich history, love of God’s Word, commitment to accurately teach the Bible, and the seriousness with which we take theological education, and with all it’s pro’s, there are still some cons.
I think the absolute hardest thing in my Christian walk was my identity. I didn’t know who I was anymore. I used to be this fat nerd as a kid who got bullied, then I became a fake gangster who transformed into a real gangster, then fled the country and took on another name and had to reinvent myself with this new identity, and then when I came back the U.S. to assume my old identity and resume being a hardened criminal. And if that wasn’t enough to confuse me, when I surrendered all to Christ in a prison cell on my knees crying out to Him, I was thrown for a loop.
Friends, becoming a Christian yanked the rug from underneath my footing as I had to become everything I never was in the past, like I now had to demonstrate love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Who me? You gotta be kidding right? Actually yeah, that’s exactly what I had to do. I had no idea how I’d do this, and in doing so I quickly noticed and acknowledged certain things that were hard for me. Like, was I a punk now? Was I a coward for having walked away from the hood? Did this mean I’m weak? I didn’t quite know where to fit in, especially since I was still in prison. And now, I think I’m in the same boat, only now I’m helping lead a church and not quite sure where we fit in.
I wonder if I’m looking for another “court in”(only without the violence), I wonder if we’ll find that acceptance, though we may be struggling to find our place in the theological world, we know our identity is in Christ, we know that we’re kin to other believers by the shed blood of Jesus, we know that we’ve been grafted into Him, and that nothing or no one can separate us from the love of God. We still have many habits, we still enjoy the music we grew up listening to like Pac, Biggie, and Los Tigres del Norte, we minister to our taquero when were out on a Friday evening in Compton, we share Jesus with our neighbors, and promiscuously invite erry’body to church. One thing is certain, is that God’s got us, we’re His and He is ours, we belong to one Holy, Catholic, and apostolic church… keep your eyes peeled as God is doing some pretty dope stuff. Coming to a hood near you soon!