The Women Behind the Pulpit


Before you start trippin’ on the title of this blog post, I promise it’s not what you’re thinkin’ so chill. This article is NOT about egalitarianism, but instead about those wives behind the men who stand in the pulpits. It’s about the women who support their husbands, their husbands who are pastors, pastors who labor arduously week after week, to exegete, pray, meditate on Holy Scripture, repent of their sin that their hearts may be prepared to stand in the pulpit to exposit God’s Word and teach the congregation what it means and how it should be applied to their lives.

Edna by my side as always, here we were cheering on our beloved Doyers

This article is to draw attention to the women who love God so much, that they support their church by sharing their husbands as he meets with the flock, counsels those in need, meets with and prays with many experiencing brokenness and helps point them to the finished work of Christ upon the Cross. This article is to show those women honor, respect, and recognition for loving their brothers and sisters in Christ by sharing a part of themselves and their lives. May this article also serve as a humble petition for the reader to acknowledge, love, pray, encourage, and support their pastor’s wives.

I have been in Holland, Michigan now for two weeks this month, to finish up my final cohort intensive to prepare myself for finishing up my doctoral dissertation and graduate next Spring. In doing so, I’ve missed my wife and kids so much… I’ve thought of the great sacrifice Edna (my wife) takes on by being ok with me leaving for 2 weeks at a time to further prepare myself, not just for our local church, but to help me prepare to train up other men to plant healthy, confessionally, reformed churches in the hoods of Southern California. She doesn’t have to be ok with that… she didn’t sign up for this when we married (but then again she didn’t marry a man of God, but that’s another story for another time). Some of the men that came with me, men I’ve been helping pour into, they too left behind wives and kids. Back at the home we were staying at for my first week here, all of us could be seen as we called or saw our wives and kids via FaceTime, and it reminded me that even though these men are not yet pastoring, already their wives are stepping up too, in order to support their husbands as they endeavor to prepare themselves for church planting.

My queen and I on FaceTime while I was on campus at Western Theological Seminary

Customarily, it is the pastors that are always being prayed for, at least that’s what many say, and the church and its leaders are also being lifted in prayer continuously… but how about the woman behind the man in the pulpit? How often are these selfless warriors for God’s kingdom lifted up in prayer? How about the pastoral marriage or family, how often are they lifted up in prayer? Unless you’re a pastor, you don’t know the challenges we face… it’s like we live in a fishbowl, we are critiqued to no end… sometimes it escapes us, but most often it doesn’t… and we hear about it… and it’s hurtful. So friends… brothers and sisters… please pray for the wives of your pastors, if they’re single, please pray for their future wives that the Lord has set aside for them. Don’t be so quick to criticize out of ignorance, because you just don’t know what your pastor’s wives are struggling with.

Some of these women behind the man in the pulpit are stay at home moms. Some have careers because an additional income is needed, because unfortunately, pastoring requires an education for the minister to be able to serve, but doesn’t pay enough to be able to provide well for the family, at least that’s our case. Pastor’s wives can carry around their own troubles, their own work-related stress, and even family stress… some of that related to being a pastor’s wife. Would you consider being more loving towards them, don’t be so quick to critique them, because you just don’t know their story, but in reality this isn’t something reserved for pastor’s wives alone, this is Christianity 101, right? We read in 1 Thessalonians 5:11, “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.”How much more love and respect should we show the wives of those men who arduously battle on their knees and in God’s Word, taking calls and texts at all times of day and night, who have to carry some of the most hurtful and intimate details about many people’s lives… having to suppress the deepest and darkest sins of people you sit next to in church week after week can get heavy. As pastor’s deal with some extremely heavy issues, their wives are their closest neighbor and those also labor for the kingdom by exemplifying the love that we read of in 1 Corinthians 13 that talks about a love that is patient and kind; a love that does not envy or boast; a love that is not arrogant or rude. Pastor’s wives who exemplify a love for the kingdom and their husbands by perhaps not insisting on her own way; by giving love that is not irritable or resentful, instead they give the kind of love that does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.

Our 1st worship service inside our building (soft launch) was so overwhelming, Edna pulled me to the side to pray for me before service started.

Thank you, dear sisters! Thank you for showing my pastor brothers and I the kind of love that bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things. I know, care for, and love the wives of many of my pastor homies… and I can attest that these are some of the godliest women I know, interceding on behalf of their husbands, their church, and the lost we’re trying to reach. One of my greatest memories EVER is that of waking up one morning, and feeling something on my chest, and as I opened my eyes, I remember realizing that my wife had her hand on my chest and was praying for me. Can we also show them some respect? Can ya’ll reach out to your pastor’s wife and send her a word of encouragement? Can you take a moment to pray for her right now? And can you add her to your regularly scheduled prayer times? 

As she lives in the shadow of the man standing in the pulpit, pray for her own emotional, spiritual, physical, and mental health. Pray for her to be in love with God more than her husband, because only by loving Him first can she love her husband best, and the same goes for the husband too. Remember that your pastor’s wife is human, flawed, and needs real friendship, prayers, and encouragement. Pray for her and that God would spare her from discouragement and bitterness when she or her husband face inevitable criticism. Pray that she will be clothed in strength, dignity, and humility. Pray that she would remain in her word and in constant prayer! Pray that she would feel loved, honored, respected, and encouraged. Pray that she would be a woman that others would strive to be, because of her godliness. Pray that she wouldn’t feel alone and instead feel appreciated and truly loved by the congregation. Pray for her!

Rev. Chris Márquez and I alongside Justin & Julie Corona, and Martin & Cindy Velazquez, who are being trained up and being prepared to plant Reformed Church Orange County in Santa Ana, CA. (RCOC)

A New Denominational Home for RCLA

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. 

Daysi Aleman, myself, Rev. Chris Marquez, and Rev. Eddy Aleman (General Secretary of RCA) in Grand Rapids, MI.

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.

This is what reaching the hood looks like by planting confessionally Reformed churches there. RCLA Men’s Group

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. 

Rev. Danny Hyde of Oceanside United Reformed Church and I at one of their Classis meetings.

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.

Rev. Chris Gordon and myself at PAVA Urban Tea Parlor in Lynwood, CA.

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

Bi-Vocational Pastors Are Usually People of Color

“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).

This is what our home in Lynwood looked like, always open for discipleship and fellowship!

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!

Ordained Ministers of Word and Sacrament! The right Rev’s. Chris Márquez and Rudy Rubio

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).

Praying for staff at MLK Community Hospital in the Watts/ Willowbrook part of South Los Angeles

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.

During the pandemic we were forced to get creative to continue meeting since we don’t have our own building

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.

Our Wilmington Campus during midweek service

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.

2 young men from the cohort we served this past summer, CLIP – Compton Leaders Internship Program

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.

The baptism of baby Jonas Mateo Corona

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)

Lord’s Day worship at RCLA Lynwood

“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

Local Church vs. Commuter Church

Compton Initiative

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.

Edna, Nati’s, and Duva at our home in Lynwood
Lynwood is well known for its water towers

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.

Watts Prayer Walk in the Nickerson Gardens

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.

Compton Prayer Walk

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.

Unity Service at Lynwood Park w/ Lynwood School Board President Maria G. Lopez, Mayor Pro Tem Jorge Casanova, and Pastor Nisan Stewart of Greater Emmanuel Temple

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.

Reformed Church LA and Greater Emmanuel Temple serving our community during the pandemic.

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!

Lynwood Mayor Marisela Santana, my daughter Natalia, and City of Commerce Vice Mayor Oralia Rebollo
Compton Mayor Aja Brown and Pastor/ Sheriff Deputy Rafer Owens

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Is Church Really Necessary?

“Ok, ok… I’ll go to church!”

This was often a response to comply at the behest of mom, abuela, or tia when we were younger growing up in a Latino home and forced or coerced into going to church, right? And more often than not, it was mass. You see, my beloved Mexican culture, with an exaggeratedly dominant Roman Catholic presence, places a huge emphasis on “going to church” but never on “being” the church or “belonging” to the local church. So what happens is that we get perpetuating generations of our people who are biblically ignorant but rich in cultural traditions.

This beautiful group of folks just became official members of Reformed Church L.A. in Lynwood, CA.

What am I talking about? Here are a few cultural traditions almost all Latinos, not just Mexicans, can relate to? How many of these apply to you?

  • The sign of the Cross with one’s hand when driving by a church.
  • The sign of the Cross with one’s hand at the end of a prayer.
  • Repetitive prayers, like the “Our Father” that are recited over all situations and circumstances with no reference to other biblical passages, just vain repetition.
  • Baptizing of babies as a cultural box to check off, with no biblical discipleship of children, and no true accountability within the Christ confessing covenant community (like Reformed folks do).
  • Quinceañera ceremonies within the church that have no biblical or Scriptural reference, but were imperative that every 15-year old girl have, no matter the family’s financial status or hardship (By the way, quinceañeras are dope, I’m not knocking them).
  • Rosaries prayed for the dead, in hopes of getting their souls out of purgatory and into heaven, when in fact the Bible teaches the opposite (5 Solas).
  • Not eating meat on Fridays during Lent, but never a mention of sexually immoral behavior or relationships.

You see this makes perfect sense. When there is no biblical understanding, how can one be expected to do what the Bible calls for? Now this carries over into Evangelicalism too. People appear to have somewhat of a biblical understanding, however, they have a problem committing to local church. We are a consumeristic people and generation, we are spoiled, we think that the world, and even the Lord’s church is Burger King, and we want things done our way, and not now… but right now! Our people tend to church hop, they continue to move on, over and over and fail to commit to a local church, they will not submit to the elders of the church, and like “chapulines” will continue to bounce from one to another with no real intention of staying, or only as long as the first clash or disagreement and then they’re gone.

This is a really sad thing and was unheard of in the early church! The church endured true hardship and persecution, it strengthened the church as it grew against all odds. But you see, the Lord Jesus was with them, they truly understood the Gospel and it showed in how they lived their life, cared for each other’s needs, and didn’t throw in the towel. But now a days, people leave church after church because of petty things, because someone didn’t say hi, didn’t invite them to a party, looked at them the wrong way, didn’t let them serve where they wanted when they wanted, and one of the biggest is that folks don’t want to be held accountable. They don’t want you to know their sin, so they leave just as you’re really getting to know them.

Even during the pandemic, we were teaching folks about biblical membership and publicly receiving them into our church.

When we first planted Reformed Church L.A. we had multiple people on our launch team that left, some just a few weeks into it, others as time progressed and for different reasons. I remember one dear sister whom I love dearly said to me, “I need to be in a bigger church where I can come and go without being noticed.” Well, for us, that’s just not gonna happen. We know when people don’t come to church, and we’re concerned for them, because we know what happens when people start to drift. We’ve had people tell us they couldn’t make it to church because of their kids sleep schedule, their kids sports, because they’re tired, because they got into an argument on the way to church… the list goes on and on. 

Then there are many, many people in the Latino community who say that they believe in God, and I agree that they may know “of God” but they don’t really “know God”. You see, knowing about God and knowing God are two different things. There are many of our people, who because of our culture, know that there is a God out there somewhere… they have a basic understanding of a God concept, and still many of them don’t like “organized religion”, but unfortunately that’s the way God designed His church… that it would be organized. Lots of people have heard of the crucifixion but they don’t really understand what happened there. They don’t understand substitutionary atonement, they think they’ll go to heaven because they’re good people when in fact that Bible says that, “None is righteous, no, not one…” (Romans 3:10) and that, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

Many of my people have lots of cool spiritual sounding phrases they have memorized, yet none are biblical. I’m sure you’ve heard them too:

  • God helps those who help themselves. 
  • God will never give you more than you can handle.
  • Heaven gained another angel. (This is a REALLY hard one). 
  • I love God but hate the church. 
  • You are more than enough!
  • God hates sin but loves the sinner.
  • God wants me to be happy.
  • Just put it out to the universe. (Cringe because God made the universe and everything in it.)

As nice as these things sound, they are not biblical. I recently posted about this blog and asked what I should address and my good friend and former City of Lynwood Mayor, Aide Castro said, “People like me that have faith but question everything in the Bible and don’t trust religions.” So… here I am writing about people who have faith, or say they have faith, but question the Bible and are leery of religions. So I think it’d be a good time to address religions. But first, for the record, there is absolutely no way to know the full counsel of God outside of His written Word, the Bible.

Every single religion, outside of Christianity, has a system of merit that they believe will lead them to heaven, we call this “works based righteousness”. In every religion, man and woman have to “do”, while in Christianity, God said “done”, He did for us what we’d never be able to do for ourselves. That is the beauty of the Gospel. Let me say it another way. In every other religion man is seeking to get to God, while in Christianity God came to man. Isn’t that beautiful? It’s so easy, so beautiful that it sounds crazy to folks. 

Christianity teaches that God came to us in Christ. [1] That He lived a perfect life we never could and died a death that was meant for us. [2] And all this He did out of love, He didn’t wait for us to get our act together, while we were still His enemies, Christ came and died for us. [3] And because praying to statues or images is idolatry, and because we don’t need to pray to saints (we are the saints), we have the security of knowing that Christ is our Mediator, we have no need of anyone else. [4] If we repent of our sins and turn to Him, we’ll be saved… that’s it.

So all this is to say what? That if one is a true believer in God, the Triune God, Father, Son, Holy Spirit, if one acknowledges that there is no way to be saved outside of Christ, then one MUST belong to a local church, one MUST attend regularly, one MUST trust and obey what God has said in His written Word, the Bible. One MUST give of their time, their talents, and their treasures to help the mission and vision of their church. One must NOT have a consumeristic mentality about church, one MUST belong, be committed to serving and giving. 

Now, let me be clear, there are many biblical Scriptures that are difficult to get our heads and hearts wrapped around, but the problems is that outside of the Bible, we try to make God like us, we try to hold Him to our standards, when in fact it’s the exact opposite, we are to conform to His standards, we should make every effort to live holy lives, to honor God with our lives, be mindful of what we say and do, be mindful of how we treat others, and remember that tomorrow is not promised, if anything 2020 has proven that once again. We are to examine ourselves, test our ways, and return to the Lord when we’ve drifted off. [5]

So dear friend… sister… brother… if you’re not in a church, get in one. If you’ve been bouncing around from church to church, stop it. Commit to one, fight for it, don’t give up on it and stay until you can no longer stay. A perfect example of that looks like is what my brother and future church planter Martin Velazquez said just a few days ago at his house. He was retelling the story of how he came to be a member of Reformed Church L.A. He said that even though he didn’t agree with the theology of his previous church, he would stay there until they got kicked out or when heresy was preached. Not long after that, the Lord answered his prayers and they were officially kicked out for having different doctrine, even though they’d always submitted to and respected their pastor and his views. 

Friends, if you’ve not yet read the Bible, read it! Study it, understand what God is saying in its entirety. Don’t cherry pick a verse here and there and make it say what you want it to. Like we say at RCLA, “we twist churros, not scripture!” I’d encourage you to wrestle with difficult doctrines and see what is in your heart that makes you think you’re right and God is wrong and go check out Romans 3:4 that says, “…let God be true, even though everyone is a liar.”

I love my culture, but my culture has many many errors when it comes to God’s affairs and His Word, the Bible. So by all means, let us honor our culture best by speaking truth into it and not let the world tell us about God. The Bible knew this would happen and warned us to, not be conformed to the ways of this world, but instead to be transformed by the renewing of our minds, that by testing we would discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. [6] Let me know how I can help you on this journey that I hope you take seriously. God is too big of a deal to take lightly. Let me know how I can be praying for you too. 

That is all, carry on!

[1] 1 Timothy 1:15

[2] 2 Corinthians 5:21

[3] Romans 5:8

[4] 1 Timothy 2:5

[5] Lamentations 3:40

[6] Romans 12:2