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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